March 2005 Issue
A Rockin' Good Time
Spend a day or two in Cleveland celebrating the roots of rock 'n' roll at two star-studded institutions.
A case of the blues
When You Go ...
House of Blues Cleveland, 308 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216/523-BLUE. www.hob.com/Cleveland. Restaurant open Sun.-Thur. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-midnight. Sunday Gospel Brunch 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Music Hall.
March 10: Dickey Betts Band, 7:30 p.m., $22.50/$35
March 12: Buddy Guy, 7 p.m., $27.50/$40
March 25: Drive-By Truckers, 7 p.m., $15
April. 5: RatDog (featuring former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir), 6:30 p.m., $35/$45
Visit www.hob.com/cleveland for a complete schedule.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, One Key Plaza/751 Erieside Ave., Cleveland, 216/781-ROCK, www.rockhall.com. Daily 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Wed. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Admission $20, seniors 60 and older $14, children 9-12 $11, children 8 and under free. Tickets are available at the box office or through Ticketmaster: 800/493-ROLL or www.Ticketmaster.com.
Dining and Lodging
Wilbert's Food and Music, 812 Huron Road E., Cleveland, 216/902-GOOD. www.wilbertsmusic.com. Located in the shadow of Jacobs Field, Wilbert's is a popular casual lunch spot for downtown workers and one of the area's best places to watch live blues by visiting national artists and regional favorites. Mon.-Thur. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (bar stays open later); Fri-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight (bar stays open later); Sunday hours vary.
XO, 500 W. St. Clair Ave., 216/861-1919. Located on the edge of Downtown's Gateway and Warehouse districts, XO is easy on the eyes, all soft lights and soft colors to match. From happy hour to late night, the bar is a favorite destination for crowds with a taste for fresh-pressed clothes and immaculately mixed martinis. The eclectic international menu has made it one of Cleveland's favorite upscale dining rooms. Daily 4-11 p.m., bar stays open later.
Hampton Inn, 1460 East Ninth St., Cleveland, 216/241-6600. www.hamptoninncleveland.com. Located midway between House of Blues and the Rock Hall.
Holiday Inn Express, 629 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216/443-1000. www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/ex/1/en/hd/cleoh. Located just down the block from House of Blues, Holiday Inn Express offers packages that include the Rock Hall and other Cleveland attractions.
For more information on Cleveland attractions, dining and accommodations, call the Convention & Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland, 800/321-1001, or visit www.travelcleveland.com.
When House of Blues Cleveland opened in November, the downtown concert hall-restaurant-tavern immediately established itself as a major part of the city's entertainment landscape.
"Rock 'n' roll has become such a major part of American life," says HOB co-founder Dan Aykroyd, the actor who's been the company's public face as it's grown from a single Massachusetts night club to a chain of nine venues. "And that has led to the creation of thousands of concert halls, but you don't see many venues like this much any more. Each House of Blues is a purpose-built supper club in the tradition of great venues like the Copacabana."
House of Blues is five different businesses under one roof - intimate concert hall, plush bar, luxuriant VIP lounge, retail store, and eclectic, Southern-rooted restaurant. And despite the fact that they're a stone's throw away from each other, each part is distinct: a family eating dinner in the restaurant or a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers holding court in the VIP Foundation Room could spend their entire time there unaware that George Thorogood, Marilyn Manson or Los Lonely Boys are playing a concert in the adjacent Music Hall.
"Cleveland is a music town, a fun-loving town filled with hard-working people who deserve a good time," says Aykroyd. "We think this [city] was a great choice for the next House of Blues, and I know the people here will prove me right."
House of Blues Cleveland immediately established the kind of ambiance - or, to use rockspeak, vibe - that most rock clubs take decades to cultivate. Decorated to look like an elegant juke joint, the music rooms and restaurant are covered with intricate hand-painted artwork, from giant murals to small vintage paintings from Louisiana and Alabama.
The paintings pay homage to Cleveland culture, blues history and religious and spiritual traditions around the world. In the restaurant, visitors can see Peter Wood's depiction of a Cleveland legendary DJ in "Alan Freed's Moondog Coronation." Decorated with variations of HOB's Sacred Heart logo, the Music Hall's main stairway features Scott Guion's "Erzulie Freda," an interpretation of a Haitian Catholic icon that represents opulence, hard work and love.
The Cleveland area hosts more than 20 nationally touring bands on a slow week, in addition to an equal number of shows by local acts. House of Blues hosts concerts nearly every night of the week, and the intimate 1,200-seat Music Hall truly doesn't have a bad seat in it. Whether you're in the general admission area in front of the stage or in the second-floor balcony seats, performers always seem within arm's reach. Four full bars guarantee you won't miss much of the show if you need a refill.
Aykroyd describes the Cambridge Room as the heart of the "hang scene," the nightly bar business that keeps the party going once concerts end. Filled with overstuffed lounge furniture, the small tavern hosts Thursday Soul Nights, which feature R&B and hip-hop. Every Monday brings a different Metal 101, a theatrical, tongue-in-cheek re-creation of '80s heavy metal by Cleveland residents Billy Morris and Jani Lane. The Cambridge Room also hosts small shows by national and local groups.
