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The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Turns the Spotlight on Cleveland's Music Scene

A picture of a performance on the Rock Hall plaza
Brittany Nader
Cleveland-based Cloud Nothings was part of a slate of summer concerts on the Rock Hall plaza that included many local acts.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will induct its newest class this month. And while the spotlight will shine on icons from Tina Turner to The Go-Gos, the Rock Hall is sharing the stage with the musicians right outside its doors.

The Hall launched several programs and contests to support and spotlight independent regional artists at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cleveland bands and solo acts headlined the Live & Local concert series over the summer, and the Rock Hall has been working with a handful of Resident Rockers to provide opportunities to break into the music industry.

The Hall of Fame is making efforts to shed its image as simply a shrine of rock ‘n’ roll’s past and find its place in Cleveland’s present, vibrant and diverse music scene.

Efforts to fill Cleveland’s streets with live music
Lisa Claus, founder of the active Cleveland Music Industry Facebook group, is working to connect and unite the music scene in Cleveland. The Rock Hall has served as a catalyst to help launch these efforts.

Looking at other music cities like Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans, Cleveland—where the term “rock ‘n’ roll” was coined—isn’t viewed as a music destination or region that provides opportunities for artists to break out and launch music careers.

“We’re supposed to be the rock ‘n’ roll capital, but you don’t walk around and see musicians playing all over the place. But you do in Nashville,” Claus said. “Why don’t we have it here?”

Over the last year, Claus has helped facilitate conversations at clubs and venues throughout Cleveland to connect members of the local music industry.

These connections, she said, help remove some of the silos in the local scene so progress can be made to establish Cleveland as more of a music destination.

A Cleveland Music Industry Conversations event was held at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Sept. 13.

Amanda Nyx, marketing manager at ListenCLE, is helping to lead efforts to support safe, legal street performances in Cleveland, particularly during the Rock Hall’s induction week.

"Cleveland has the biggest venue of all: its downtown.”
Amanda Nyx

Street musicians often add to the cultural identity of big music cities, and artists earn wages performing outside in public in this manner.

Busking during the Rock Hall’s inductions could provide opportunities for local artists to get noticed by industry professionals who are in town for the ceremony.

ListenCLE is working with the Rock Hall to coordinate street performers and buskers during large celebrations in Downtown Cleveland.

Nyx said Cleveland has the “Sax Man ordinance” that allows people to perform on the street and make money.

Most musicians and the public don’t know that it’s legal, and they don’t know how to do it, she said.

Nyx said the Rock Hall, ListenCLE and other Cleveland organizations are working toward funding to pay buskers, but it starts with educating performing musicians about the city’s busking regulations and requirements.

ListenCLE released an interest form that performers can fill out to express their desire to perform.

The organization wants strong showing for the induction ceremony to “start building a culture that other cities have,” Nyx said.

“We talk about the eight venues [participating in Rock Hall events], but Cleveland has the biggest venue of all: its downtown.”

There’s an outreach effort underway to get everyone organized and informed, including the general public, so they know musicians are playing to earn wages.

“When I was busking recently, [I saw] people turn around, open their wallet, not have any cash and walk away,” Nyx said. “Please, bring your money!”

Launching a residency program for Cleveland musicians
In summer 2020, the Rock Hall provided opportunities for a select number of musicians to perform outdoors on its plaza as part of a special artist residency program.

Photo Sep 01, 9 44 36 AM.jpg
Samantha Boggs
Twinsburg pop artist Sarah Bailey was selected as one of three Resident Rockers at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021. Bailey performed at Cleveland's Wonderstruck Festival in July because of connections she made during her residency.

Partnering with the Kulas Foundation, the Resident Rockers program was launched at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to support local artists.

Resident Rockers provides opportunities to work with music industry experts for advice on marketing, songwriting and merchandising.

Participants also led regular performances right outside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

This year’s artists include Sarah Bailey, Marcus Smith and Gabe Reed, a.k.a. M.O.O.K.Y.

