14 Things to Know About the Cleveland Music Scene in 2020

click to enlarge 14 Things to Know About the Cleveland Music Scene in 2020
Photo Illustration by Steve Miluch

A new year means new music and 2020 is shaping up to be a good one for the local music scene, which continues to thrive. As a result, the new year promises to bring with it music festivals such as the Inkcarceration Music & Tattoo Festival and WonderStruck in Cleveland, new releases from acts such as the Vindys and Nathan-Paul, and new music-related podcasts and lectures.

Here are 14 things we think you should know about the local music scene in 2020.

The Akron Art Museum Will Launch a New Music Series

In the attempt to beat back the wintertime blues, the Akron Art Museum will launch a new winter concert series. Dubbed Midwinter Blues and Other Tunes, the series begins this month, and concerts will take place every Thursday through Feb. 13. Each week, the museum will feature local music along with art activities, live artist demos and additional musical performances in the galleries. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the headliners take the stage at 7 p.m. "We want to brighten everyone's January and February with great music and unforgettable events in an incredibly cool venue," says the museum's deputy director and chief experience officer Seema Rao in a press release. "We're planning surprises in the galleries and in the lobby for visitors to enjoy and see the museum in a new way. The concerts are an exciting way to see these bands in a different setting. At 150 seats, it's an intimate, unique experience for the audience and the bands." The schedule includes performances by the Beyonderers (Jan. 9), Cory Grinder Band (Jan. 16), Shivering Timbers (Jan. 23), Floco Torres (Jan. 30), Lemon Quartet (Feb. 6) and King Buu (Feb. 13). Admission to the museum galleries and lobby is free. However, January's headlining concerts in the museum auditorium are paid admission and require tickets. The February concerts are free.

* * *

The Crooked River Arts Council Will Present Four Music Festivals

The Crooked River Arts Council (CRAC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting music, arts and culture, community support services and education. Last year, the Kent-based organization donated more than $12,000 to area organizations to assist in fulfilling their missions. The money went to Habitat For Humanity, Main Street Kent, Family & Community Services, Big Brothers And Sisters of Portage County, Kent Roosevelt Music Boosters, Akron Children's Hospital, Ben Curtis Foundation and  Kent State University/Head Start music program. "We are very proud that we were able to produce these well-received music events, to make a cultural and economic impact, and to also help these wonderful organizations this year," says Mike Beder, one of the founders of CRAC, in a statement. "Kent is a great city, and these groups add immensely to the fabric of the community." Marty Student, the organization's director of development, says community support has been integral to the group's success. "Our organization simply could not do this work without the support of our festival sponsors, the participating venues and musicians, and area patrons," says Student. "We are also pleased to announce that Wayside Furniture will again be our presenting sponsor in 2020." This year, the Crooked River group will again present four popular annual music festivals: the Kent BeatleFest (Feb. 21), the Kent American Roots Festival (April 24), Kent BluesFest (July 17) and the 'Round Town Music Fest (Sept. 18). 

* * *

Gotta Groove Records Will Reissue Tom Wachunas' Spare Changes 

Two years ago, locally based Gotta Groove Records kicked off its OH Wax Series, which is dedicated to reissuing "lost" albums that are collectible and have a high demand in the used market due to the limited numbers that were originally pressed. At that time, the label reissued Salem's Rise, a 1985 album by the Dayton hard-rock band Witch. The Gotta Groove folks tracked down the original label's founder to re-release the disc, and the black vinyl reissue edition was limited to 500 copies worldwide. This year, the label will reissue Spare Changes, an album by visual artist, journalist and teacher Tom Wachunas. From 1977 through 1991 Wachunas resided in New York, where he painted and exhibited extensively and curated shows for "alternative" galleries. He has been an accomplished arts journalist since 1986, writing hundreds of reviews and features on the visual and performing arts for numerous regional and international publications. Locally, since 2001, he has had one-man shows at Millworks Gallery in Akron, the Canton Museum of Art, Kent State University Stark campus, Malone University, and Second April Galerie in downtown Canton. He is a regular exhibitor in many area group shows. He's currently the curator for Gallery 6000 on the KSU Stark campus, where he teaches a class called Art as a World Phenomenon.

