Justin and Allie Markert are relaxing indoors on a rainy Tuesday evening in Cleveland. Two delightfully cute cats meander around their loft apartment. The occasional "meow" filters through the air.
The sounds of Cellar Door Records Vol. IV fill the room, as well. The album will hit the streets during this weekend's Cellar Door Rendezvous at Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, where a veritable cornucopia of local bands will gather for two nights of good tunes.
The goal behind the album, the festival, the label and all of it is to serve as a catalyst for the local arts, Justin explains. For just about a decade, he and a dedicated group of comrades have been doing just that. This weekend's event encapsulates the Cellar Door ethos. It also promises to be a hell of a lot of fun.
"We put the word out to our dream team and they all said yes," Justin says of the process behind compiling the fourth volume of local music highlights.
"And then they all said yes to doing the show — on the same day," Allie adds.
Friday night's show includes the talents of Ohio Sky, Ragers, Filmstrip and So Long, Albatross.
Saturday's festivities, which will be held in both the ballroom and the tavern, will feature The Modern Electric, Herzog, Bethesda, Humble Home, Sunspots, Nights, Attack Cat, Goodmorning Valentine, The Universe Doesn't Stand a Chance Against Joshua Jesty and The Commonwealth.
Sponsors include Jakprints, GoMedia, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Launchhouse and CLE Clothing Co. (Check out full details at cellardoorcle.com.)
To coincide with the festival, all aforementioned bands will appear on Cellar Door Records Vol. IV and all concert attendees will get a free copy of the album. Previous Cellar Door compilations have proven to be full-bodied representations of the sheer excitement and talent we've got in this city.
Cellar Door Cleveland, at its heart, is an amalgamation of musicianship, promotion, arts writing and much more. The Markerts, who operate the arts space and store from their loft on East 40th Street and Payne Avenue, are flanked by writer Nikki Delamotte and co-founder Rick Fike, who now finds himself working out of Massachusetts. Other writers contribute to the blog, as well, fleshing out the wide array of coverage.
Delamotte brings her excellent writing to the blog, where she highlights local hot spots like the new pop-up Cleveland Flea, offers sharp takeaways on some of the area's finest artistic events and showcases kick-ass local music — as in a recent interview with Rendezvous performers So Long, Albatross.
Via Delamotte's outreach work and the rest of the blog, Cellar Door collects more than a decade of personal brand history and distills it into the present day, which, to reiterate, is an exciting time to be getting into local Cleveland music.
The Cellar Door story begins in bucolic Madison, Ohio, where Justin and his buddy Rick Fike concocted a plan to highlight local music, bring in regional bands and sell delicious coffee. Tucked along the main drag in town, Cellar Door Coffee and Music highlighted the entire spectrum of local culture - operating as an art gallery, a comedy club and, most notably, a music venue. They were younger men in those days and the pressure and responsibilities of adulthood eventually pulled them from the venue. They had, however, released a compilation of local tunes — Cellar Door Records Vol. I — and planted several seeds that would incubate and later flower further down the line.
Fast-forward to 2007, when the relaunch of Cellar Door (with new partner Adam Butcher in tow) brought about the second volume of local music and a plan focused more on artist promotion. Justin tosses the phrase "mobile record label" into the conversation and explains that things continued to grow from there. Individual artist releases spotted the landscape in the ensuing years. But there was certainly more work to be done.
"What if we had a space and it could just be open when we wanted to do shows?" It was a question that hung in the air for several years, Justin says. In the interim, the present-day Mr. and Mrs. Markert got engaged and began excitedly planning their Big Day. ("I was thinking I could do this for a living. I could do wedding planning. I was so into it!" Justin says with a laugh.) Life went happily on, but the dream of a dedicated music space remained.
The couple moved into their current digs last summer, officially christening the new Cellar Door music space in July. The Modern Electric, The Lighthouse and the Whaler, Humble Home and Brian Straw all joined forces for the opening night.
And it's a terrific spot to host shows, art exhibits, Q&A sessions and more. En route to the space, visitors are likely to chance upon the oldest elevator in Cleveland. It's an archaic beast of a thing, complete with all the ropes and pulleys your heart desires. A quick jaunt down the wooden hallway leads to two formidable doors bearing the Cellar Door logo. You're in good company at this point.
The room itself is cozy and inviting, bedecked by red walls and a really cool local music store in one corner. Going forward — and considering this weekend's festival — Justin notes that Cellar Door's work and the series of compilation albums certainly aren't meant to preach to the choir. The point of the promotional work, Justin notes, is to grow the local music scene and expand its audience east, west and south.
"The idea is that we can get it into people's hands that don't really know or care about local music," Justin says. "A lot of people have incredible taste in music, but they've never thought to look at Cleveland. People that live here have never thought to look at Cleveland. The idea is to bring the outsiders in and not just be this little indie rock club."
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