Both national and local music industry professionals were brought in to mentor and guide the artists.

Kathryn Clusman, Manager of Community and Family Programs at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, said the program was designed to foster and help up-and-coming musicians really grow in the Cleveland music scene.

“So when they leave at the end of the summer, they’re walking away with not only improved skills, but tangible items like EPKs. Some artists develop their logos and created merchandise,” Clusman said.

Artists wrote songs individually and collaborated on a song together during the program.

Acclaimed musician Ben Folds worked with the Resident Rockers, and all three artists had the chance to perform their original songs for Folds during a virtual workshop Sept. 30.

Bailey, a pop singer-songwriter from Twinsburg, credits the Rock Hall and her involvement as a Resident Rocker with her breakout year in 2021.

“I had a full, immersive experience with the Rock Hall."
Sarah Bailey

Bailey released her debut album in May of this year then found out she was accepted into the Resident Rocker program.

“Everything keeps going uphill in a good way,” Bailey said.

Bailey initially learned about the residency opportunity from Claus’ Cleveland Music Industry Facebook group.

She applied, submitted an original song and participated in an interview. She was selected and began the program in June.

Bailey participated in tours of local venues and worked with Jim Stewart at his recording studio in Cleveland. There, they recorded the songs they had written for the workshop with Folds.

Bailey, Smith and Reed performed outside the Rock Hall during lunchtime or happy hour, and their residency culminated with an end-of-summer concert that Bailey said was a highlight.

“It was new to me because I hadn’t performed since most of my music came out really like right before COVID started, so I never got that aspect of the music industry yet,” Bailey said.

The Resident Rockers became close with interns at the Rock Hall, and Bailey was offered a full-time communications coordinator position.

“I had a full, immersive experience with the Rock Hall,” she said. “It’s helped me figure out what to do that’s practical when I think about my life in case the singing weren’t to work out.”

Smith and Reed are now members of Bailey’s band. The three artists performed together at Wonderstruck Fest in July, which Bailey said happened because of the connections they made through the Rock Hall.

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Amanda Rabinowitz
Resident Rockers at the Rock Hall participated in a virtual songwriting workshop with musician Ben Folds Sept. 30 as part of the residency program. Sarah Bailey performed one of her original songs for Folds during the streaming event.

Putting local talent on the road to glory
This spring, the Rock Hall launched a contest with The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company called “From Garage to Glory.

The nationwide talent search was designed to give aspiring musicians the chance to perform on the Rock Hall stage as part of its induction week festivities.

The winner also received $10,000 and was selected by the public through online voting.

The contest had more than 10,000 submissions, and a panel of judges narrowed it down to three finalists.

Clusman said the judges were looking for young, unsigned musicians who needed an opportunity to reach their full potential.

“All of these were up-and-coming artists looking for their first big break,” Clusman said. “They were doing the hustle themselves and producing things themselves, but [needed] the chance to really get their name out there and get some really great opportunities.”

Two of the finalists, Uptight Sugar and Recess, are from Northeast Ohio. The contest winner, Sarah Faith, is an Americana singer-songwriter from Nashville.

Matt Vance, guitarist and vocalist for Uptight Sugar, said he applied to the contest to help promote his band during the pandemic.

Singer David Hamilton started Uptight Sugar to write original songs, but he and Vance were actively working together in the cover band The Sunrise Jones.

The Sunrise Jones
Cleveland cover band The Sunrise Jones started writing original songs as Uptight Sugar during the COVID-10 pandemic. The band was selected as a finalist in the "From Garage to Glory" contest and served as the house band at the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland.

They submitted the song “Crawl” from their second EP. They found out they were selected as a finalist a month after applying.

“It’s something you can do from the comfort of your own home that you can try to promote your band and your name in some way without having to hop in a van and travel to another state,” Vance said. “And this just happened to be here.”

Vance said the Rock Hall sent a film crew to record Uptight Sugar returning “to the garage” where they first started playing together.

