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How a legendary music fest got bungled into oblivion.

For music aficionados, summer in Cleveland is defined largely by three activities: trying to keep your pierogi down while REO Speedwagon, Rick Springfield, or some other fossil with feathered hair fends off retirement for another year at the Rib Cook Off; draining your child's college fund on a round of beer at Blossom; and breaking out the blankets and Budweiser for Studio-A-Rama.

For nearly two and a half decades, Studio-A has been just about the best annual music event in town. A free show held in the grassy Mather Memorial Courtyard on the Case Western Reserve campus, Studio-A brings together a half-dozen or so local bands -- usually along with a national headliner -- and a throng of drunk revelers at no cost other than a headache the next morning. You can bring your own beer (as long as it's in a can), and past bills have been topped by such seminal acts as Naked Raygun, the Didjits, and the New Tomb Turks.

"It's the truest form of college radio giving back to its listeners," says WCSB DJ Craig Callander, who's been attending the fest since the mid-'80s. "They'd have garage bands, hardcore bands, metal bands, jazzy bands, and it was a good way for everyone to kind of come together. It's kind of like the family picnic for all the freaks in Cleveland."

But after its biggest year yet in 2002, when Guided by Voices played the fest, Studio-A fell off a bit last year. The lineup was announced late, the bill was headlined by avant jazzbos Birth -- a superb band, but one that Clevelanders have seen for years -- and only about a third as many people showed up as they did the previous summer.

A down year every now and then is to be expected, but Studio-A seems to be facing difficulties again this summer. A show date of September 11 was only recently announced, a month before the gig. And with less than two weeks before the fest, not a single band has been named.

"It started last year; we had sort of the same issues," says Studio-A-Rama Coordinator Melissa Rae Giglio. "This year, there is a new head of the music department at Case. Because Mather Memorial Courtyard is right next to Harkness Chapel, which the music department and theater department use, they're the ones that have to give the OK, just to make sure there's no other event that there's going to be a conflict with. The new music director is just kind of being overly cautious about things happening outside Harkness Chapel. There was a lot more holdup this year. It's very frustrating."

Of course, the university doesn't see it that way.

"I don't agree that it's taken more time," says Caseal Jordan Medley, Director of Operations for CWRU student Center and adviser to the media board, who adds that the show date reflects when the WRUW staff made the request to use the courtyard. "Reservations are made through my office. It's first come, first served. It's when the students apply."

But the delay in putting together the lineup isn't the only thing that has some longtime fans of Studio-A griping. After one of the guys in Guided by Voices smashed a bottle on stage two years ago, security was tightened. Last year, attendees were carded for the first time, coolers were checked more diligently, and there was a heightened police presence.

"In the past, we've had Case Western Reserve security on-site, and they tend to be a little lazier than your average policeman or security guard that you might hire from outside the university, so we've actually changed over to using some University Circle police as well," Giglio says. "The UCPD is a little more prominent, as far as being at the entrance and having more of a presence."

Despite the rocky going of late, members of the WRUW staff seem confident that these issues can be resolved in the future.

"It's just bureaucracy," says WRUW DJ Neal Filsinger of the lag in getting the fest off the ground this go-round. "This year, they may have just dragged their feet a little more; things just moved more slowly."

According to Giglio, more than 70 local bands applied to play Studio-A this year. Currently, WRUW is waiting for a signed contract from the headliner before making any announcements about this year's acts.

"It'll go well," Filsinger promises. "Some years, we've really hit gold with Guided by Voices and the New Bomb Turks. Sometimes you luck into it, sometimes you don't," he says with a chuckle. "Even if it's not swell -- it's free."

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