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May 6th, 2011
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:
Changing Gears is all about how the Midwest is reinventing itself, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is all about music and people. Adding the two together gets you Living for the City: Reinventing the Region with Music and the Arts. The community conversation will focus on how music and the arts are helping to reinvent our economy and region. We’ll also take a look at how to maximize the role music plays in the community and the economy. It’s taking place Wednesday at 4:30 pm in the Rock Hall’s Foster Theater in Cleveland.
The Living for the City panel will feature several prominent music professionals:
-Terry Stewart is the president and chief executive officer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
-Karen Gahl-Mills is the executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.
-Cindy Barber is the co-owner of the Beachland Ballroom.
-Alex Bevan is a local singer, songwriter, and musician.
We want you to take part. The event is free, but attendees to need to register in advance. Please call (216) 515-8426 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day on Monday if you’re interested in coming.
Miss the deadline? We’ll be broadcasting a live stream at 4:30 pm ET on Wednesday. Mark your calendar and come back here.
Watch the event now:
We asked, and you answered. Here are more of your nominations for the Best from the Midwest. Any current band or performer with Midwest roots is eligible. (More suggestions? Post them in Comments.)
From Chicago and Illinois:
Kanye West is from Chicago, Illinois. He’s already received 14 Grammy awards, and often asserts that he deserves even more.
Songwriter and multi-instrument player Andrew Bird also hails from the Windy City, as does Steve Goodman. Illinois also gets the credit for American country/folk singer John Prine, from Maywood.
Cleveland and Ohio:
The home of rock and roll — and home city of Changing Gears partner ideastream is also well represented in this latest round of Twitter and Facebook votes. Among the best known is the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails founded in Cleveland in 1988. They have earned two Grammys, plus an additional Golden Globe and an Oscar for front-man Trent Reznor (along with Atticus Ross) for the score of The Social Network.
The group that produced the ultra catchy song I Know What Boys Like is also from Cleveland – that would be the new wave band The Waitresses. Recently reunited power pop group The Raspberry’s are Clevelanders, as is the band The James Gang. That latter group is perhaps best known for their guitarist, Joe Walsh, who later went on to become a part of The Eagles. Musician, DJ and politician Michael Stanley is also from the Cleveland area.
Detroit and Michigan:
One Changing Gears fan noted that we would be remiss not to mention musician and activist Ted Nugent, from Detroit Michigan. Bob Seger of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band was born in Dearborn and grew up in Ann Arbor, home to partner station Michigan Radio. You can catch Seger on tour now.
John Mellencamp, best known for his heartland rock, was born in Seymour, Indiana.
And then there’s Prince…
Though the Changing Gears coverage area is generally Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, we’re bending the rules for some notable exceptions this time around. Michelle Norris, co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered, nominated Prince from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prince has earned himself seven Grammy awards , one Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Score too. American musician, poet and painter Bob Dylan calls Duluth, Minnesota home.
We also had a few nominations for musicians who aren’t from the Midwest but still had a big impact on the area’s music scene. Chief among those is McKinley Morganfield, otherwise known as Muddy Waters. He’s from Mississippi but is better known as the Father of Chicago blues.
[YOU TUBE VIDEO]
Who are some of the best bands and performers in the Midwest? The results are rolling in.
Before we list the nominees, though, here’s a reminder that our big event, “Living for the City: Reinventing the Region with Music and the Arts” at the Rock Hall in Cleveland is coming up next week.
In anticipation of that discussion, the Changing Gears team looked at what’s happening to the Midwest Music scene these days.
But we also wanted your thoughts on your favorite bands are from the Midwest, and you’re letting us know. There’s still time to send your suggestions, but in the meantime, here are a few of the most nominated Midwest artists.
Wilco from Chicago, Illinois is a big favorite. Fronted by Jeff Tweedy, the group initially formed in 1994. Now, only two of the original band members are still with the group — Tweedy and John Stirratt. The indie-alternative-rock group has two Grammy awards under its belt.
Cult favorite DEVO from the Kent/Akron area of Ohio also earned some votes. The group is most well known for their late 1970′s hit “Whip It,” though it is still active today and just released a new album.
Pere Ubu from Cleveland also got a couple nods. This is another group that’s been around since the mid 70′s, and though the band never really broke into mainstream music, they do have a loyal fan base and pretty steady critical support.