* * *

The Inkcarceration Music & Tattoo Festival Returns to the Ohio State Reformatory in July

Inkcarceration, the annual music and tattoo festival, returns to the Ohio State Reformatory (the place is also known as the Shawshank prison) in Mansfield on July 10, 11 and 12. Limp Bizkit, Weezer and Blink 182 will headline the third iteration of the festival. "We are extremely humbled by the support the fans put behind this festival in 2019 and wanted to bring them something even bigger in 2020," the production team says in a statement. "For year three, we put together an extremely eclectic lineup that brings together all forms of rock. This festival is becoming known as the most unique event in the country, so we wanted to construct a lineup as unique as the venue itself! And, of course, it's still the only rock festival held at a famous haunted prison! Expect lots of site upgrades from VIP to camping. We can't wait for everyone to see what we have in store!" The festival will feature more than 40 bands on two outdoors stages, and 60 tattoo artists will be on hand as well. There will be reformatory tours, gourmet food trucks, camping and the return of the popular haunted house attraction Escape from Blood Prison. Papa Roach, Halestorm, Mastodon, Underoath, Hollywood Undead, Steel Panther, Falling in Reverse, Candlebox, Badflower, Atreyu, Static-X , Puddle of Mudd, New Politics, All That Remains, We Came as Romans, the Devil Wears Prada, Emmure, Attila, Stick to Your Guns, New Years Day, Escape the Fate, Cold, Carnifex, The Aquadolls, Band-Maid, Stitched Up Heart, September Mourning, Damn Nation, Paralandra, Along Came a Spider, A Killers Confession, MissYou, Sink the Ship, Dread Engine, Mollo Rilla and Saving Escape are all slated to perform as well. 

click to enlarge The High School Rock Off returns to the Rock Hall in February. - Photo by Emanuel Wallace
Photo by Emanuel Wallace
The High School Rock Off returns to the Rock Hall in February.

* * *

Jesse Jukebox Will Release His Third Kids' Album

Local singer-songwriter Jesse Jukebox (aka Jesse Friedberg) will release his third kids' album, Awesome!, on Jan. 17. The songs center on overcoming disabilities, and Friedberg draws upon personal experience for the tunes. "When I was a child, I felt misunderstood. I didn't quite fit in," he explains in a press release. "I had speech problems — I couldn't say anything but the ABCs until I was 3, vision problems — I've had glasses my entire life, teeth problems — my overbite was out of control, learning problems and behavioral problems. As a toddler, I was kicked out of a Daddy & Me class. When I was a bit older, I struggled in school. It was so hard to pay attention and understand the lessons." One teacher even told him he was stupid. "The faculty just gave up on me and advised my parents to expect me to never be more than an average to below-average student," Friedberg says. "My parents didn't give up on me though, and, with their support, I finally began to get the help I needed when I was diagnosed with ADHD. This led to many positive changes in my life. I switched to a new school and saw lots of different specialists for speech, motor and learning. It was then that I began to understand myself, and this opened the door to learning the skills I would need to enjoy a happy and productive life. Awesome! is meant to remind kids who might be going through similar trials that they aren't alone and to urge everyone to go on a treasure hunt for that sense of 'awesome' that lies within, waiting to be discovered." Produced by Grammy winner Dean Jones, the album is, as Friedberg puts it, "beautifully flawed, just like people are." Friedberg, who graduated from Berklee College of Music with a major in songwriting, recorded his first kids' album back in 2012. He currently teaches interactive early childhood music classes in Ohio City, at the Mandel JCC in Beachwood and at synagogues and preschools throughout the greater Cleveland area. He also works with inner city kids in the Notes for Notes program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.

