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Unsung Heroes: Profiles of Some of the People Keeping the Local Music Alive 

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Gabriel Pollack

The Music Settlement/Bop Stop

One of the most ambitious young promoters in town, Gabriel Pollack has high hopes for the Bop Stop, the Detroit Shoreway venue he manages. "The Bop Stop has such a rich history and has helped foster a thriving jazz community in Cleveland," he says. "Moving forward with the venue, I want to honor its past while focusing on presenting creative, original music. I like to think of the Bop Stop as a small performing arts center so although most people think of us as a jazz club — and most of our programming is jazz — we are open to presenting original music of any genre." The club even presents a monthly comedy show. Since the Music Settlement, a leading music education institution in the region, owns the space, Pollack likes to present shows that "get our students and the general public to think outside the box." "I want violin players to realize that they can be an orchestral player, gypsy jazz fiddler, or a shredding metal violinist, and I'll book any of those," he says. "Another goal of mine is to get musicians from different musical backgrounds to communicate with each other and create new, contemporary sounds." The monthly jam session, Outlab, is a general "improvisation jam," with no specific genre association, so it can attract musicians from diverse backgrounds. "The Bop Stop is a unique space," Pollack says. "We present over 220 shows a year and host music classes three days a week. Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen manages our kitchen which allows us to have food service during our performances while helping chefs get their products into the marketplace. Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present, Future curates the walls of the Bop Stop with a music-themed photography exhibit. The proceeds from our bar support the many programs the Music Settlement offers. It's a feel-good space." (Niesel)

Vince Slusarz

Gotta Groove Records

For almost 25 years, Slusarz worked for Newbury-based Kinetico Incorporated, a plastics manufacturing company. He liked his job as chief operations officer. But after the company was sold in 2006, a new CEO came in, eventually eliminating his position. Unemployed at 51, Slusarz suddenly had lots of time for soul searching. A muse appeared in the form of a new turntable. He bought one for himself and gave his old one to his 19-year-old daughter, who told him that all her friends were buying turntables with USB ports so that they could download music onto their computers. That got him thinking. Pressing records, he figured, wouldn't be a huge departure from his plastics-manufacturing experience. In 2008, the owners of Dynamic Assets in New Jersey replied to his query about selling their equipment; he bought the presses and moved them to an old warehouse near Superior. He's been busy pressing local and national releases ever since. "We are continuing to ride the wave of the ongoing resurgence in vinyl and are happy to play our part in it," says Slusarz. "We pressed a number of Record Store Day titles, but nothing unusual about that.  We do plan on having the Finebuilt semi-automatic press we bought from the original [Cleveland-based] Boddie Record pressing plant we purchased from Mrs. Boddie several years ago ready to be put into service within the next two months." Gotta Groove also just pressed and delivered the new LP from quirky indie singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman. It's the first LP release by Blue Arrow, the vinyl record store that recently started a new record label. In addition, two Gotta Groove employees — Heather Gmucs, who has run the presses since 2010, and Sarah Barker — have started creating vinyl-based visual artwork under the name of Wax Mage. (Niesel)

Rachel Hunt

Live from Cleveland/Live From Lakewood Festival

Local writer and Scene contributor Rachel Hunt hosts Live from Cleveland, a WRUW program that "puts a live band in your living room" every Thursday night from 10 to 11 p.m. "Whether or not bands feel like there is an overwhelming interest or fiscal return for their music, I think it says a lot about our regional scene that we are able to host a different band every week on Live from Cleveland, at a college radio station, an analog media platform that many think is dead," she says. "These are bands from every genre imaginable, at many different stages of their careers." She's booked the program for the past five years and has seen hundreds of bands come through the basement of Mather Memorial. "The fact that Cleveland's music scene sustains lifers like that is incredible," she says. "That bands want to come on the program for nothing more than a multi-track mix, some promotion, and a good time means a lot to us. It's something that no other radio station, commercial or non-commercial, has consistently done in the area."

She also works as the live music coordinator for Night Market Cleveland and Gather in Glenville. She assists with Brite Winter and other miscellaneous events around town. "Whether it's Now That's Class, Happy Dog or the Beachland, all of these bands and venues I've worked with have always gone above and beyond to accommodate me and curate a good show," she says. "The music scene thrives in Cleveland because legislature, startups, venues and college radio stations are all paying attention to what local bands have to say. So, in my opinion, it's a great time to get your voice out there because there are a lot of people right now who are listening." (Niesel)

Wallace Settles

Dirty Jones Productions

Wallace Settles (aka Dirty Jones) was one of those artists looking to leave his imprint on the world through music, but who found that doing so came with a heap of difficulties with no viable solution in sight. He's the promoter behind the local showcase Cruel Winter Fest, which took place at the end of last year at the Grog Shop. The lineup featured some of the city's best hip-hop, including the likes of Tribe Untitled, Young James & Toby, Mondo Slade, Creez Mob, Phrazes, Walker OG, Zell, and Don Purp, among others. Tae Miles and Ray Ave shared top billing, with music by Elliot Nash and hosting duties handled by Kris Hilton. Settles first started rapping in 2007 with the local outfit Moriarity. ""I rapped for awhile and then I made a mixtape," he says. "We had a little buzz behind it, then the group album came out and then I made my solo joint. After I made the solo album, I noticed how hard it was for me to promote everything and I said to myself, 'Why is this shit so hard? Why is this so hard for me to promote? Why is no one listening to none of this shit?' That's when I realized that there was nobody really promoting and managing acts and putting on events and shows." Two years ago, he made the transition and started throwing events and helping the Grog out with booking artists for bigger shows. Feeling as if the business side of hip-hop in Cleveland was lacking, Settles was willing to sacrifice his own popularity as an artist to do the hard work of getting exposure for artists and putting on what he refers to as "legitimate rap shows." He'll be the first to tell you that he misses primarily being an artist, but he also says that being behind the scenes has its perks. "I like behind the scenes better, just because it's like you can control your own destiny," he says. "You can pick the shows you want to do. When you're behind the scenes, you know when artists are coming into town at least three months in advance." Settles plans to get back to the music side of things and release a compilation album featuring all of the artists he currently manages, including the aforementioned Common Ave and Case Barge. "It'll be like what Jay Z did with the Dynasty," he says. "We've got all kinds of artists — R&B groups, DJs, all kinds of artists. So I'm trying to bring everything together and push the product properly so everybody can hear everything we've got on one cohesive project and it won't be as confusing." He's also set his sights on making Cruel Winter bigger and better. "I want to make this thing gigantic," he says. "I could even have it in the summertime at Voinovich Park with ten thousand people there going nuts and a national headliner and all that stuff. That's the ultimate goal." (Emanuel Wallace)

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