Listeners who prefer folk rock went for Shawn Colvin from Carbondale, Illinois. Wisconsin based Semi-Twang also has a fan among our listeners. Others noted that Chrissie Hynde, guitarist, song writer, lead singer (and only constant member) of The Pretenders is from Akron, Ohio. Akron is also the hometown of The Black Keys, the two-member rock band that snagged three Grammy awars this year including Best Alternative Album. Nearby Canton, Ohio is home to R&B group The O’Jays. Rap enthusiasts proudly boast that Eminem is from Detroit and Kid Cudi is from Cleveland.
You can check out the rest of the Twitter nominated Midwest Music favorite below. It’s not too late to tell us who we missed, let us know in the comments or on Twitter. Tag them #MidwestMusic.
Cleveland coined the term Rock and Roll. People still talk about Detroit and Motown. And, Chicago is known for the Blues. Yet, despite evidence that music can revitalize rust belt cities, that it can raise property values, and make these places more attractive to workers and companies, the music industry doesn’t seem to be a priority here.
“ Maybe the first two years we were open, we were miraculously making money,” says Cindy Barber, co-founder of the Beachland Ballroom, one of Cleveland’s top venues—and few venues—for live music. It’s an intimate place: the kind where you feel like you’re up close with the music. Yet, Barber just can’t make any money. She’s thinking of turning the Beachland into a nonprofit.
“You go to Beachland Ballroom, every one of those shows should sell out,” says David Spero. He’s been a producer, manager, and in the 70s, was one of the pioneering Cleveland DJs who introduced the nation to performers like David Bowie. Back then, the industry here was alive.
“Every label was represented here: Columbia, Atlantic, Warner Brothers, Capital, RCA,” Spero says.
It soon got too big and technology changed, and Cleveland lost its place as kingmaker for rock.
Today, Cleveland bands have to find labels and booking agents elsewhere.
About two years ago, the Cleveland band Cloud Nothings was nothing more than the tinkerings of Dylan Baldi, who was more interested in music than college.
“I’d just record songs all the time like when I wasn’t in class, or instead of going to class,” Baldi says.
He put his basement recordings on the internet and to his amazement, found himself booked with a show in Brooklyn and record deals with labels in DC and the UK. He had been playing all the instruments himself and had to scramble to find band mates. Now, he’s just getting used to seeing his name in the music press. And, Baldi says they always mention his hometown.
“They definitely write about that because it’s such a strange thing for a band people know about to be from Cleveland, which is too bad because there are a lot of good bands here,” he says.
One winter day, he was at the Beachland Ballroom celebrating the release of the band’s self-titled album.
There’s a sense that Cleveland and the Midwest are doing a poor job supporting their music industry, and a poor job benefiting from it. Richard Florida is an academic and the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, and he says these post-industrial cities have a lot of assets that could create vibrant music scenes, but it can’t just happen on its own.
“So the first thing we can do in Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, and Detroit, and Milwaukee, and Chicago, is to create real incubation assistance for young bands. I think the band is a better example of a start-up company than these high tech garage start-ups,” Florida says.
He recommends marketing assistance, help with business planning. Cities should make it easier for musicians: provide cheap housing and create incentives like Austin did.
And, the effects can be huge. Austin estimates its music industry contributes more than $600 million to its economy. A Cleveland nonprofit is currently studying how much the music business means here. Michigan has tax breaks for the music business but hasn’t bothered to promote them.
And, Chicago’s Music Commission did its own economic study and found it had the third biggest industry in the country, but no one knew it. But its new Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, wants to change that with his plan for Uptown Music District.
“Where arts and culture can be the engines of economic growth,” Rahm said.
Maybe Chicago, then, will become the model for this region.
Next week, Changing Gears teams with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to look at the future of the Midwest music scene. This week, we want to hear about your favorites out there today. Who’s the best band or performer with Midwest roots?
Tell us why you like their music — and include any links you want, from YouTube to a URL. We’ll take all suggestions — singers, duos, groups. Indie or big stars, up and coming artists and veterans. Post them below, or tweet @ChGears with #MidwestMusic.
We’re thinking rock, but if there’s somebody else you think we ought to know about, like a country band, jazz singer or rapper, let us hear about them. We’ll put together a list and add to it as you suggest more.
Having trouble thinking of artists from the Midwest? Here are a few videos to get you started.