* * *

The Peter Laughner Boxset Is Now Available as a Digital Download

Last year, Smog Veil Records, an imprint known for reissuing albums by Cleveland punk bands, issued Peter Laughner, a five LP/CD box set compilation plus that includes massive liner notes and a bonus 7-inch single. Focusing on the 1972 to 1977 period of the Cleveland singer-songwriter's career, the set features previously unreleased performances by Laughner's bands Rocket From the Tombs, Fins, Cinderella Backstreet, Friction, Cinderella's Revenge and the Original Wolverines, as well as solo and collaborative efforts. The set also includes "significant sonic upgrades" of material that was previously released on various out-of-print and bootleg compilations. Local photographers such as Anastasia Pantsios and Janet Macoska contributed material as well. Since most of the music that label owner Frank Mauceri obtained was recorded on cassette and some was on reel-to-reel, it all had to be re-mastered. "We compiled all the recordings we had and made digital dubs to pick the tracks we wanted to use," says Mauceri. "Once we picked the tracks, we went to Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice, who are Grammy-winning engineers, at Peerless Mastering. They applied all of their magic to these tracks to make them sound at the highest fidelity that will ever be available on a Peter Laughner compilation." The compilation chronicles how Laughner began by playing folk and blues and then gravitated toward noisier music. At the beginning of this month, Smog Veil released the album digitally.

* * *

LaureLive Will Adopt a New Name and Move to a New Location

Last year, the Elevation Group, the people behind the annual LaureLive festival, announced they've rebranded the event and found a new home for it too. The festival's new name is WonderStruck in Cleveland, and the event, which takes place on June 6 and 7, will move from its previous location at Laurel School's Butler Campus in Russell and Chester Townships to Lakeland Community College in Kirtland. "We loved our four-year relationship with Laurel School, and we are forever grateful to the school for taking a chance on the festival," says festival producer Steve Lindecke in a press release. "We will always look back on the Butler Campus with fond memories, particularly our working relationship with the Laurel high school students who joined our operations team each year.

click to enlarge LaureLive has a new name and location. - Photo by Chad Cochran
Photo by Chad Cochran
LaureLive has a new name and location.

Continued growth is important to the sustainability of any large-scale event, and Lakeland Community College provides us with the space necessary to execute on our vision. Plus, as we learned this past August at WonderBus, our new Columbus music festival, onsite parking is a highly valuable asset. We are thrilled that Lakeland Community College and their administration are welcoming us and our style of music festival, one appropriate for all ages." Lakeland Community College president Morris Beverage agrees the festival makes sense for the community college, which also hosts a jazz festival each year. "At Lakeland, our purpose is to impact lives through learning which includes arts and cultural opportunities," says Beverage. "The music festival will bring new visitors to campus, complement our robust Arts at Lakeland programming and provide music lovers across the region with a first-hand glimpse of our campus community, state-of-the-art facilities and students-first culture. Together with Elevation Group, we will continue to build memories through music at Lakeland." Organizers will announce the lineup in the middle of this month. Past performers at LaureLive have included Sheryl Crow, Gary Clark Jr., Stephen Marley, Brandi Carlile, Foster the People, Trombone Shorty and Hozier. Early bird and VIP tickets are now on sale.

* * *

Local Writer Thomas Mulready Has Expanded and Updated His Multi-Media Presentation About David Bowie

David Bowie famously gave his first U.S. performance on Sept. 22, 1972, in Cleveland, leaving a lasting impression on all who saw the show and plenty who didn't. For the past couple of years, local writer and Bowie-ologist Thomas Mulready has chronicled Bowie's Cleveland connection in A Night With(out) David Bowie, his interactive lecture devoted to the man. He traces the Thin White Duke's life from his birth in the suburbs of London to his breakthrough as glam rock icon Ziggy Stardust and then discusses his every move until his untimely death in 2016. The lectures feature newly released details and previously unreleased materials, including rare video, demo tracks, and rare photos of Bowie in Cleveland by photographers Anastasia Pantsios and Janet Macoska. This month, he'll present A Night With(out) David Bowie at the Bop Stop on Jan. 10. He'll also host a Bowie benefit at the club on Jan. 11 and a Bowie brunch there on Jan. 12. On Friday, Jan. 17, he brings the lecture to the CLE Urban Winery in Cleveland Heights. You can see a full list of his upcoming gigs at BowieShows.com.

click to enlarge Local jazz musician Nathan-Paul will release a new EP in February. - Rope-a-dope Records Photo
Rope-a-dope Records Photo
Local jazz musician Nathan-Paul will release a new EP in February.

