Cleveland Music Scene
Lauren Wells | February 5, 2014
Although Cleveland may be known as a major player in the Home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, Cleveland, Ohio is a music lover’s paradise. In 1985, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was based out of New York City, and it was originally suggested that the museum be housed in a NYC brownstone. Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, Memphis, and Chicago all submitted offers to host the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, but to no avail. Cleveland prevailed as the museum’s permanent home in May 1986, as the city won a public poll conducted by USA Today. The museum’s architect I.M. Pei admittedly didn’t know anything about rock and roll, so after attending a lot of live shows in Memphis, New Orleans, and New York, Pei understood that, “…rock and roll is about energy.” September 1995 saw the opening of the museum, and since then it has seen nearly eight million visitors. With Cleveland’s rich musical history, it’s no wonder this city was chosen to house such an iconic landmark.
1960’s Cleveland saw the beginnings of garage bands like the Outsiders before transitioning into a more pop and punk influenced music scene. 1970’s pop group the Raspberries hailed from Cleveland along with punk rock bands like Rocket From the Tombs, Pere Ubu, and the Pagans. In 1977, the independent record label Telarc International Corporation began making a name for itself as it recorded solely classical music before adding jazz, blues and country to its repertoire. 40 Grammys later and the Cleveland-based label has become a prominent figure in music production. The 1980’s saw funkier acts like the Dazz Band and the R&B pop group Levert. Former Guns and Roses members Gilby Clarke and Steven Adler also hail from Cleveland. Cropping up during the mid to late 1980’s was the alternative rock band Nine Inch Nails, achieving global acclaim. Metal band Mushroomhead, hip hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly have all impacted the 1990’s and 2000’s Cleveland entertainment scene. Rapper Ray Cash, hip hop artist Kid Cudi, and indie-rock band Cloud Nothings have also had their hand in influencing Cleveland’s rich music history. It’s difficult to pin down precisely what sound is coming out of Cleveland right now because the city produces so many different styles of music all influenced from its pop, punk, and funk roots.
The 1,200 capacity House of Blues opened in 2004 in the Gateway District of downtown Cleveland. This standing room only venue is housed in an old Woolworth’s department store building. Although the space is 61,000 square feet, concertgoers often find the space to be crowded during live sets. With names like moe., Dark Star Orchestra, Dropkick Murphys, Gary Clark Jr., and Eddie Money playing at this venue, you can suck it up and deal with a tall person standing in your way during the show. It’s for rock and roll’s sake, after all. Keeping with the House of Blues’ tradition, the Cleveland location has the “Crazy Quilt” on display and keeps a box full of mud from the Mississippi Delta under the stage. Local artist Peter Wood helped design the flow of the space to reflect the local music scene, and the building’s iron features pay homage to Cleveland’s history as a manufacturing giant. A perfect blend of Cleveland and New Orleans, the House of Blues is a venue often featured on big bands’ tour announcements.
The Beachland Ballroom (originally built in 1950 as the Croatian Liberty Home) became an eclectic music hub in 2000. Half a mile south of Euclid Beach in Collinwood, this down to Earth venue has seen the talented Butch Walker, Rocket From the Tombs, Lotus, Chris Black, Mr. Gnome, and Steve Forbert, to name a few. Don’t come here if you’re look for screamo music; Beachland mainly features indie rock and alternative country acts. You’ll be greeted by the signature red and green Beachland sign before entering the large divey bar. The cheap drinks and simple bar food is an added plus when attending a gig here. Can’t get enough of the place? They have casual brunch specials (think fried chicken and biscuits!) if you’d like to come back the next day for a hair of the dog. We hear the Bloody Marys are exceptionally spicy!
Featuring mainly rock and pop bands, the Agora Theatre on Euclid Avenue has a 500 capacity standing area with an attached bar. Above the standing area is a 1,800-seat balcony for those of you who get tired of standing. In 1913, the building that currently houses the Agora was originally called the Metropolitan Theatre. Opera conductor Max Faetkenheuer opened the Metropolitan to about twenty years of success before business began to decline. In 1932, the Metropolitan became a seedier burlesque/vaudeville house with rather sketchy crowds coming through. In the 1940’s, the venue was primarily used for showcasing comedic musicals before quickly transitioning into a full-time movie theatre. Between 1951 and 1978, the venue housed the WHK and WMMS radio stations before eventually becoming the concert venue it is today. Performances by the Flaming Lips, the Hives, and a live recording of Patti Smith’s 1996 reissue of her album Horses, the Agora has become a recognized name in the Cleveland music scene.
