Stella's Music Club is Cleveland's newest venue. And its owner has big plans to create a 'rock 'n' roll’ corridor downtown.
Hoping to be a downtown destination
It’s hard to notice Stella’s Music Club on East 9th Street downtown, especially this time of year. The music venue is in an area that sees little-to-no foot traffic when the Indians aren’t playing across the street at Progressive Field. But that’s exactly how owner Mike Zweig wants it.
"What we really want are the people that are coming to hear live music, and so we wanted to be a little off the beaten path," Zweig said.
A musician, investment banker and now club owner
Zweig has been an investment banker for 30 years. He splits his time between Cleveland and New York City. He's also a musician. In 2014, his high school band, Disconnected, reunited. They recorded an album and toured. And that’s when Zweig decided it was time to open his own venue back home.
"What I recognized after playing a lot of the local clubs here is that there’s a real gap between what the experience was playing on the coast versus the experience playing here," Zweig said.
Small club with big sound
Stella’s has opened in a vacant space attached to the Brickstone bar, which is only open during baseball season. Zweig modeled the venue after popular clubs in New York and Los Angeles like Whiskey a Go Go. He built a stage with seating areas and installed a state-of-the-art sound system. He made it a plug-and-play venue, so bands don’t have to haul their amps and other equipment inside. And Zweig says he also has valet service for musicians and their equipment.
"Maybe the other clubs don’t do it -- I hire two stage managers for that purpose, but I don’t care. Because they feel like a rock star. And you know what happens? They put the best set they’ve ever played in Cleveland on my stage," Zweig said.
Starting a record label
In addition to putting bands on stage, Stella’s is also signing them. Zweig has started Stella's Records in partnership with Superior Sound Studio just a few blocks away. That’s where multi-platinum album producer Jim Wirt has been working. Wirt, who’s friends with Zweig, has produced more than seventeen-million records sold, including big names like Fiona Apple and Incubus.
"Six years ago, the bottom dropped out of the LA scene," Wirt said. "There were no bands recording. There was nothing going on. And trying to get a band to come out there, it was going to cost anywhere from $500 to $700 a day for studio time. Cleveland had these studios that no one was using and they have cheap rent because they’re in these big old warehouses."
Wirt will be able see firsthand the artists Zweig is signing. He has his own booth at Stella’s, marked with his name.
"We’re gonna see some bands here that we’re going to want to put on his label and then we’re going to record them at the studio. It’s a good way to get a band up and going," Wirt said.
The first band signed to Stella’s Records is the New York-based pop-rock trio, The Birds in the Boneyard. They met Zweig by chance and invited him to a show. Now, singer Mikey Condoleon says the band calls Cleveland its second home.
"It’s like a dream," he said. "It’s got a huge potential to be a legitimate venue. We think it could be just as big as one of the bigger New York venues where touring bands come in, play here and this is the go-to spot for that."
'Rock 'n' Roll Way'
So far, Stella’s has had about 100 shows since its soft opening last August. The acts are everything from up-and-coming national touring rock bands to local folk and indie artists. There’s already plans for Stella’s to completely take over the Brickstone bar next door, and Zweig says he has his sights set even higher.
"Us being the anchor of what would become ‘Rock 'n' Roll Way’, taking Wilbert’s across the street and Wild Eagle down the street and having a lot of clubs pop up along this for live music and making East 9th Street and Prospect the corridor for live music in Cleveland."
Zweig says his big dream is to have that corridor extend all the way down 9th – to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.