RIP Keith Rathbun, Former Scene Publisher

Music News

click to enlarge RIP Keith Rathbun, Former Scene Publisher
The Times-Reporter
After starting as a sports writer and delivery driver, assistant manager, editor and general manager, Keith Rathbun, an Ohio University grad who grew up in Northeast Ohio, worked his way up to publisher of Cleveland Scene in the ‘90s.

Personal friends with classic rock acts such as Eddie Money, AC/DC and Billy Joel, Rathbun was a passionate music fan and had a strong love for Cleveland and the local and national acts that made the city into a rock ’n’ roll stronghold. He worked at Scene until 2000, at which point he started working at The Sugarcreek Budget, a weekly paper that serves Amish communities. Under his guidance, the paper celebrated its 125th anniversary last year.

Yesterday, Rathbun passed away at age 63 of a reported heart attack.

“Keith was one of the warmest, genuinely kind people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing,” says Emily Votaw, a local writer and occasional Scene contributor who worked with Rathbun at The Budget. “As someone who wrote for his newspaper throughout my high school and college years, it was incredible to have someone believe in my ability long before I did. I will miss him, especially when it comes to talking about music. If there is anyone who was both schooled and skilled in pop music, it was Keith.”   

Ann Swinderman, another Budget reporter, shares Votaw's sentiments.

"I had the privilege of working at The Budget under Keith's leadership for more than six years," she writes on Facebook. "He hired me as an intern and promoted me to staff writer, and eventually, local edition editor. He believed in me and my skills when I didn't believe in myself. He was a mentor and a friend. I will forever be grateful to him for all he's done for me and my family. As I moved on from my time at The Budget, I had the honor of working alongside him in various organizations and causes. Rest In Peace my friend."

Former Scene editor Mark Holan has fond memories of working with Rathbun for 20 years.

"Keith was the editor when I began my 20-year career at Scene," he says. "He was a jovial, easygoing guy who knew that he didn't know everything about all the new music that was happening around him. He wasn't too full of himself that he didn't welcome 'new voices' on the editorial staff. I started writing record reviews and then concert reviews at a furious pace. I must've proven myself to Keith as a worker bee cos he hired me as an assistant editor. Then when he became G.M., he made me editor. He used to say that he was happier for me becoming editor than his own promotion. But Keith grew into the job. We had our differences as personalities, but we respected each other all the way to the end. The New Times bought Scene in 1998 and I left and he stayed on. His time at the Budget must've been heaven for Keith. He had great success in Amish country. He was always a dedicated family man, and his progeny and widow will always have their memories of him. I'll never forget how nervous I was writing that first record review for him and his acceptance of me into the rock critics fraternity. I'll also remember that I refused to agree with Keith's belief that Billy Joel was a genius and great performer. He always said, 'You gotta see him live.' Years later, I saw BJ at Windsor Casino and loved his show and his onstage histrionics. I thought of Keith and realized that he'd been right all along. You see, you can be wrong about the right things."

Other locals who remember Rathbun from his Scene days posted their condolences on Facebook. Live Nation's Barry Gabel called him a "gentleman."

"I am very sad to hear of the passing of an old friend of mine, Keith Rathbun," writes local photographer Joe Kleon on Facebook. "Keith was the associate publisher of Scene Magazine, when I worked there as a staff writer in the late-80s and early 90s. He always treated me very well, would always go to bat for me whenever I had problems, and was just a really great guy. R.I.P. my friend."
click to enlarge Keith Rathbun, Billy Joel and Max Rathbun - Courtesy of Don Kriss
Courtesy of Don Kriss
Keith Rathbun, Billy Joel and Max Rathbun
click to enlarge Keith Rathbun, Eddie Money and Max Rathbun - Courtesy of Don Kriss
Courtesy of Don Kriss
Keith Rathbun, Eddie Money and Max Rathbun
click to enlarge Michael Stanley, Alan Davis and Keith Rathbun - Courtesy of Don Kriss
Courtesy of Don Kriss
Michael Stanley, Alan Davis and Keith Rathbun

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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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