10 Bands to See at the Inaugural InCuya Music Festival

click to enlarge New Order, one of InCuya's main draws. - Nick Wilson
Nick Wilson
New Order, one of InCuya's main draws.
Earlier this year, concert promoter AEG Presents (the company that’s been booking shows at the Agora and the company that produces about 30 festivals around the country) held a press conference at the Rock Hall to announce the lineup for InCuya, a summer music festival that takes place on Saturday, Aug. 25, and Sunday, Aug. 26, at the downtown malls.

The festival represents a partnership between the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the City of Cleveland, Destination Cleveland and the newly-formed Cleveland Concert Company.

Many other local organizations have gotten involved too. Festival organizers have partnered with the Platform Beer Co., which will create the InCuya TOURBUS Pilsner for the event. The official beer of the inaugural festival will also be available for a limited time at the Platform taprooms in Cleveland and Columbus. Naturally, it’ll be served on-site at the festival.

Dubbed InCuya FoodLand, the festival’s food experience will feature grub from Adam Lambert and Trevor Clatterback of Ohio City Provisions, Mike Nowak of Poca and the Black Pig, Brett Sawyer of the Plum and Sean Watterson of Happy Dog. Happy Camper will also provide specialty beverages. Locally renowned food trucks such as Pasta Tivo, Betty’s Bomb Ass Burgers, Wholly Frijoles, Sauced Wood Fired Pizza, Smokin’ Rock and Roll, and Wild Spork will be on hand as well.

Here’s a guide to some of the bands worth catching.

The Modern Electric
1:35 p.m. Saturday, Lake Stage

“Just like in the movies,” they say, and they’re spot-on. The Modern Electric has consistently kept crowds in Cleveland (and elsewhere) dazzled with their brand of “cinematic pop.” It’s all of a piece with these guys, and one often feels like a wonderstruck Ed Norton in a long-forgotten Wes Anderson flick when listening to their stuff. We check in with the band every now and then, and they lately released their album, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, as a set of instrumental tunes. It’s an even more honed sense of cinematic enjoyment from one of Cleveland's best indie bands. (Eric Sandy)

J. Roddy Walston & the Business
3:20 p.m. Saturday, City Stage

In the tradition of guys like Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, J. Roddy Walston doesn’t just play the piano. He bangs away on the keys like a man possessed. His raw garage rock tunes that have the same kind of swagger you hear in tunes by Kings of Leon and the Black Keys. So how the hell did Walston learn to play the piano? His grandmother was a gospel/honky tonk country piano player who taught him the tricks of the trade. Walston, who insists he'll never play keyboards, tours with a piano and puts on a helluva show. He’s spent the first part of this year touring in support of last year's Destroyers of the Soft Life, an album of urgent indie rock tunes that veers from Nirvana-like punk ("You Know Me Better") to fervent drinking ballads ("Blade of Truth"). Expect to hear songs from it at today’s performance. (Jeff Niesel)

5:25 p.m. Saturday, Lake Stage

Kitten's 2018 EP Pink Champagne hits you hard from the start with a ferocious scream from frontwoman Chloe Chaidez; it then never lets you go. Chaidez's vocals walk a fine line between pop diva belting and punk rock queen growls, and through every captivating song you'll want to know what she'll throw at you next. That the band is from L.A. but now lives in Brooklyn comes across in its bright-with-an-edge party tunes. Rest assured that Chaidez and her group will be just as mesmerizing and ready to party on stage. The band will soon be back in Cleveland following this performance, hitting the Agora on Nov. 5. (Laura Morrison)

7:25 p.m. Saturday, City Stage

Singer Aaron Bruno put together AWOLNATION back in 2009 after his various other bands had broken up. He’s said that his previous bands were “more traditional” when it came to writing songs and that he had to take charge of the songwriting himself. Turned out to be the right decision. Though it didn’t become a success overnight, the debut album delivered a hit single with “Sail,” a tune that found its way into TV shows, commercials and films. With its pulsating synthesizers and raspy vocals, the song sounds like a heavier track from alt-rockers Imagine Dragons. The band will likely play it along with songs from its recent album, Here Come the Runts, which came out earlier this year. (Niesel)