* * *

Nathan-Paul Will Release a New EP on Ropeadope Records

Following a 2018 summer tour with Moon Hooch, the terrific local jazz/funk/rock act Nathan-Paul & the Admirables discovered a new stripped-down way to play that included only bass, drums and horns. Last year, the reconfigured band released a new single, "Catch Me if You Can," that features solos that show off band members' musical chops. "It was quite the transformation in sound, so free and surprisingly full," band leader Nathan-Paul told us at the time. "We all compensated to make up for the lack of guitar and this music had been heavily chord based. We went into the studio right after and captured that sound. It's free and open sounding like Ornette Coleman's music, but it grooves like rock and funk music. It's one of my favorite accidents." Nathan-Paul recently inked a deal with Ropeadope Records, and he'll release "The Shakedown," his first single for the label, on Jan. 17. A three-song EP mixed and mastered locally by Jeff Koval and engineered by Jim Stewart comes out on Feb. 14.

* * *

The Rock Hall Inductions Will Take Place in May at Public Hall

In October of last year, the Rock Hall announced the list of acts eligible for induction at this year's ceremony which takes place here in Cleveland. To be eligible for nomination, an individual artist or band must have released its first commercial recording at least 25 years prior to the year of nomination. Nominees such as Dave Matthews Band, the Doobie Brothers, Motörhead, the Notorious B.I.G., Pat Benatar, Soundgarden, T.Rex, Thin Lizzy and Whitney Houston are on the ballot for the first time. The other 2020 nominees — Depeche Mode, Judas Priest, Kraftwerk, MC5, Nine Inch Nails, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan and Todd Rundgren — have been nominated in the past. Inductees will be announced this month, and the induction ceremony will take place on May 2 at Public Auditorium. Fans have the opportunity to participate in the induction selection process, and they can go to Google and search "Rock Hall Fan Vote" or any nominee name plus "vote" to cast a ballot with Google, vote at rockhall.com or at the museum itself. The top five artists as selected by the public will comprise a "fans' ballot" that will be tallied along with the other ballots to choose the 2020 inductees. A week of festivities will precede the May 2 induction ceremony.

* * *

The Roots Rearview Podcast Will Return with Four New Episodes

Last year, the Roots of American Music launched Roots Rearview, a podcast devoted to "celebrating, remembering, and revealing the history and the music of Ohio, the Rust Belt and beyond." Recorded at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Louis Penfield House on River Road in Willoughby, the first episode, "The Ghost of Frank Lloyd Wright" centers on rare blueprints Wright created for an additional house that was never built. The episode also includes a musical performance by singer-songwriter David Childers, who performs in the house. Other episodes center on Robert Crumb, the American cartoonist and musician who released three albums on the Blue Goose record label and Johnny Kilbane, a world champion featherweight boxer from Cleveland who held his title longer than did any other fighter in any weight class in history. The Crumb episode was recorded at the 78th Street Studios and features musical performances by singer-songwriter Tim Easton. The Kilbane episode was recorded at the power generation facility in Battery Park that now houses Terrestrial Brewing and features music from local singer-songwriters Doug McKean and Rory Hurley. The most recent episode, "Journey to Ripley, Many Steps to Freedom," highlights songs and stories of the Ohio River and the role that the John Rankin House played in helping African-Americans flee slavery from Northern Kentucky. That podcast features narration and storytelling by Betty Campbell from the John Rankin House, Dewey Scott from the John P. Parker House in Ripley and Carl Westmoreland from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. It also features a direct-to-disc recording session with Grammy nominated Amythyst Kiah held at the John Rankin House Visitor Center. This year, local musician and recording engineer Clint Holley, who hosts the series, will record another five episodes, the first of which will center on Hotz Cafe. Episodes can be found at rootsofamericanmusic.org.

click to enlarge The Shootouts will embark on a spring tour that includes a stop at the Ameripolitan Music Awards in Memphis. - Photo by Aimee Lambes
Photo by Aimee Lambes
The Shootouts will embark on a spring tour that includes a stop at the Ameripolitan Music Awards in Memphis.