“It was press. It was visibility. And then they sent out a film crew … half of it was interviewing us, and they basically filmed a music video. It was really awesome,” Vance said.

The Rock Hall was instrumental in securing them to be the house band for the NFL Draft this past spring, which was a paid gig.

“That was pretty big, especially coming out of COVID,” Vance said.

Changing perceptions of the Hall of Fame and Museum
Clusman said the Rock Hall is tuning in more to what’s happening in the local music scene because of the city’s rich rock history.

“People often think with the Rock Hall that we’re just celebrating renowned artists, ones that sort of made it to the top and done all the big stuff. But what we like to keep in mind is everyone started somewhere,” Clusman said.

The Hall of Fame always had touring bands perform with a local opener, but this summer they ramped up efforts to focus on local acts.

“Supporting those artists that really struggled through COVID and being able to give back to the music scene here in Northeast Ohio and Cleveland,” Clusman said.

Greg Harris, President and CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said the Rock Hall wants to do more than just celebrate “yesterday.” There’s music happening now and in the future, and it's working to incorporate that more into its offerings.

“Around the world, everyone knows the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for our inductees and the incredible induction ceremony that happens each year. You know, this elite group of 350 some odd artists of great magnitude,” Harris said. “But we also, we’re a contemporary organization that celebrates and experiences and brings live music to the stage.”

Throughout the summer, the Rock Hall’s Thursday-night Live & Local concerts featured two-to-three Cleveland bands or solo performers playing outside the venue or in the lobby.

These concerts were geared toward local audiences but welcomed out-of-town museum visitors as well.

Brittany Nader
The Rock Hall hosted outdoor concerts spotlighting Cleveland musicians Thursdays and Fridays throughout the summer. The events drew local crowds and museum attendees alike.

Northeast Ohio musicians featured in the summer concert series included Oregon Space Trail of Doom, The Shootouts, Marc Lee Shannon, Sweet Apple, Cloud Nothings, The New Soft Shoe, Jul Big Green, Falling Stars, and Mourning [A] BLKstar.

“We can’t just be about yesterday. We can’t just be about the artists that made music in the past. It’s alive. It’s vibrant. It’s happening today,” Harris said.

Clusman said submissions for Northeast Ohio musicians to perform during the Live & Loud concert series will open back up over the winter.

Celebrating Cleveland music during induction week
Gearing up for the induction ceremony Oct. 30, the Rock Hall wants to create an entire “music week” for the city of Cleveland.

“People often think with the Rock Hall that we’re just celebrating renowned artists, ones that sort of made it to the top and done all the big stuff. But what we like to keep in mind is everyone started somewhere."
Kathryn Clusman

The formal induction ceremony has been in Cleveland five times, the last in 2018.

Since 2018, the induction ceremonies alternated each year between New York and Cleveland, but last year’s event was virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the ceremony has returned to Cleveland this year, efforts to highlight Cleveland music have been put at the forefront.

Artists featured in the Resident Rockers, “From Garage to Glory” and Live & Loud programming will perform at a community day event Oct. 24.

Admission to the museum and live performances will be free for Ohio residents that day.

Performers include Detention, Nathan Paul and the Admirables, Marc Lee Shannon and more.

The event will run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and conclude with fireworks set to music by the 2021 inductee class.

Cleveland vendors will also be set up at the Rock Hall, and local venues and record stores will have pop-up shops on site.

Harris said the Rock Hall has been working closely with local music venues, which will have live shows during induction week.

The museum will also bring back Rock Hall Nights for induction week Oct. 28 from 5-8 p.m.

Guests can view the 2021 Inductee Exhibit, participate in a Halloween costume contest, and enjoy music and dancing from an on-site DJ.

Tickets to the Induction Ceremony itself are available for purchase at rockhall.com.

This year’s inductees include Tina Turner, Carole King, Foo Fighters, JAY-Z and more.

The Rock Hall will announce the evening’s performers and presenters in the coming weeks leading up to the Oct. 30 event.

Stay Connected
Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.