Live music thrives in Cleveland & