10 Things You Need to Know About Cleveland Music in 2018

click to enlarge Brite Winter Festival - Emanuel Wallace Photo
Emanuel Wallace Photo
Brite Winter Festival

Cleveland is a music town, even if the sports and restaurants take center stage in the national headlines. Gone, however, are the days of Alan Freed. Instead, bands and artists in Cleveland today have taken that spirit of rock 'n' roll and pushed it to the limit — sometimes in freezing-cold outdoor festival environs. It's been a thrill to watch this all unfold.

At the beginning of each year, we usually profile about a dozen bands that are worth checking out in the next year. Maybe they've got a new album coming out, or they're headlining some interesting event at Nelson. Maybe they're just so darn interesting that it would be irresponsible not to write about them in our pages.

This year, though, we're changing things up a bit. We'd like to present to you a more conceptual outlook on 2018, in hopes that we can corral even more good music into this annual endeavor. With that, we'd encourage you to keep an ear tilted toward these 10 things you should know about Cleveland music this year.

Happy listening.

The Agora Will Close in January for Remodeling

Over the summer, the Agora Theatre held a press conference to announce an agreement with AEG Presents, LLC, a company that bills itself as a "global leader in concert promotion and venue management."

The company has entered into an agreement with current operator Chris Zitterbart. AEG Presents currently operates 60 theaters and clubs throughout the country. The company, which promotes or books nearly 10,000 events worldwide, plans to "invest capital" in the historic theater and will oversee upgrades to the acoustics, lighting and sound systems. It will upgrade the hospitality spaces, dressing rooms and guest amenities.

Since the theater, which has a capacity of 2,000 in its main hall and 600 in its ballroom, opened in the 1960s, it has hosted acts such as Bruce Springsteen, U2, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, the Clash, Duran Duran and ZZ Top.

"The opportunity to work with AEG Presents and to have them enter the Cleveland music scene is significant," says Chris Zitterbart, operator of the Agora Theatre for the past four years. "They represent the best of having not only the resources necessary to grow the business, but because they also remain independently and privately owned they can afford to be patient and do things the right way. That combination bodes well for the future of the Agora Theatre and the types of shows they will bring to this market."

Agora Theatre and Ballroom operator Chris Zitterbart, AEG Presents chief operating officer Shawn Trell and City of Cleveland councilman TJ Dow met with reporters at the Agora Theatre and Ballroom to announce the changes, and Trell told reporters he was "happy, privileged and pleased" to announce what he called a "co-ownership" of the venue and promised improvements to the venue would result in an "uptick" in the number of concerts the venue hosts. The venue will close in January so that some of the modifications can be done. It'll reopen in February with concerts from BORNS (Feb. 8), Neck Deep (Feb. 10) and Machine Head (Feb. 16). The early 2018 schedule also includes appearances by acts such as Portugal.The Man (Feb. 18), Dan Auerbach (March 31) and the Darkness (April 14). (Jeff Niesel)

Blossom is Bound to Have Another Banner Year

If you ventured out to Blossom last summer, you know it was quite a year for the outdoor shed nestled in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

click to enlarge Blossom Music Center - Photo by CP Thornton
Photo by CP Thornton
Blossom Music Center

The Dead & Co. show drew such an enormous crowd that traffic was snarled for hours. (We missed the entire first set while trying to navigate our way into the parking lot.) Chance the Rapper and Green Day also drew enormous capacity crowds that led to long lines at the concession stands and restrooms. And that's not to mention the big country concerts that came to the venue or the punk rock festival Warped Tour, all big draws as well.

For 2018, Live Nation, which exclusively books all the concerts at the venue except for the classical ones, has announced a handful of Blossom shows, including Foreigner (July 10), Weezer/Pixies (July 11), Foo Fighters (July 25) and Niall Horan (Aug. 29). In its final year, Warped Tour is set to return to the venue on July 19. Each year, Live Nation also offers a country "megaticket" that includes admission to the big country shows that routinely come to the venue.

The schedule at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, also booked by Live Nation, includes Odesza (May 4), Yanni (May 18) and Barenaked Ladies (July 15). "The 2017 Blossom Music Center and Jacobs Pavilion concert season was incredibly successful," says Live Nation's Barry Gabel. "The best part of the Live Nation summer schedule was the diversity of our programming. Based on what I am hearing, the 2018 summer concert schedule will provide music fans with another exciting lineup with similar diversity in genres at both venues."

