Mess is More: Unite CLE Returns with Lowered Expectations and an Old-School Schnauzer Show 

Last year, local promoter JC Koszewski — a guy who's been booking bands in Cleveland for about a decade — set out to create a concert that would "unite all the local musicians." He called the three-day event UNITE CLE and he had a little bit of everything: hip-hop, metal, dubstep. Cleveland metal band the Spudmonsters reunited and Mushroomhead played one of its popular shows. Koszewski lost a load of cash on the deal. But he didn't lose hope. This year, he's bringing the festival back. He's scaled it down to two days  at the Foundry, the Lakewood club where Koszewski books band. Highlights will include an "old school" set from the local band Schnauzer, who will make a "mess" on the stage during their performance, and sets by up-and-coming metal acts, including Koszewski's own band. Koszewski recently spoke to us about the festival, which takes place on Friday and Saturday.

Talk about last year's festival.

Last year, with it being my first year, I was more of a desperate promoter. I was more of a business fan than a businessman. I offered the world to Mushroomhead and Spudmonsters and by doing that I suffocated all the other bands and my own profit margin. It was such an expensive ticket and you have one half of Cleveland that doesn't go to Mushroomhead shows and doesn't want to deal with them and another half of Cleveland that doesn't know about the local scene. And my thing last year was that I overdid it. I wanted to be better than the Cleveland Music Festival, and it severed my relationship with Mushroomhead. That was 11 years of doing business with them. I just overpromised them.  

And this year?

This year, I'm not trying to eff anybody over. I'm not in competition. Since I'm running the Foundry, I chose to do the whole show there. I want people to get shut out of it. I want it to be so packed both nights that you can't move. I'm ripping out the sound booth and going to an iPad to fit 50 more people in and put a wrestling ring in and get more people in there. The whole business model for the Foundry is for bands to be able to come in there and make money. That's what every other local venue is lacking. We want to make sure the artists are well taken care of and fed and make money at the door. We want everyone to make money, not like other venues where it's like, "Here's $40. Thank you for the $500." With Unite CLE not going big in the Phantasy Theatre, I can make sure all the bands get paid and it's a quality show from top to bottom. By not doing Mushroomhead and all their bands, whether they're good or not, I'm not suffocating bands. This year, the line-up is so strong.

Talk about the line-up.

Friday is headlined by Affiance, who just got off tour with Killswitch Engage. They're doing so well right now. They're doing the best in the city in terms of metal. Modern Electric is doing the best overall, but that's beside the point. Along Came a Spider, who just did a two-month tour with Fallen Captive, is also playing. I wanted to get young bands that are touring and trying to get out of Cleveland. Solipsis and Youth Forgotten are playing, and Cholera is reuniting for it. Kridiaz, who is Dave Felton from Mushroomhead. It's him and the drummer from Runt. It's very Pantera-driven. It's what [the local hardcore group] 216 might have turned into if they had done more than one record.

What about Day Two?

It's so strong. Ventana and Polkadot Cadaver, which is [singer] Todd [Smith] from Dog Fashion Disco. He's now playing Dog Fashion Disco songs. They've been playing here since 2001. Rather than trying to overpay for a reunion band, I chose to outsource to a band that was cheap and easy and everyone would love. There's no extra stress or drama. 10,000 Cadillacs is the only thing close to Mushroomhead playing. That's [ex-Mushroomhead's] J-Man and [Mushroomhead's] Skinny's group. Schnauzer is doing the old-school mess. They lost the frontman but they stopped making "messes." I told him that everyone wants the "mess."

What's the "mess"?

We did it one year at the Agora where people brought mattresses and bags of stuffed animals. One year, we even brought the kitchen sink. I have to tarp off the whole room and go to town. It's a good thing for all the musicians to have a stress release. You just make a big mess. I have to hire extra cleaning guys. Same as old-school Mushroomhead with all the confetti. This will be easier to clean up than that. When you put confetti together with the flour people throw at their shows and add water, you end up with paper mache.

There's lots of metal on the bill.

It's a wide spectrum of metal. My hope is that we can create a whole new scene. I'm turning 30 and I'm sick of everybody going to Mushroomhead and Chimaira and not going to any other shows. There needs to be a new wave. I'm starting to find that there's still a good metal scene here, but the rock scene is getting better too.

After last year's money-losing endeavor, what made you want to do the festival again this year?

I realized how important it is. There are lots of bands that have a chance to be part of this who don't play the Cleveland Music Festival and don't play Peabody's. At UNITE CLE, nobody is bigger than another band. It's about bringing people together.

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