Aptly named, the Grog Shop prides itself on its selection of beer and musical talent. Opened in 1992, the Cleveland Heights-based Grog Shop has played host to Dead Moon, Elliot Smith, The Ex, Eek A Mouse, Oasis, The Flaming Lips, Le Tigre, and Sleater Kinney, among others. Band stickers, jukeboxes, brick walls, pinball machines, and graffiti bathroom stalls galore! The Grog, as it is lovingly called, offers reasonably priced tickets to intimate (but not overwhelmingly crowded) shows. Don’t expect to get to bed at a decent hour though, as shows tend to start late and run into the wee hours of the morning.
Officially opening in 1994 with a performance by Billy Joel, the Quicken Loans Arena is home to the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, and the AFL’s Cleveland Gladiators. Aside from hosting major sporting events, the 20,500 capacity Quicken Loans Arena brings in major headlining musicians such as Lady Gaga, R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Jay-Z, and Rush. With five multi-screen video walls in the arena, you’ll always get a good look at your favorite acts. Don’t want to miss a minute of your world-class show? No problem. 562 television monitors throughout the venue allow you to keep an eye on things as you’re waiting in line for a hot dog or running to the bathroom.
If shows of grandeur are your thing, Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare is the second largest performing arts center in the U.S. Attracting over one million guests per year to its events, the non-profit performing arts center boasts nine different theaters: the Allen, Hanna, Ohio, State, Palace, Westfield Insurance Studio, Kennedy’s, Second Stage, and Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre. No matter what mood you’re in, the classic theaters of PlayhouseSquare have something for you, whether it be opera, a rock concert, theater, or dance. Once threatened with demolition, these elegant theaters have prevailed as a longstanding highlight of Cleveland’s performing arts scene.
The 15,000 capacity Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University brings in internationally renowned recording artists such as Kid Cudi, Carrie Underwood, Justin Bieber, and Justin Moore. Measuring in at 315,000 square feet, the Wolstein Center houses the CSU Athletic Department if you’re more in the mood for a sporting event.
Opening in 1987, the Jacobs Pavilion (formerly the Nautica Pavilion) is an open-layout amphitheatre located in the Flats. Offering up views of downtown Cleveland, Jacobs Pavilion hosts about twenty summer concerts on the riverfront. Ringo Starr, Paul Simon, Britney Spears, John Legend, and the Black Keys have all performed here. Another venue booking big names is the Masonic Auditorium in Midtown Cleveland, with bands like Bastille and Pink Martini fitting their bill. Progressive Field (formerly Jacob’s Friday Field), while primarily used for Cleveland Indians’ baseball games, hosts summer concerts with big names like Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert. Another summer venue, Cain Park, features theater productions, cabarets, jazz concerts, and other live entertainment by artists like Weird Al Yankovic, Yes, Seal, Macy Gray, and Fiona Apple. Held in the park’s Evans Amphitheater, enjoy a fun summer evening with your friends. Even if you’re sitting on the lawn, you won’t feel too far from the stage, with every seat guaranteeing a good sight line to the stage.
The Cleveland Music Festival features local Cleveland bands and is typically held in September. Promoted and organized by Gorilla Music, Earth Entertainment, and Madman Productions, the festival brings together rock, Celtic, folk, electronic, Goth, hip-hop, and R&B music during the five day musical extravaganza. The Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival, now in its 37th year, is the largest Indian classical music festival outside of India, and is a 12-day festival bringing in over 8,000 attendees. The Clifton Arts and Musicfest, established to celebrate live music and fine arts, is certainly no Bonnaroo, but its charming small-city appeal offers art booths and local performers to bring in about 40,000 patrons. Is folk music more your thing? The International Folk Festival features dancers, musicians, and performers from a myriad of countries. Get your culture on! Since 2011, the Burning River Fest has brought environmental awareness to the Great Lakes region. Cleveland’s beloved Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969 due to industrial waste polluting the river, and since then Cleveland has taken initiative to prevent environmental harm. With three stages, over 25 musicians perform funk, blues, and rock sets for the community.