Cleveland Rocks aims to amplify music scene with campus in Waterloo Arts District
When Music Saves, the record store next to the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, closed its doors in 2017, Cindy Barber had a plan to revive the space.
“That sign: Music Saves. I just couldn't let that sign come down. It feels like that is the motto of Waterloo for me,” said Barber, co-owner of Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland's Waterloo Arts District and the executive director of the arts nonprofit, Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future.
Barber’s nonprofit bought the storefront in 2018, and after launching a fundraising campaign, is now turning it into a retail space for local music called Cleveland Rocks Shop.
The space serves as part of a larger plan to turn Waterloo Arts District into a reimagined Northeast Ohio music arts development campus that includes the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, an art gallery and the Cleveland Rocks shop.
It will include artist support services as well as offices for entertainment attorneys, agents, tour managers and publicists. The public will also be able to watch live music, take lessons and shop for merchandise and memorabilia.
These moves follow in step with the nonprofit's efforts to support and rebuild a struggling music community after the pandemic hit.
‘I will make sure your music gets in a record store’
David Kennedy, a Cleveland native who has worked in the music industry for 20 years, is leading the efforts to launch the new Cleveland Rocks store, located at 15801 Waterloo Rd.
Merchandise initially will come from his personal collection of rare vinyl.
Plans for the space include buying a T-shirt printer to make small batches of shirts for local artists, bands and fans.
Kennedy wants to sell local albums and band merchandise in the shop to create additional revenue streams for area artists.
“I am probably the only person who's going to tell you, local musicians out there, that if you call me, I will make sure your music gets in a record store,” Kennedy said.
From recording and touring to running Tri-C’s Recording Arts and Technology program, Kennedy has seen all sides of the music industry and the challenges of local artists over the past few years.
He said the goal of this new music space is to build a support network where independent musicians can make a living in Cleveland.
"There really has to be this kind of development in infrastructure to create a music scene to avoid people moving to Nashville."Cindy Barber
Barber wants to keep developing the Waterloo Arts District into a campus for musicians with spaces to record, rehearse, make music videos and even host artist residencies.
The nonprofit is working to develop an accelerator program to connect Cleveland musicians with industry resources, but Barber said community support is vital.
“It's kind of like you're rooting for the Browns or the Guardians. You know, let's root for the next Black Keys that's going to come out of here,” Barber said.
Barber hopes her nonprofit can help music in the area thrive and become a viable way for artists to earn a living.
“We really wanted to kind of go back to those old days, or at least remember those old days, and try to figure out where the economy and the distribution of music is going for local music and try to build on that,” she said.
Barber said there was a defining moment when the Black Keys, an Akron band that played its first show at the Beachland in 2002, moved out of the area to move ahead in their music careers.
“Sitting in this room in the tavern and plotting out their careers, then watching them, really, they had to leave to go to Nashville,” Barber said. “There really has to be this kind of development in infrastructure to create a music scene to avoid people moving to Nashville.”
Supporting local artists in challenging times
Creating a thriving music industry in Cleveland became even more of a focus during the pandemic.
Barber started live streaming shows to help area musicians make ends meet when venue doors were closed and revenue-generating gigs were canceled.
Her nonprofit awarded grants to local artists and launched a music incubator program that offers low-interest loans to help musicians develop their careers.
Maura Rogers, a Cleveland musician who performs with Maura Rogers and the Bellows, is the programming manager for Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future.
She felt the effects of the nearly two-year shutdown on the local music scene firsthand.
“It took so long for the industry to get back into motion, whereas everything else kind of had, you know, the ability to do it,” she said. “For us, and for me personally, it was this dawning of, this community needs a support system.”
Independent singer-songwriter Erin Nicole Neal performed as part of the nonprofit’s live-streamed shows during the pandemic.
Neal is the bandleader of several Cleveland blues, rock, pop, soul and jazz groups. She said the live-stream experience looked good and served as more than just a way to keep artists and fans connected.
“They put your name up there and how you can check us out, and they let you take the videos and use that to promote yourself and get more work,” Neal said. “So that blew my mind. I was like, ‘Wow,’ you know, that's the most support I've ever seen.'"
Shining a bigger spotlight on Cleveland music
Once restrictions were lifted, concerts continued at the Beachland, and smaller shows were held in the former Music Saves storefront.
Late last year, artists like Anthony Taddeo performed in the new Cleveland Rocks Shop space, and it held pop-up shopping events to drum up interest, support the local scene and raise funds.
Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future has earned funds and expanded its programming to focus on four main initiatives this year.
These include providing financial support through a music incubator program, developing a workshop series to help musicians grow in their careers and hosting over a dozen free live events in the Waterloo Arts District.
“If there's a bigger spotlight and more people are watching it, then more people go to the shows, more people spend money, more revenue for the bands,” Kennedy said.
The nonprofit held an online auction this month to open the Cleveland Rocks shop three to four days a week starting in July.
Its next free professional development workshop for local musicians will be held Monday in the Cleveland Rocks Shop.