Earlier this week, Changing Gears teamed up with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland to present “Living for the City: Reinventing the Region with Music and the Arts.” Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard hosted a panel of local experts in the music business, representing every facet of the industry.
One of the prominent themes of the discussion was that Cleveland does have a vibrant and active music scene.
“But we’ve had a loss of population, a loss of corporations, a loss of revenues and disposable income,” said Rock Hall C.E.O Terry Steward. “So we have to figure out: how do we repurpose ourselves into a new kind of music place.”
He said one of the most important roles the Rock Hall can play is to continue to emphasize the importance of music, adding “that ‘soundtrack of your life’ cliché is true.”
Stewart said the Rock Hall gets half a million visitors annually, most of whom come from out of state or even out of the country.
Karen Gahl-Mills, Executive Director of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture said she agrees with Stewart’s assessment that before the local music industry can thrive, Cleveland has to have a vibrant downtown. That’s “key to having good audiences and big robust audiences for so much of the cultural activity that takes place,” said Gahl-Mills.
When asked what sorts of projects Cuyahoga Arts and Culture funds, Gahl-Mills said all sorts. She said that’s the key to a successful music scene.
“It’s an ecosystem,” she said. “It’s the fabric of what makes the music scene and the arts scene here work is having all of these different things interacting with one another.”
Cindy Barber owns one of Cleveland’s busiest and most eclectic music venues, The Beachland Ballroom. Barber said it has two to three shows every night, and will book nearly anyone with talent. Barber is also active in setting up and assisting various other local musical endeavors.
Barber said, “I just want people to come to my street and feel like it’s Nashville or Austin. That’s my future. I want rehearsal halls, I want more recording studios and things like that.”
Fourth and final panelist Alex Bevan, most well known in the area for his song Skinny Little Boy from Cleveland, added that there is a vibrant music scene in the area where musicians come together every year and influence each other’s work: Put-in-Bay, where he knows he’ll have gigs and be able to listen to other musicians.
The panelists also pointed to Cleveland’s well known classical orchestra, and the success it has worldwide.
Terry Stewart of the Rock Hall said the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough musical events to offer people. It’s that “there is a resistance to coming back downtown. When people tell you that their favorite restaurant is a chain restaurant out in Chardon or Chagrin Falls and Cleveland is a destination food town, it tells you a lot right there about what we’re facing.”
Stewart said a lot of impediments have arisen over the years. The dwindling economy, population sprawl, and fear of coming downtown keep people away.
“The key is to change the mindset of Clevelanders, and get them back into a positive position” to visit downtown, he said, because there is a lot of music in the area.
He said he feels like Cleveland is on the tipping point, heading back to becoming a music mecca – if only folks like Cindy Barber and Alex Bevan can stick around long enough.
“Look for us getting more famous than Austin as we move forward,” Karen Gahl-Mills said as the event was winding down, to laughs and supportive cheers from the audience.
You can listen to the entire event here, and let us know in the comments, what sorts of music events do you like to attend? What keeps you away if you don’t attend any?
Watch the event now: