Ohio Sky's Vinnie DiFranco Cleveland has hundreds of bands, no end of would-be frontpeople, and a handful of full-fledged singers. Ohio Sky singer-guitarist Vinnie DiFranco tops them all. Like his band's music, DiFranco's voice knows no bounds, whether he's servicing a psychedelic passage or tearing up a rock track. To date, the Cleveland group's tour de force is "You Want More," from 2008's Apophis EP. On the emotional powderkeg, the singer belts it out from his gut in verses, then soars when it's time for a chorus. If he's a new name, no wonder: Ohio Sky is his first turn as frontman. Apophis marked his recording debut, but the group spent the summer recording an as-yet-untitled full-length inaugural record that's as wide-open as the quintet's name suggests. On the three tracks we've heard, DiFranco's voice is bigger and deeper than ever. If this keeps up, it'll fill an entire arena one day.
In the shadow of Lakewood, Cleveland's Now That's Class concert club launched in 2007, a proudly no-frills punk bar that seemed destined to burn out quickly. More than three years later, it's the west end's premier concert club, whether or not you dig the kind of loud, crusty tunes that rock the roost at least six nights a week. The venue is small, but it has plenty of options to stage shows of all sizes: Bands set up and rage on a rear patio, a cramped bar, a bigger concert room, and even a claustrophobic basement. Any given night might feature an act such as hardcore gods Agnostic Front, former Dead Milkmen frontman Joe Jack Talcum, new-school kings like Bane, or niche groups like cult stars Bastard Noise, Dee Cracks from Austria, or the Cleveland one-man band Mr. California. Virtually nothing here will set you back more than $10, and shows usually feature gloriously undercrowded bills with four bands or fewer. Maybe that's not exactly class, but that's the whole point.
11213 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 216-221-8576, myspace.com/nowthatsclass
Kate Voegele flies the Cleveland flag like no other local artist. Between international tours, she's working on her third solo album, her second for the major label Interscope. She hasn't spent much time in town lately, but her last show at House of Blues sold out. She keeps the Cleveland connection strong with a backing band that includes local guitarist Sam Getz (also of the Vig) and violinist Courtney Voegele, her younger sister. On TV, Kate plays singer Mia Catalano on the CW's One Tree Hill. This fall, the singer's fourth season on the show spins her into a new tel-adventure when a music-industry plot crosses over to the network's sister series Life Unexpected.
True, only about half of this, the Black Keys' best and most tuneful album, was recorded at the duo's Akron home studio. Parts were also laid down at the famous Muscle Shoals studio that produced some of the greatest soul records of the 1960s and '70s, and one track was made with producer Danger Mouse in New York. It all flows together seamlessly, but those Akron songs are a bit more gritty — the closest the Keys come here to the stripped-down, old-school sound of their earliest records. Enjoy it, because this could be the group's last album made here: drummer Pat Carney has already shipped out to NYC, and singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach is talking about a move to Nashville.
At this age-old hole-in-the-wall, beers are cheap, the ambiance is nil, the patrons are down-to-earth, and the music is always terrific. The jukebox at Mitzi's includes the usual influential hipster stuff (Johnny Cash, the Velvet Underground), a dash of '70s punk (the Clash, Buzzcocks), stone-cold classics (the Beatles, Van Morrison), and plenty of best-albums-ever-made candidates Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Exile on Main Street). There's even some AC/DC if you feel like getting big and stupid after a few PBRs. Plus, there's a couple of volumes of old-school Cleveland punk. And you thought your iPod had the coolest playlist in town.
3840 St. Clair Ave., Cleveland, 216-361-8771
Marching brass bands raise a ruckus at just about every high school around, but you never hear a peep from them in adult life. At long last, a bunch of overgrown kids have channeled that fat sound into a funk band that plays out at area bars. They specialize in an aggressive jazz-, Latin-, and afro-beat-inspired brand of second-line funk that makes it damn near impossible to sit still. And amps? They don't need no stinking amps: These horns are plenty loud on their own. Their repertoire includes arrangements of standards, plus plenty of their own compositions. Check them out in the front room at Edison's (2373 Professor Ave. in Tremont, 216-522-0006, edisonspub.com) the last Sunday of every month.
Despite rumors to the contrary, ballet in these parts means more than just an obligatory round of Nutcracker run-throughs come Christmastime. Every year, the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival adds a dash of (free!) culture to the family fun curriculum. Staged at Akron parks from Fairlawn to Firestone, the festival welcomes world-class troupes like Cleveland's Verb Ballets, San Francisco's Company C, and Mansfield's Neos Dance Theatre. Named for Ohio Ballet's founding artistic director, the series draws a crowd from infants to retirees and everyone in between. Before each program, kids get a chance to step onstage and learn some basics, before settling back into the crowd for the evening's featured act — anything from traditional classical styles one week to abstract modern dance the next.
Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Cinematheque is widely regarded as one of the best repertory cinemas in the country, yet it operates in relative obscurity in its hometown. (To wit: Even The New York Times recently acknowledged their greatness.) They're your one-stop-shop for an inconceivably wide range of movies: from "mainstream" art house stuff you won't find elsewhere in town to weeks-long celebrations of fantastic filmmakers from across the globe. The Cinematheque goes to great lengths to procure restored versions of foreign films and aged classics, often taking them out on loan from embassies or other film conservatories. It's a labor of love for founding director John Ewing, a cinematic treasure hunter who drops the spoils of his quest at your feet every week.
11141 East Blvd., Cleveland, 216-421-7450, cia.edu/cinematheque
No need to bring your chloroform-soaked hanky when you hit the Barley House: The ever-intoxicating aroma of spilled beer and hormones greets you upon entry at this Warehouse District hotspot, the by-product of attractive twentysomethings mostly looking for someone to love. A natural stop for weekend nights or after Browns games, the place is also known throughout the year for its "red carpet" events, teeming with celebrity types from the world of sports and entertainment. It's your chance to rub elbows with the stars — just don't count on going home with them.
1265 West Sixth St., Cleveland, 216-623-1700, barleyhousecleveland.com
Few cities boast a radio station as brilliant and diverse as WRUW, the campus radio station of Case Western Reserve University. While "college radio" is often heard as a synonym for "amateur hour," WRUW is professionally run and powerful — now at a boisterous 15,000 watts. Passion is what makes the station exceptional: The all-volunteer programmers do it for love of music, and their zeal and expertise make WRUW not just an antidote to playlist-driven commercial radio, but a life-changing education. Many long-running shows have attained classic status (jazz programs Bird Calls and Down by the Cuyahoga, the eclectic Diversified Inc., and the folk show Roll Away the Dew). Many other shows have attained must-listen status, like the On the One funk excursion and Across the Broad, a survey of pop music from Australia and New Zealand. WRUW also hosts exceptional talk shows, including the only local broadcast of Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! and Defend Cleveland, a thoughtful local-sports monologue with the pseudonymous Mike James. It could be the best remaining argument in favor of free radio.
A former sales rep for Warner Brothers back in the days when record labels sold records, Bill Peters launched his own metal label some 25 years ago. In the early days, he helped his bands get deals with MCA and Island, but he's remained ardently independent all the while. Auburn's current roster includes Cleveland metal acts both old (Breaker, Shok Paris) and new (Eternal Legacy). Well-connected with the German metal scene, Peters regularly takes his bands overseas, where they perform before crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. A humble, modest guy who hosts a popular metal show on WJCU, Peters is one of the local scene's biggest advocates, and his label is a gift to Cleveland music.auburnrecords.com