At the beginning of last year, we presented a conceptual outlook on 2018 with the hope of corralling even more good music into our annual preview of what to expect to see and hear in Cleveland music in the coming year.
This year, we continue that tradition with this overview of what's to come in 2019. Given the way that national concert promoters Live Nation and AEG are going head to head in the market (Live Nation books concerts at Blossom, Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, House of Blues and the Masonic Auditorium, and AEG books concerts at the Agora), it will likely be a busy year and more touring acts than ever should be swinging into town.
There's also an anticipated new Rock Hall exhibit on the horizon, and the storied Cleveland International Records label has just announced its rebirth too.
Here's a rundown of what to expect from the year ahead.
1. The Annual Tri-C High School Rock Off Returns to the Rock Hall in January
When the annual Tri-C High School Rock Off launched some 20 years ago at the Odeon, the promoters at locally based Belkin Productions (now Live Nation) saw it as a way to reach out to area high schools and provide the kind of outlet that students might not have. Two decades later, the event, now held at the Rock Hall, continues to thrive. This year, 36 bands will participate in the annual competition. A total of 147 band members, including six solo artists, will represent 64 schools. Three performance rounds will take place at the Rock Hall, leading up to the Final Exam that takes place on Saturday, Feb. 16. At that event, the 2019 Best Band in the Land will be awarded by music and entertainment industry judges. Prizes include three scholarships to study at the Creative Arts program at Cuyahoga Community College. PNC Bank will help high school seniors launch their careers in music by providing the scholarships. During the three performance rounds, each act will play a 15-minute set. Four bands from each round will move on to the Final Exam. All finalists will record one original song at Tri-C's Gill and Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts. Jim Stewart Recording and students from Tri-C's Recording Arts and Technology program will handle production duties. The first round takes place on Jan. 19.
2. Brite Winter Takes Place on the West Bank of the Flats in February
Late last year, the organizers of Brite Winter, the annual winter music and arts festival that takes place on the west bank of the Flats, announced the lineup for this year's event, which takes place on Saturday, Feb. 23. The L.A.-based indie rock act Smallpools will headline the event, and some of the city's best local bands, including Ezri, Mourning [A] BLKstar, the Vindys, Uptowne Buddha, Ray Flanagan & the Authorities, Muamin Collective, Ottawa, Front Porch Lights, AJ & the Woods, Tim Moon, Case Barge and Red Rose Panic, are scheduled to perform. This year will mark the 10th installment of the popular winter music and arts festival. Admission, as always, is free.
3. Cleveland International Records Will Be Active Again
Back in the 1970s when Cleveland became synonymous with rock 'n' roll, the late Steve Popovich formed Cleveland International Records. The label had a huge hit right out of the gates with Meat Loaf's 1977 album Bat Out of Hell and would go on to garner Grammy nods and other accolades. While Popovich still ran the label, it filed a lawsuit against Sony Music, which had produced copies of Bat Out of Hell without the Cleveland International logo on them. Now that the suit has been settled, Popovich's son, Steve Popovich Jr., has relaunched the label. Currently, the label has some apparel for sale. It also announced it'll reissue the 1995 Cleveland Rocks compilation that features tracks by Ronnie Spector, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Euclid Beach Band and Ian Hunter. The label will also reissue titles from the back catalog from 1995 to 2002, including albums by David Allan Coe and Roger Martin and a number of the polka titles the label owned. Popovich Jr. is also working on a documentary film about his father.
4. Creative Fusion: Composers Series Launches in January
Since 2008, Creative Fusion has brought to Cleveland more than 80 international artists-in-residence. Last year, the Cleveland Foundation launched Creative Fusion: The Madison Residencies, which provided support for 18 local, national and international artists participating in Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art. This year they're launching Creative Fusion: Composers, a new series that will feature original works from a group of international composers who'll "draw inspiration for original compositions to be performed in Cleveland over the next two years." The series launches with a performance by composer Henry Threadgill, at the Cleveland Museum of Art, on Friday, Jan. 11. Luciano Chessa, Cenk Ergün, Aya Nishina, Sophie Nzayisenga and Aleksandra Vrebalov have all signed on to participate, and conversations with curators and potential collaborators will guide the process of creating the commissioned works. Three performances will premiere this year, and three will debut during the 2019 – 2020 concert season.
5. Gotta Groove Will Continue Its Ohio Reissue Series
Last year, locally based Gotta Groove Records kicked off its new 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 number that were originally pressed. The first release was a reissue of Salem's Rise, a 1985 album by the Dayton hard-rock band Witch. The album came out on Eargasm Records, and the original pressing from 1985 has long been sold out and sought after by heavy metal collectors. 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. Eargasm originally released the band's first single, "Chained Heat"/"Rock-N-Roll Dreams," in 1984. While the label hasn't announced the second release of the series yet, it plans to continue with the program and will likely add another title this year.
