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Shuffle: What's bringing Cleveland's Musical Vibe Back and Will It Stick Around?

U2 to play Cleveland
Wikimedia Commons

Last March, Cleveland Scene Magazine set out to answer a question that was frustrating many Northeast Ohio music fans: Why are so many big acts skipping Cleveland on their tours?

In this week’s Shuffle, WKSU’s Amanda Rabinowitz checked in with Scene writer Jeff Niesel to see how Cleveland’s rock reputation is faring now: 

Niesel's article was titled “Does Cleveland Still Rock?”

He set out to learn why many major musical acts like The Rolling Stones, U2 and Paul McCartney were bypassing Cleveland.

“I was just posing the question to local promoters and local music fans and asking them if we still had that stature as the capital of rock ‘n roll. Many of the promoters I talked to reluctantly agreed that were fewer bands coming here and that maybe other markets like Pittsburgh and Columbus had picked up in popularity.”

Why is Cleveland overlooked?
Niesel says there were varying opinions as to why Cleveland seemed to be losing its rock ‘n roll reputation.  

“Some of it had to do with the fact that the bigger promoters look at the markets simply in terms of revenue. And if they can charge more for tickets in Pittsburgh and Columbus, or Detroit or Indianapolis -- or even Cincinnati -- They’re going to go where the money is.”

Niesel says, for large promoters like Live Nation and AEG, there’s not the same personal connection to a community.

“At the higher level, it’s more of a business approach that they take. When I talked to people who run the smaller clubs like Grog Shop, Beachland, Agora and Music Box, they’re still as passionate as ever about music.”

A sign the tide is changing?
This summer, Cleveland’s concert schedule is booked with some big acts.

“Last year, Paul McCartney played here for the first time in years. Tom Petty is playing at the Q in June for the first time in a long time. Billy Joel is doing one of his baseball stadium shows [at Progressive Field]. Patti Smith is playing her debut album, Horses, in only like five cities and Cleveland is one of them.”

Also, U2, Lady Gaga and other big names have booked summer shows.

“I can’t remember the last time U2 was here. I think the last time they played here it was the Q and it was called the Gund,” Niesel says. According to a database of U2 concerts, the last time was in 2005. The Gund Arena officially was renamed Quicken Loans Arena a month earlier.

What’s behind the comeback?
Niesel thinks the article he wrote last March made a bit of an impact.

“I do think that maybe it brought to attention the public sentiment a little and maybe the approach changed a little bit in terms of trying more aggressively going after some of the bigger shows.”

Will it last?
Niesel isn’t entirely convinced the trend he discovered last year is changing for good. Some big acts are still skipping Cleveland.

Guns ‘N Roses is out on tour this summer but not playing here. Metallica is playing Columbus but not Cleveland. But, it still seems like we’re getting more of the bands that were skipping here before,” Niesel says.

Niesel remains encouraged.

“There seems to be a renewed energy across the board in this city. If you look at the things happening in terms of new developments and people moving back into the downtown area and that can only be good for clubs like House of Blues and even these clubs on the periphery like Beachland and Grog Shop. And I think it’ll be good for all of those places if there’s a higher concentration people living in the city.

And, he’s encouraged that some shows, like U2, Billy Joel and Lady Gaga are sold out. “It’s good to see people are buying tickets and responding positivity to these concerts.”