Beyond the public areas, House of Blues' Foundation Room, scheduled to open March 28, will be an exclusive members-only area. Draped in Indian gujarat material, carpeted with Persian rugs, and adorned with authentic, hard-carved, centuries-old artwork, the members-only rooms have access to their own bar and kitchen.
Downstairs next to the restaurant, the House of Blues Company Store has a full variety of keepsakes: hats, T-shirts, leather jackets and music, including a series of exclusive blues tributes to artists ranging from Led Zeppelin to Eric Clapton.
The restaurant at House of Blues has a menu heavy in Mississippi Delta-inspired cuisine, but it includes dishes drawn from a variety of American culinary traditions. Start with spicy New Orleans-style chicken gumbo or battered catfish nuggets, but plan on leaving room for white chocolate-banana bread pudding as you choose from every kind of entrÃ©e, from pan-seared shrimp to Tennessee-style baby back ribs.
"The United States has four culinary capitals," says general manager Dan Smith, who has worked in three other House of Blues venues across the country. "In San Francisco, you have some of the freshest seafood in the world, and the Asian tradition is very much a presence. In Chicago, you have some of the world's best steaks. In New Orleans, you have the Southern food from the banks of the Mississippi, which is mixed with very classical French traditions. And New York has the finest food from all over the world. We offer all of that, and it's all very fresh.
"You might come before a hip-hop show and sit at the bar and have a pizza. Or you might have a whole dinner while a country show is going on. Or you might bring your family to the Sunday Gospel Brunch, for a standing-up, singing, waving-towels-in-the-middle-of-a-Southern-gospel music experience. We have a range that says it's not the same club every night."
Tribute to a legend
rock-inspired weekend in Cleveland should include a visit to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the special exhibit "The Genius of Ray Charles," which celebrates the life of the musician who built up so much momentum in 50 years as a leading figure in American music that even death couldn't slow down his career. Though Charles passed away on June 10, 2004, his duets album, "Genius Loves Company," entered the charts posthumously at No. 2, and quickly went platinum. The biographical movie "Ray" earned critical and popular raves for its star Jamie Foxx. And through the summer the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is paying tribute with a retrospective of his life.
"The exhibit has personal items from Ray's home, studio and life, most of which have never been seen before," says Joe Adams, Charles' longtime road manager and business partner, who helped select the items. "We loaned them specifically for this exhibit. It's a great opportunity for people to learn more about Ray, to see things like his keyboard with braille buttons, his sax and concert tuxes."
Charles' presence can be felt through a mounted advertisement he appeared in for Suntory, the Japanese whiskey Bill Murray pitched in the film "Lost in Translation," and video footage from a 1963 Brazilian television special.
"Ray's music didn't mirror anything," says Adams. "He did things his way - that's how he made his mark. Bringing gospel inflections to secular lyrics, recording country songs, and always doing his own thing were what made Ray unique and changed American music."
Countless performances created the enduring image of Charles seated at a piano, grinning, swaying and playing to beat the band. The Rock Hall exhibit features three of his favorite keyboards: A 1972 Fender Rhodes Suitcase 88 electric piano was his primary touring instrument through the 1970s. Charles used a portable 1979 Wurlitzer Model 200A electric piano to practice in his hotel room and record in the studio.A 1982 Yamaha KX-88 digital piano/MIDI controller with braille labels was his main performance instrument in the mid-'80s. The collection also includes a 1953 Selmer Super Action alto saxophone, the only one he ever owned, which he played at almost every Ray Charles Orchestra performance from 1954 up until his death.
Rock Hall curator Howard Kramer leads the narrated tours. "I hope that people come away with the knowledge that he was a very successful businessman who went from poverty to great wealth, overcame racism, and didn't see his physical limitations as a handicap," says Kramer. "He was blind, but he was self-reliant. The primary reasons for his success were his talent and his drive."
In addition to photos and memorabilia, the exhibit includes audio and braille captioning that describe relics from his personal life: The sunglasses that were every bit as much a part of his image as his smile. The well-worn braille typewriter that sat on his desk for years and years. Selections from his library, including an ASCAP Book of Hit Songs Especially Transcribed for Ray Charles. And a braille copy of Playboy magazine - Kramer points out that Charles truly read it for the articles.
"The Genius of Ray Charles" is just a small part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. With a collection of more than 160,000 artifacts, the institution hosts dozens of permanent and temporary exhibits. Visitors can always see permanent tributes to key figures, bands and cities from the span of rock history. Pieces of rock history on display include a Nehru jacket from the Beatles; a tribute to Memphis; and "Hang on Sloopy: The Music of Ohio," a special collection highlighting Ohio musicians. This spring, the Rock Hall will host collections spotlighting the 1975 movie adaptation of the Who's rock opera "Tommy" and the history of audio electronics, from Edison to the iPod.