No word on whether there will be an attempt to alleviate traffic woes and add some portable restrooms, so fans don't have to pee in the woods. (Niesel)

Cleveland Producers Have Been Soundtracking Rap's A-List

Though local rap artists haven't quite gotten a foothold on the national scene, the same can't be said for producers from the Cleveland area. Beatmakers with Cleveland roots have been flying under the radar and getting major placements for national acts. Here are a few:

Drum God: The local 14-year-old (yes, 14, you read that correctly) has been popping in trap's underground, teasing snippets on his Instagram of collaborations with critically acclaimed YG, Atlanta it-kid YFN Lucci, and Los Angeles melodic rapper Yung Pinch. Add those onto tracks with Playboi Carti and Rich the Kid, and this kid has had a pretty memorable freshman year of high school.

M Stacks: With credits for Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, and Curren$y under his belt, the Tequila Ranch house DJ nabbed his biggest single, the 10-million Youtube viewed "Like I Am," on Rittz's 2013 album, The Legend of Jonny Valiant. Rittz's fall album, Last Call, hit No. 1 on Billboard's Rap charts, and M. Stacks-produced "I'm Only Human" has emerged as a fan favorite.

TrapMoneyBenny: Detailed in Scene's November cover story on the local hip-hop scene, Mentor-native TrapMoneyBenny has been a trailblazer for the iconic wonky, playful, trap-laden vibes of Soundcloud rap's emergence. In the past year, Benny has had beats snatched up by Chicago Drill pioneer Chief Keef, Playboi Carti and Atlanta's 21 Savage.

16yrold: The Oberlin native (now 18 years of age) splashed onto the scene two years ago with the booming, sparkling "rita ora," since being tacked onto the ranks of superstar producer collective 808 Mafia. Buzzing emerging artists Desiigner, Sahbabii, Nessly, and Ski Mask The Slump God have all tapped the youngster for multi-million streamed tracks over the past few months.

Sosa 808: Managed by the same crew as local rap phenom Ripp Flamez, the 20-year-old Sosa 808 nabbed Producer of the Year accolades at this year's Ohio Hip-Hop Awards — with good reason. Sosa has gotten placements on huge tracks this year, including a fall collab with A$AP Rocky and Famous Dex, "Pick It Up." Alongside tracks with PNB Rock and Fetty Wap, the local instrumentalist is riding high into 2018.

Nate Fox: Though he only spent five years dabbling in Cleveland's music scene, the Pennsylvania native cut his teeth in this Rust Belt city before he launched into superstardom. Alongside beats for DRAM, Big Sean and Kehlani, Fox has been Chance the Rapper's primary producer since 2013, painting the sonic landscape for the Chicagan's meteoric rise — with the Grammys to prove it. (Lawrence Neil)

The Panza Foundation Has a Great Track Record of Helping Local Bands and Musicians

For the past several years, the Panza Foundation has established itself not just as a fundraising benefactor of local bands and musicians, but as a purveyor of local taste. The recipients of the foundation's annual awards are hailed appropriately as bands you should be listening to right now, bands you should go see live at all costs.

Those who don't heed this advice will miss out on some of the best that Cleveland's vibrant music scene has to offer.

The Panza Foundation is helmed by musician John Panza and writer Jana Panza.

For 2018, the foundation will lend its support to FreshProduce., a female hip-hop duo about which we've published high praise, and one of our "Bands to Watch" in 2016; Pillars, a doom metal trio with a vision that spans both old and new sounds; Uno Lady, a "one-woman choir" who uses looping effects to create lush vocal settings; and the Village Bicycle, a gritty female-led indie band and another one of our "Bands to Watch" in 2016.

click to enlarge Village Bicycle - Photo by Peter Larsen
Photo by Peter Larsen
Village Bicycle

Our point is this: The Panza Foundation is a treasure for the Cleveland music scene, and these four bands are well worth your time. If you've missed out on local shows in recent years, use these groups as foundations to get you into places like Happy Dog, Now That's Class and Grog Shop on a regular basis. These are modern Cleveland institutions, and Panza has spotlit a path into the inner sanctum, just for you.

To get a sense of how Panza's picks have panned out: Last year, the Panza Foundation awarded funding to Mourning [A] BLKstar, FYPM, Deche and Glass Traps. That's a mighty fine list, we've got to say.

We featured Mourning [A] BLKstar in this same annual feature last year. They've remained a dynamite force on the local music scene. You'll not want to miss these next four Panza-backed artists in 2018. (Eric Sandy)

Sixth City Sounds is Planning a Big Year with Even More Music on RTA Trains

We happily wrote about Sixth City Sounds when it launched last year, hosting "mixing sessions" for the music community around Cleveland. The group, helmed by Chayla Hope, Jeanette Sangston and Teddy Eisenberg, seeks to connect and promote the scene here in town.

