Is it the teeming gallery districts or the nightlife hotspots? The metalheads or the singer-songwriters? It's all of that and more, with new chapters written daily.
Brett M. Burlison
The frontman for seven-piece Irish punks Craic (it's pronounced crack and translates into something like "having a helluva good time" in Gaelic) has the throaty roar down that's pretty much required of all Irish punk singers. It's a perfect fit for the band's mix of spirited covers (the usual Pogues and Flogging Molly), folksy traditional songs, and originals.
Singer-songwriter Hal Walker's music comes from a long line of troubadours that stretches all the way back to James Taylor, Bob Dylan, and all those guys with battered acoustic guitars. Usually accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica, Walker rarely breaks a sweat. This is coffee-sipping music — laid-back, introspective, and smooth as that little drop of foam on top of your latte.
Best Original Band
These fuzz-lovin' psych-rockers take us back to the days when we drove around in our pal's souped-up Dodge, drinking cheap beer and eating Funyuns. There's nothing at all huggable about this scruffy quintet. They're noisy, sludgy, dirty, and totally mind-blowing.
The Modern Electric
Young indie rockers the Modern Electric loaded their self-titled debut with a dozen songs soaked in huge aspirations and even huger sound. Singer Garrett Komyati's plaintive ache occasionally recalls Jeff Buckley in its scope; the band's blend of rustic roots music and twisty indie is even more epic.
Best Cover Band
Wish You Were Here
This Pink Floyd tribute uses a laser show developed by some guy who used to work for Roger Waters. They play theme concerts based on Floyd's most popular albums, including the massive Wall show. And they're more reliable than the original Floyd ever was. Bonus points: As far as we know, frontman Eroc Sosinski never goobered on an audience member.
There's a lot going on in Mifuné's Afrobeat music: cello, tuba, flute, something called a guzheng. But the force driving it all is Jake Fader's funky, soulful guitar, which often reaches Hendrixian heights — when it isn't making sweet, sweet love to our eardrums, that is.
Charlie Mosbrook has been making records for 20 years, a series of albums that spotlight his warm, tender vocals and soft acoustic guitar strums. He sings about the usual singer-songwriter stuff: love, life, death. He also sings about friends and drinking too much to forget painful memories. It's grown-up music from a guy who isn't afraid to open his heart.
"Howlin' for You"
The grooviest song on the Black Keys' best album, Brothers, is also the one that sounds most like the stuff they used to make when they were just a scrappy duo recording in their Akron basement. Brothers is big and beautiful at times; "Howlin' for You" is the low-fi dirt beneath the surface gloss.
Best Club for Concerts
Whether you catch a show in the more spacious Ballroom or the cozier Tavern, the Beachland remains the city's best place to see the planet's best indie rockers, roots rockers, singer-songwriters, and garage bands. The Black Keys played a sold-out show here; so did Arcade Fire. And no matter what room you're in, there isn't a bad seat in the house.
15711 Waterloo Rd.; 216-383-1124;
Best Radio Station
When 107.3-FM dropped its long-running smooth-jazz format at the start of 2010, it was a joyous occasion indeed. Not just because Cleveland got its first adult-alternative station in return, but because we no longer had to accidentally land on a Boney James song while playing radio roulette. V107.3's playlist includes everything from old favorites (like Tom Petty) to your mom's favorite new bands (like Kings of Leon).
Best College Radio Station
If the term "college radio" puts you in the mind of stammering co-eds kicking out Joy Division demo reels, you'll be in for a surprise over at 89.7 FM. With its blend of national programming, classical sounds, and a steady diet of — you guessed it — folk jamborees, Kent State's NPR station is about as refined as college-affiliated radio gets. It's also an invaluable training ground for the big-time talent of tomorrow.
Best VIP Room
House of Blues' Foundation Room
Tucked away upstairs at the downtown concert club is a little piece of VIP heaven, with comfy couches, a cozy fireplace, and one very attentive wait staff. You can watch the big-screen TVs before the show or just plop yourself in a corner and make like a big shot. Plus, you can lord over the commoners with special balcony seating during concerts.
308 Euclid Ave.; 216-523-2583; houseofblues.com
Best Neighborhood Festival
Feast of the Assumption
Italian Americans hold the best summer festivals, mainly because they offer the best festival eats this side of a funnel cake. The four-day Feast takes place in mid-August every year on the streets of Little Italy. It's based on a holy day, but that won't matter much once you start stuffing your face with penne, cannoli, and homemade wine, and soak in all the live music, played by classic rock bands and traditional Italian groups.
Best Movie Theater
Cedar Lee Theatre
The eight screens at this popular East Side movie house are usually filled with art-house faves and indie hits. It's almost old-fashioned in its dedication to showing quality films to audiences who actually care about what's happening onscreen. The Cedar Lee may not blow your senses with state-of-the-art 3D or digital sound, but what you see will blow you away all the same.
2163 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights; 216-321-5411;
Best Art Happening
Tremont Art Walk
For 18 years and counting, hipsters have been heading to Tremont's galleries, studios, boutiques, bars, and restaurants on the second Friday of each month for a firsthand look at Cleveland's art and culture. In the process, they've helped build this historic neighborhood into one of the region's top destinations for everything au courant.
It wouldn't be summer in Cleveland without a cruise on the Goodtime III, the largest quadruple-deck luxury ship on the entire Great Lakes. Plying the waters of the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie, the ship offers stirring views that landlubbers can hardly imagine: everything from the industrial bones of the Flats to the shimmering skyline of our own little North Coast Casbah. Take the kids, take the out-of-towners, and take a few hours to see Cleveland through new eyes.
825 East Ninth St. Pier; 216-861-5110;
Best Cultural Institution
Cleveland Museum of Art
Founded in 1913 by a group of Cleveland industrialists, the Cleveland Museum of Art has gone on to become one of the world's most distinguished art museums and one of Cleveland's best known cultural attractions. Even now, with an ambitious expansion project still under way, more than 40 galleries remain open, featuring everything from the internationally acclaimed collection of Medieval art to works by Andy Warhol. And here's the real kicker: Other than special exhibitions, museum admission is free.
11150 East Blvd.; 216-421-7350; clevelandart.org