Chicago has Lollapalooza. The California desert has Coachella. And dozens of other U.S. cities, including Columbus and Cincinnati, have signature festivals with the biggest names in music. But not the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A fledgling music festival this weekend is attempting to fill that void.
Niesel says you have go back a few decades to remember when Cleveland last had a major annual music festival. Belkin Productions staged The World Series of Rock at Cleveland Stadium from 1974 though 1980. It featured big acts like Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith and Jeff Beck.
“I don’t know why it ended. Maybe it was the end of the stadium rock era or it was all the injuries. The Cleveland Clinic had to set up a booth just to treat people.”
The major festivals throughout the country are put on by promotion companies. Promowest Productions runs Bunbury in Cincinnati each June. AEG Worldwide runs Rock on the Range in Columbus, which featured Metallica and 135,000 people over three days last month.
The Cleveland market’s biggest promotion company is Live Nation. Niesel's not sure why it has stayed out of the festival business here.
It touts itself as "Cleveland’s Music Festival."
“It’s a beautiful location but it’s a little bit of a haul,” Niesel says. “There’s no parking at the site itself. So you have to go to a remote location and take a shuttle. The busses ran pretty efficiently last year and once you get out there, it’s a pretty nice setting for a festival. But it’s not really Cleveland.”
This year’s festival features 30 bands, including Gary Clark Jr., The Head And The Heart and Young The Giant. Organizers said attendance was 11,000 last year. This year, they’re expecting 15,000.
“I think it’s a pretty decent lineup, and they are popular bands as well," Niesel says. "The people at Elevation Group are really committed to using local people and to promote the area and region and don’t have the concerns of a larger, national corporation.”
Still, Niesel is cautious about calling it “Cleveland’s Music Festival."
“I just don’t know if that location is going to turn it into the festival that we all want and need. It’s not filling downtown restaurants or bars.”
For example, Lollapalooza, which takes place in Chicago’s center, reported 100,000 fans a day in 2016 with more than $210 million in economic impact.
“I often tell people that the festival ship has sailed,” Niesel says. “Bunbury goes back five years, but Rock on the Range goes back 10. I feel like a lot of these festivals have been going strong, and I think we might be a little late to the game.”
The good news, Niesel says, is there are plenty of concerts in Cleveland this summer. In fact, LaureLive this weekend coincides with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers playing the Q downtown.