"It is something that adds to what makes Cleveland unique," Eisenberg told us at the time, describing the rich tapestry of bands and musicians along the North Shore. It's a deep history, indeed; and it's one that could use a little extra spotlight in a city overwhelmed at times by entertainment options. That's where Sixth City comes in.

One of the group's main initiatives in 2017 was its RTA Summer Jam Sessions. These seemingly impromptu appearances from musicians on Red Line trains or outside stations, for instance, is a conduit that can very easily connect riders of all stripes with musicians who are seen mostly under the lights at the Grog. It's projects like that (and several more) that are tapping into Cleveland's DIY ethos — circumventing the east/west divide and the LiveNation booking stranglehold on the city's music venues.

Last year, Sixth City hosted singer-songwriters like Ray Flanagan and Rachel Shortt at various spots throughout the RTA network. Direct interaction there mirrors the "mixing sessions" that brought musicians and music stakeholders together at Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern and at Beachland Tavern last year; more of those to come, too. (Sandy)

The Earnest Tube Can Record Music Directly to Vinyl

Before 1950, most music was recorded directly to a wax or lacquer disc or cylinder. Recording engineers used special "cutting machines" to carve grooves into the medium that could then be played by a stylus. After 1950, most music was recorded directly to magnetic tape.

In 2016, local audio engineers Clint Holley and Dave Polster, both of whom work at the local vinyl mastering company Well Made Music, launched a side project, the Earnest Tube, in an effort to revive the pre-1950 method of making recordings. They use several vintage cutting lathes to recreate the experience of recording live to disc. It's direct-to-disc mono recording in the tradition of the 1927 Bristol recording sessions that marked the commercial debuts of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family and gave the Tennessee town its rep as the birthplace of country music. Holley and Polster work out of a building in Bristol and out of the 78th Street Studios here in Cleveland.

"Dave and I are cutting engineers on a day-to-day for Well Made Music," says Holley, who does all the mastering for the local vinyl production plant Gotta Groove Records. "It's great, but we miss being in the studio when people are creating music. We don't do that now, and we miss seeing that spark of inspiration. That tied with my fandom of country music and how that was recorded inspired the idea for the Earnest Tube, so it seemed like a natural extension of what we do."

So far, Holley and Polster have recorded an album with Akron-raised singer-songwriter Tim Easton as well as singles with local singer-songwriters Thor Platter and Charles Hill.

They've also recorded Analog Rebellion, a collaboration celebrating "the importance and power of free expression." The ACLU benefit album features 10 local acts singing songs related to civil liberties.

This year, the Earnest Tube will partner with the local Roots of American Music to record singer-songwriter David Childers at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Louis Penfield House in Willoughby.

"That will be the test plate for a project that will involve recording musicians in historic buildings," says Holley. "I want to try to match the musician to the space. We'd like to pick a few different cities and match the musicians to the place and have a photographer document it as well. It's in the vein of John and Alan Lomax, who used to collect regional music. We want to show that regional music still exists even if you don't hear it on the radio." (Niesel)

Rock Hall Renovations Will Continue

Last year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame unveiled its new "All Access" Dining & Events, which features food service from Cleveland chefs Michael Symon, Jonathon Sawyer and Rocco Whalen. It also launched a signature multimedia presentation production by Oscar-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme. Other renovations in the works for this year include the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Signature Experience, which will combine enhanced inductee exhibits.

The renovations come in advance of the 2108 Inductions, slated to take place in Cleveland for the first time since 2015. Induction Rock Week events, which will feature free admission for local fans and a sneak peek at the all-new Hall of Fame Inductee Experience, will precede the ceremony, which takes place on April 14 at Pubic Hall.

On April 13, the new Hall of Fame Inductee Experience will open. It will transform the Rock Hall's entire third floor with "interactive displays, iconic artifacts and multimedia that document the past 30 years of inductions." Additionally, the Rock Hall will open a new exhibit, Rock & Roll on Television, on May 25.