New Order
9:15 p.m. Saturday, City Stage

When Joy Division singer Ian Curtis killed himself in 1980, it ended a terrific run by one of post-punk greatest bands. The remaining members from that band would solider on as New Order, a group with a slightly more accessible sound than the often-abrasive, proto-industrial rock of Joy Division. New Order enjoyed great commercial success during the 1980s when tracks such as “Blue Monday” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” received radio airplay. The band hasn’t played Cleveland in years, making this performance arguably the most anticipated of the entire festival. (Niesel)

The Jack Fords
2:45 p.m. Sunday, Lake Stage

Singer-guitarists Brent Kirby and Bobby Latina have played together since 2005, when they would jam at the now-defunct Town Fryer. The Jack Fords formed at about that time too, and the local roots rock act hase become one of the city's best bar bands. With its snarling vocals and restrained guitar riff, the title track to its 2015 album, There It Is, sounds like a cross between vintage Tom Petty and AC/DC, and "Getting Back" comes off as a rowdy garage-rock tune with a good, greasy guitar riff. The album shows off the band's ability to veer from country-ish ballads to hard rocking anthems, making these guys a great fit for InCuya. (Niesel)

4:50 p.m. Sunday, Lake Stage

Singer-guitarist Nick Wold and singer-bassist Marc Nelson started this alt-rock band in Brooklyn where they’ve lived for ten years. Wold had been in another band that broke up and teamed up with Nelson to release the single "Wolves (You Got Me)," which got some airplay on satellite radio. The two relocated to Los Angeles and added drummer Jacob Wick to the lineup. Wold actually wrote much of 2016’s This Album Does Not Exist, in Brooklyn before moving to L.A. where it tracked the songs at Fairfax Recordings (formerly Sound City Studios). The album features a mix of rock and pop that the band dubs "cosmic rock." The careening "Never Too Late to Dance" recalls the Killers in their prime and loud-to-quiet dynamics of "Sweet Disaster" compare favorably to Weezer. (Niesel)

6 p.m. Sunday, City Stage

Cake singer John McCrea has said he used to “really, really hate” festivals because they symbolized “bombast and excess.” He’s apparently gotten over that hatred because the band is one of today’s main acts. When McCrea, who formed Cake way back in 1991, talks about his band’s “sonic DNA,” he has explained that the band was conceived as “a hostile reactionary gesture against the music of the early and mid-’90s, which for us was just big dumb white guy rock.” Regardless of how out of sync the band’s rinky dink music sounded at the time, the group quickly found a following and was signed to Capricorn Records following the release of its debut album, Motorcade of Generosity. It’s steadily recorded and toured ever since, and the sardonic McCrea brings a ton of personality to the stage. (Niesel)

7:25 p.m. Sunday, City Stage

SZA (pronounced Sih-zuh, for the record) makes music that feels unpretentiously real and that she really, honestly likes. This is not a given, and it made her performance last year at House of Blues endearing and deeply relatable. SZA loses herself dancing to her music like we have alone in our bedroom mirrors. She fans out to the Travis Scott verse on "Love Galore" like we do, and raps with a mischievous grin along to Kendrick’s tongue-in-cheek bars on “Doves in the Wind” like we did. She sheepishly tucks a blunt behind her ear like we might, and riffs over her refrains like we try to but mostly wish we could. There was something electrifying and important about hearing a diverse, primarily female audience yell Princess’s verse when the opening DJ spun “Knuck If You Buck” or collectively bellow, “I’ve paid enough of petty dues/I’ve heard enough of shitty news.” Expect a similarly enthusiastic response when she performs tonight at InCuya. (Lawrence Neil)

The Avett Brothers
9:15 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26

The Avett Brothers' music can sometimes get written off as simplistic or sappy. But every song written by North Carolina siblings Seth and Scott Avett comes from a place of authenticity. They spin tales of hardship and working to be better men, fathers and lovers through multitudes of imperfections. That their most well-known song is called "I and Love and You" just shows they're willing to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Today, they're still playing that same rip-roarin' and timeless brand of bluegrass/country they arrived with in the early 2000s. And as seen in the recent documentary, May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers, directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio, that music is poised to keep them working for decades to come. Armed with a set sure to get people movin' as well as feeling things deeply, the Avett Brothers are a perfect choice to close out Cleveland's first ever InCuya Music Festival. (Morrison)

InCuya Music Festival, noon, Saturday, Aug. 25 and 1 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 26, Malls B and C, incuya.com
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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