6. Kent State University Press Will Release Jason Prufer's Book About the Kent Music Scene
For the past eight years, Jason Prufer has worked on Small Town, Big Music: The Outsized Influence of Kent, Ohio, a book about Kent's music scene. He's just completed the book, which is due out this month. It includes a forward written by James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh. Drawing on previously published concert reviews and firsthand accounts, Prufer shows how Kent embraced acts such as Pink Floyd, the Clash, the Replacements and Bruce Springsteen early in their careers. "From back stages, hotel rooms, and the saloons of Kent, readers will travel back in time to the great rockin' nights hosted in this small town," reads a press release announcing that the 216-page book is finally in production. Prufer, who holds a bachelor's degree in art history from Kent State, has worked at the Kent State University Library for nearly 20 years. He's also written for the Free Times, Kent Patch, and numerous blogs and has spent the last several years as the publicist and social media manager for the Numbers Band.
7. LaureLive Returns in June to Laurel School's Butler Campus
A few years ago, the locally based Elevation Group launched LaureLive, a two-day music festival held at Laurel School, an all-girls (K-12) independent school. Last year's event featured "the biggest lineup in the three-year history of the festival" as the artists cumulatively have over 60 million monthly listeners on Spotify and nearly 10 million likes on Facebook. The lineup featured the alternative band Foster the People, singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, retro rockers Fitz & the Tantrums and indie rockers Cold War Kids. Other notable acts included Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Daya, Red Wanting Blue, Magic Giant and the Record Company. Artists such as Rag'N'Bone Man, Arizona, Lauv, Lewis Capaldi, the Aces, Morgxn, Castlecomer and Future Generations made their debut appearances in Cleveland in 2018. This year's lineup hasn't been announced yet, but the festival will again take place on Laurel's Butler Campus on Saturday, June 8, and Sunday, June 9. Advance tickets are currently on sale.
8. Live Nation Will Continue Booking the Masonic Auditorium
Last year, the same week that its rival promoter AEG Presents revealed millions of dollars of improvements to the Agora Theatre, Live Nation Club & Theatre, a division of Live Nation, announced that it will start booking shows at the Masonic Auditorium. Located in Midtown, the Masonic is literally walking distance from the Agora Theatre and will ratchet up the competition for bands that could fill either venue (both places feature rooms with capacities of approximately 2,000). The Masonic has become part of Live Nation "portfolio" of venues that includes House of Blues, Jacobs Pavilion and Blossom Music Center. Live Nation Club & Theatre operates and books "landmark clubs and theaters" throughout the country. The company produces more than 15,000 events (concerts, special events, private event rentals, club nights and more) in 100 venues nationwide. Built in 1921, the Masonic Temple Auditorium was originally home to the Cleveland Orchestra. Within the past five or so years, the venue has hosted concerts by acts such as MGMT, Bastille, Fitz and the Tantrums, the 1975, Pixies, Kirk Franklin, Ghost, Leon Bridges and Sturgill Simpson. Last year, it hosted concerts by acts such as Hanson, In This Moment and the Breeders.
9. New Soft Shoe Will Hold Down a Monthly Residency at Forest City Brewery
Nine years ago, on what local singer-songwriter Brent Kirby calls a drunken dare, a group of Cleveland friends and musicians showed up at the Happy Dog to play a couple sets of tunes by the late, great Gram Parsons. Dubbed the New Soft Shoe, the group has been at it ever since, spreading the gospel of what it refers to as "Gram's Cosmic American Music." Anything that Parsons played, the New Soft Shoe covers. As a result, the group plays tunes from the International Submarine Band, the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. It also plays songs from Parsons' solo records GP and Grievous Angel. The band has performed at the Gram Parsons Guitar Pull in Waycross, Georgia, and at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame here in Cleveland. For the past couple years, the group has performed monthly gigs at various venues around town. On Thursday, Jan. 10, it celebrates its 9-year anniversary with a special show in the Waldorf Hall at Forest City Brewery. That show will also kick off a residency at the Tremont brewery, and the band will perform at the venue on the second Thursday of every month.
10. Play It Loud: The Instruments of Rock & Roll Comes to the Rock Hall in November
The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame collaborated back in 1999 on the exhibit Rock Style, and the two organizations will team up again this year to present Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll. Billed as "the first major loan exhibition in an art museum dedicated entirely to the iconic instruments of rock and roll," it will go on view at the Met in April and then come to the Rock Hall in November. Featuring items from 70 private and public collections, it will include more than 130 instruments that were played by artists such as Chuck Berry, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, Steve Miller, St. Vincent, Metallica and the Rolling Stones. Notable items include Eric Clapton's "Blackie," Eddie Van Halen's "Frankenstein" and Jerry Garcia's "Wolf," as well as Keith Emerson's Moog synthesizer and Hammond organ, and drums from Keith Moon's "Pictures of Lily" drum set. Other notable artifacts include Chuck Berry's electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix's electric guitar, Motown star James Jamerson's upright bass, Keith Emerson's keyboard rig and Jimmy Page's dragon-embroidered costume that he wore during Led Zeppelin's live performances in the mid-'70s.