"The three things we're always thinking about are making sure we're telling a story, making sure we find ways to connect to multiple generations and giving people an experience," says Todd Mesek, the Rock Hall's vice president of marketing and communications, who spoke to us recently at the opening of the Rock Hall's revamped Beatles' exhibit. "A lot of the experience stems from the exhibits themselves, but we'll have curators and educators talking to groups of people and adding to the experience that way." In addition, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Library & Archives, which is located on Tri-C's Metro Campus, will continue to digitize its collection and host author readings. (Niesel)

click to enlarge Underground Music Showcase
Underground Music Showcase

The Underground Music Showcase at the Grog Shop Has Taken Flight

Curtis Jay and Brady Payne have upped the ante in 2017. With a decade of experience promoting parties, the eastside duo kick-started the Underground Music Showcase in March to bring unity to a dispersed local rap scene and a stage to its most talented, unseen members. Five editions in, and the hip-hop centric offering of the city's emerging talent has taken flight.

Hosted at the Grog Shop, the showcase curates a collection of about 15 artists to play three to four song sets before an audience of fans, fellow artists and local industry tastemakers. Despite being an "underground" event, some of the vital players of the local rap ecosystem have made appearances: DJs from Steph Floss to Corey Grand to Nic Nacc show face or co-host, crown prince Ripp Flamez dropped in for a surprise performance at the most recent show, and buzzing young dance duo Nahzzy and Legend popped in for their summer edition.

In the nine months since opening up the UMS platform connecting up-and-coming rappers and singers, over a thousand artists have applied to be featured, and it's easy to see why. As a baseline, artists selected as the evening's best performers win studio time and engineering from local producer P The Artist. A lucky few have gone on to flip strong live acts into radio spins, management contracts and even a slot at 107.9's Summer Jamz for showcase winner Bellaire Roseff. October's edition featured a dynamite all-female lineup as the group teamed up with Akron breast cancer awareness nonprofit Not Just October, and December featured a best-of-the-best bill from the event's first year.

With a robust debut and no dip in demand, expect Jay and Payne's Underground Music Showcase to thrive in 2018 as they vault even more emerging artists into the spotlight. (Neil)

Northeast Ohio Music Festivals Will Flourish Again

Cleveland has no shortage of music festivals, even if they aren't nationally recognized behemoths like Lollapalooza and Coachella. And that's no problem: We'll keep these special events to ourselves, thanks. Here's a look at what to expect in 2018.

Feb. 24

Brite Winter Festival

West Bank of the Flats

A mostly outdoor Cleveland music festival in February? Of course. For the past few years, locals have more than gotten used to the idea, showing up through blizzards and frigid temps to hear a slate of great local and national bands. This year's free festival features headliners Atlas Genius, an alt-rock band out of Adelaide, South Australia. But as always, the festival focuses on local talent. Among the 40 bands on this year's bill: Seafair, Obnox, Herzog, Freshproduce and Mourning [A]BLKstar. Expect six indoor and outdoor stages, along with a slew of vendors, food trucks, ice sculptures and warming fires. Find out more at britewinter.com.

April 20-22

The 2018 EarlyBird Festival at Nelson Ledges

Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, 12001 Nelson Ledge Rd., Garrettsville

Kicking off the season of highly anticipated music festivals at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park is the EarlyBird Festival, featuring Dayton's own rock act, the Werks. You can also participate in a cliff-jumping polar plunge to get the blood flowing. Also scheduled this summer: the Spring Badfish Festival running June 8 to 10, and Classic Fest for the weekend of June 15 to 17. Go ahead and watch ticketquarry.com throughout 2018 for more details.

June 9-10


Laurel School, 7420 Fairmount Rd., Shaker Heights

Look out for the biggest lineup in LaureLive's short history this June. With huge headliners Foster the People, Brandi Carlile, Fitz & the Tantrums and Cold War Kids on board, the $100 general admission weekend pass isn't as hard to swallow. Also coming to LaureLive's lush lawns, thanks to local promoter Elevation Group, are X Ambassadors, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Daya, Red Wanting Blue, Magic Giant and the Record Company. Area singer Emily Keener, a 2016 finalist on The Voice, will also be a highlight of the outdoor music festival. Learn more at laurelive.com.

July 19

Warped Tour

Blossom Music Center, 1145 West Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls

It's okay to get emotional, punk fans, because touring festival season will never be the same again. In November, Vans Warped Tour founder and producer Kevin Lyman announced the event would cease its full run of stops after 2018. For 23 years, the Warped Tour has brought veteran punks and emo teens together under the blazing summer sun. Huge bands like No Doubt, Bad Religion, Fall Out Boy and Blink-182 all played the event. The tour comes to Blossom Music Center once more this July (the lineup has yet to be announced). After 2018, it's unclear what the festival will look like exactly, but as it's the last of its kind, next summer's turnout could be one of the biggest in years. Find out more at vanswarpedtour.com.