* * *

The Shootouts Will Head to the Ameripolitan Music Awards in Memphis in February

Based out of Akron, the Shootouts formed when founding members Ryan Humbert and Brian Poston bonded over a mutual love of heartfelt, authentic country music. Specifically, they love the music of Roy Orbison and Bob Wills, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives and Dwight Yoakam. While the two were busy performing Humbert's original pop-rock songs, they often discussed the idea of starting a new honky-tonk band. "We're both big advocates of the traditional side of country music," says Humbert. "We wanted to play something we really loved — not that we weren't having fun with the Ryan Humbert Band or other projects. If someone then had told me that this would be what I would pursue as my main musical outlet, I'm not sure I would have believed them." The group played its first show in October of 2016 and has actively gigged since then. Last year, it released its debut album, Quick Draw. The album serves as a throwback to the music that came out of Nashville, Texas and California in country music's golden years. The band recorded the album in Brooklyn, New York, with producers Luca Benedetti and Jim Campilongo (Cake, Norah Jones, the Little Willies). The release spent more than nine weeks on the Americana Radio Top 50 album chart and reached the Alt-Country Radio Top 20 chart. It was nominated for an Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Honky-Tonk Group, and the group will embark on a spring tour and travel to this year's ceremony, which takes place in Memphis in February. Locally, the group is slated to play Suzie's Dogs & Drafts in Youngstown on Jan. 10 and the Music Box Supper Club on Jan. 17.

click to enlarge Amythyst Kiah performs for the Roots Rearview podcast. - Photo Courtesy of Clint Holley
Photo Courtesy of Clint Holley
Amythyst Kiah performs for the Roots Rearview podcast.

* * *

The Tri-C High School Rock Off Returns to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in February 

The 24th annual Tri-C High School Rock Off event returns to the Rock Hall in February. All High School Rock Off tickets will include admission to the Rock Hall and access to its newest exhibits. "High School Rock Off is a great showcase for these talented young artists," says Greg Harris, the Rock Hall's president and CEO, in a press release. "In addition to being an incredibly fun experience, select participants also perform at Hall of Fame events and for some, the Rock Off has been their launchpad to successful music careers." High school seniors participating in the Rock Off will have the opportunity to apply for three PNC scholarships to study in Tri-C Creative Arts programs. PNC Bank will provide scholarships of up to $2,000 each to eligible students who enroll at Tri-C. "The level of talent displayed in the High School Rock Off has amazed us year after year," says Pat Pastore, PNC regional president of Cleveland. "We hope these scholarships will encourage students to follow their dreams and build the foundation for their careers which will create a stronger Northeast Ohio economy in the long run." All of the participating bands will have access to the bookers and marketing directors at House of Blues Cleveland, the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, the Grog Shop, Mahall's and Musica. This "incubator relationship" will give the bands the opportunity to book shows or have a CD release party at one of the sponsoring clubs. Performances at the Rock Hall take place on Feb. 1, 8, 15 and 22. The "final exam" occurs on Saturday, Feb. 29. Finalists will get to record one original song at Tri-C's Gill and Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts, and the winning band will receive $1,000 cash and $250 for its high school music program. Second place will receive $250 cash and $100 for its high school music program, and third place will receive $100 cash. 

click to enlarge The Vindys, a Youngstown rock band that headlines this year’s Brite Winter, have a new album in the works. - Photo by Leslie Davis-Cusano
Photo by Leslie Davis-Cusano
The Vindys, a Youngstown rock band that headlines this year’s Brite Winter, have a new album in the works.

* * *

The Vindys Will Release a New Album 

The Vindys, a Youngstown-based rock band that regularly performs in the Cleveland area, are in the process of recording a new album and were recently featured in the Pittsburgh Pirates' Friday Night Rocks campaign. They saw a huge spike of over 40,000 views over a course of a week when the video for "Are You Ready," which was shot at Jergel's Rhythm Grille in Warrendale, was shown on Friday Night Rocks. The group includes classically trained musicians from Capital University Conservatory of Music, Dana School of Music, Slippery Rock University, and Mike Curb College of Music, and they've played shows with national acts such as Judah & the Lion, Smallpools, Hunter Hayes, Drive-by Truckers and Reeve Carney. They've performed at festivals such as Summerfest in Milwaukee, where they won the Emerging Artist Series' fan favorite of the day. Past winners include Walk the Moon, Nathaniel Rateliff, Maren Morris, Walk Off the Earth, X Ambassadors and more. This year, they headline Brite Winter, the annual outdoor music and arts festival that takes place on Feb. 22 on the West Bank of the Flats.

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

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].
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.