11. Riffs on Riffs Will Launch 24 New Episodes
When Joe Watson heard the folks at the local media design company Evergreen Podcasts were interested in launching a music-related podcast, he realized it was the perfect time to pitch an idea that had been percolating in his head. Watson recruited Toby Brazwell, a local musician he had met at a networking event, to host the program with him. The resulting podcast, Riffs on Riffs, will study the use of sampling in popular music. Initially, Watson and Brazwell had multiple pre-production meetings to create a format. At that point, they decided which songs would become the focus of the eight-episode first season. They'll dissect popular songs by Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan and Stevie Nicks. Brazwell says the show's template makes the duo stay focused on the music and keeps them from rambling on about other matters. Released last year, the first episode focuses on Tupac's "California Love," which features a Joe Cocker sample and includes interpolations of Zapp's "Dance Floor" and Ronnie Hudson & the Street People's "West Coast Poplock" that come courtesy of Zapp's Roger Troutman. Much of a song's history could be uncovered with a simple Google search, but Watson and Brazwell maintain their show offers something unique. They'll return with 24 new episodes this year.
12. Smog Veil Records Will Release a Boxed Set of Music by the Late Peter Laughner
For years now, the folks at Smog Veil Records, the record label that specializes in reissuing old Cleveland punk releases, has worked on putting together a retrospective of music by the late Peter Laughner. Though a release date hasn't been set, the five LP/CD boxed set is currently in production. Focusing on the music that Laughner made between 1972 and 1977, Peter Laughner will feature previously unreleased performances by his various groups, including Rocket From the Tombs, Cinderella Backstreet, Cinderella's Revenge, Fins, Friction and the Original Wolverines. It will also include "sonic upgrades" of his solo and collaborative efforts. The compilation will come with a 100-page book featuring previously unpublished photos and a collection of Laughner's writings, reviews and poetry. Best known for being a co-founder of Pere Ubu as well as a significant member of proto-punk trailblazers Rocket From the Tombs, Laughner had a musical career that stretched back to the mid-1960s and continued until his untimely death at age 24 in 1977. Even after his death, Laughner, who once famously said, "I want to do for Cleveland what Brian Wilson did for California and Lou Reed did for New York," serves as an inspiration for the local punk scene.
13. Stella's Records Will Release Its First Album
Last year, Stella's Music Club announced that it would launch a record label. While the label won't exclusively release local artists, all of the artists who sign with Stella's Records will have their music produced by locally based Jim Wirt (Incubus). During the course of his lengthy career, Wirt has won numerous awards, and his productions have sold more than 17 million records. Locally based sound engineer Jim Stewart will assist Wirt, and Warner Music will distribute the label's releases. The first band that signed with the label, New York-based Birds in the Boneyard, played a record release at the club last year and will release its new album in the spring of this year.
14. Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland Will Celebrate Its 40th Anniversary
One of the largest music festivals in Ohio — and reportedly the largest educational jazz festival in the U.S. — Tri-C JazzFest continues to evolve. In the past, it's featured performances by a range of acts that only loosely fit into the jazz genre. Last year's lineup featured Tony Award-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater and saxophonist Joshua Redman. It also included rapper Common, who headlined the event; Common gave a rousing performance that included inviting a woman from the crowd up on the stage to sing with him as he ended up freestyling and giving a shoutout to several native Clevelanders. You can expect a similarly eclectic lineup when JazzFest, now in its 40th year, takes place from June 27 to June 29 at Playhouse Square. Though the lineup hasn't been announced yet, there will be nine ticketed concerts and an opening night party. Passes are currently on sale.
15. Warped Tour Will Return to Northeast Ohio This Summer
Last year, after Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman announced that he was bringing the popular punk festival to an end, he talked to us about his reasons for the decision. "A lot of it has come to the physical side of things," said Lyman, who has also appeared in and produced multiple TV series, movies and documentaries during the course of his career. "I've always worked in a different kind of way than other people. When I was 30 years old, it was a lot different. Also, artists used to come on Warped Tour because they were part of a community, and they wanted to support the younger bands. They thought it would help their career down the road. Times have changed. Bands have to tour all the time now. That's their main source of income. For what I do, that sense of community isn't as strong as it used to be." Lyman has shifted gears and recently spent more time on the lecture circuit. He gave the keynote speech at an annual National Association of Music Merchants conference, and he came to Cleveland this year to speak to students who participated in the annual Tri-C High School Rock Off. And yet, late last year, Lyman announced that Warped Tour, which apparently has fallen victim to the Fake Farewell Tour Syndrome (you know, when an artist announces a final tour only to begin touring again after a short hiatus), will return in 2019 to celebrate its 25th anniversary with concerts on the West Coast and East Coast. There will also be an event in Cleveland on June 8 — no word yet on the venue. Expect a lineup to be announced in March.