September 2018

Ingenuity Festival

Downtown Cleveland

While not much is yet known about this year's Ingenuity Festival, we'd be remiss to not mention the weekend-long interactive celebration of music, science, technology, art, dance and humanness. Created by James Levin and Thomas Mulready more than a decade ago, the event highlights our region's creativity while showcasing a variety of underutilized spaces in downtown Cleveland. Check ingenuitycleveland.com to stay updated on the 2018 festival. (Laura Morrison)

Lighthouse and the Whaler - Reybee Inc. Photo
Reybee Inc. Photo
Lighthouse and the Whaler

Local Musicians Are Making Good on the National Stage

Kid Cudi and Machine Gun Kelly may be the biggest local names to hit nationwide notoriety in recent years, but come 2018, they might not be the only ones. A healthy roster of local acts and musicians is poised on the cusp of wider recognition. For many of these groups, 2017 was a giant leap forward. And they're not done yet.

Cloud Nothings

Last year, along with the likes of Machine Gun Kelly, the indie-rock act Cloud Nothings played Lollapalooza and also toured relentlessly behind its fourth studio album Life Without Sound. "It's hard to say," Dylan Baldi told Scene last month when asked about 2017's highlights. "We played shows that were the biggest we've played. But it didn't feel that way. We had a giant show in March in London; it was a huge, sold-out show. But it felt like a show, it didn't feel like a milestone. It was weird. I feel like at this point it almost is ... we're gonna keep doing it until we have to stop, until nobody comes to see the show anymore. Right now it's like, 'Okay, we did this year, we survived this. Let's do it again.'"

Up next for the Cloud Nothings: an Australian tour in February and plans for a new album.


Opening for 311 in 2017 was just the tip of the iceberg for the fun-loving reggae/hip-hop/funk act Tropidelic. Last year, the crew also headlined its own Freakstomp Music Festival in Medina, sold out a slew of shows in Cleveland and released its highly anticipated new album, Heavy is the Head, in November, which hit No. 1 on the iTunes reggae chart. Not bad for a little band from Kent. Since moving to Cleveland a few years back, the group has gained serious traction, sharing stages with the likes of other reggae-influenced bands including Slightly Stoopid, the Dirty Heads, Sublime with Rome and the Wailers.

Up next: opening for Flobots and Badfish on national tours. Also playing the Reggae Rise Up Music Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Welshly Arms

After playing Jimmy Kimmel Live and having their tunes featured in ads for the NFL, Indian Motorcycles and Beck's beer, you might wonder how much bigger Welshly Arms could get. Plenty, we expect. Their catchy-as-hell track "Legendary" (we're talking more than 20 million listens on Spotify) might be their most well-known song, but the band's whole catalog is required listening.

Up next: headed out on a four-month national tour starting at the end of January.

Lighthouse and the Whaler

Everything about local indie rockers the Lighthouse and the Whaler continues to burn bright. Ever since 2015's Mont Royal received glowing national attention, the band's been in hot demand, touring with Ra Ra Riot, Run River North and Surfer Blood and getting their songs played on TV shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Last fall, they were back with a fresh EP, Paths, which, as singer Michael LoPresti told Scene in September, explores a theme of battling for relevancy. "I feel like it's a struggle to be in a band and people don't fully see that. They look at it from the outside," LoPresti said. "There's a lot of struggle, especially now, and it's hard to be relevant in any way. It's hard to rise above that noise as a band. Basically, it is just difficult to matter."

Up next: While no tour dates are set yet, presumably the band plans to tour behind the recent EP and keep "battling."

Fuck You Pay Me

As their name suggests, the Cleveland-based hardcore act Fuck You Pay Me is direct. And bracing. And loud. Which is one of the reasons the rambunctious crew goes over so well touring around the country — that and their awesome band shirts, of course. The band got into action this year rolling through the West Coast, Midwest, New England and the South, thanks in part to a grant from the local Panza Foundation. On top of that, the four-piece released Dumbed Down, and also contributed a cover of the Subhumans' track "Religious Wars" to the punk compilation album Still Having Their Say.

Up next: Expect regional touring and maybe even a new album. The goal is also to do a show in Hawaii.

Archie and the Bunkers

Teen brothers Emmett and Cullen O'Connor now summer in Europe. Since signing to a label across the pond, the guys have found success internationally. This summer they got down to business overseas with the She's a Rockin' Machine EP release, a European tour and a video for "You're My Pacemaker." Through it all, the high-fidelity organ punk act still made time to come home to Cleveland multiple times.

Up next: This February, expect a new 45 release from Norton Records and a Beachland Ballroom show. A new LP is on the horizon. (Morrison)