In 2000, the inaugural Cleveland Music Festival featured about 100 bands and took place at venues such as the Agora Ballroom, the Phantasy and the now-shuttered Odeon, which served as its home. It was a low-budget, grassroots affair.
"I personally booked all the bands and we were in the middle of moving Peabody's from the Flats to its current location so it was difficult to pull off," says organizer Dan Cull, the former owner of Peabody's. Cull and business partner John Mihalek currently run Gorilla Music, a promotions company that works with thousands of bands, and they've hosted CMF, which kicks off on Thursday, each year since its inception.
That first year, the guys flew in A&R reps to lead panel discussions about the state of the industry.
"That was the majority of the expenses," says Cull. "We brought in about 20 different people and it cost a lot."
Despite the complex logistics of producing a festival featuring both bands and guest speakers, the guys pulled it off without a hitch.
"It exceeded our expectations," says Mihalek. "We didn't expect to get the response we did."
In 2004, the duo partnered with Anthony Nicolaidis, then the booking agent at House of Blues, and they brought in headliners Fu Manchu and the Misfits and expanded the scope of the event.
"Anthony wanted to blow it up and make it huge," says Cull. "We had a $90,000 budget for the bands and a $185,000 budget for the festival. I think we either broke even or lost a few thousand dollars. There were like 17,000 people that year but our budget got too big."
So instead of bringing in lots of national touring acts, the guys have confined the festival to the clubs and put a heavy focus on local, relatively unknown bands. The one exception this year is Filter, the alt-rock act that emerged out of Bay Village in the '90s to become a national success story when songs such as "Hey Man Nice Shot," "Take a Picture" and "Welcome to the Fold" became hits. The band plays Thursday night's show at Peabody's which is both the kick-off for CMF and a showcase for some of the bands nominated in the 2013 Cleveland Scene Music Awards.
"To me, having Filter play has real sentimental value," says Cull. "John used to be in the band the Akt with Filter's Richard Patrick. When I saw them at Peabody's, it was my first concert ever."
"They're home grown so that's great to have them play," says Mihalek. "It's going to be cool."
On Friday at Peabody's/Pirates Cove, locals Pitchblack Forecast, a metal band that features J-Mann of Mushroomhead, headline a bill featuring a slew of other top local metal acts.
"I know that show will do well because all the big local metal bands are playing that show. It's ridiculous," he says. "That will be a sold out show. And the Envoi and One Days Notice show that same night at House of Blues will be really fun."
For the first time, CMF will also have a family stage. On Friday night at the Foundry, family friendly acts such as singer-songwriter Taylor Lamborn and the Polka Pirates will play.
"We have country and polka and folk," says Cull. "We have a bit of everything booked for that night and it will be really fun."
Jeff Blue who worked with Linkin Park, Amir Windom who works with the band fun. and Greg Long who runs an independent record label, will be guest speakers at a panel discussion set for 5 p.m. on Saturday at Peabody's, and Cull is hoping to have some local industry insiders on the panel as well.
"Those three are the main speakers," Cull says. "The musicians can come in and ask questions as well. We want to create a demand for that panel. In the past, we've done panels in hotel conference rooms and only had 30 people there. We don't want that. We didn't want to do it too early in the day."
DNA Level C will host a night of electronic music/ dance music on Saturday night. Cull says that tickets are going fast for it.
"I thought the electronic music was going to take off 10 years ago," he says. "I thought it would crossover then but it's only crossed over now and the scene here is doing really well."
On Sunday, Peabody's will host the closing night party that will feature local rapper TEZO as the headliner.
"He's a huge up-and-coming artist," says Cull. "The Sunday night Goth and Industrial night at the Foundry will be really cool too. And that same night at 21 Lounge, we'll have an R&B back-up band so singers can come and perform with a band. We have 12 R&B acts confirmed and the local label Boy Wonder Records that's owned by Eric Nolan of the O'Jays is sponsoring it."
While some regional acts are performing at the festival, it centers mostly on local acts, and Cull wants to keep it that way.
"We tried to get to that level of [a big industry festival like] South by Southwest but there's already a South by Southwest," he says. "We want to get more of the community involved. In the future, I want to have comedians involved and art showings. I could see films being involved, maybe at the Cedar Lee Theatre or something. I see us being more about different types of art rather than trying to become more like South by Southwest."
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.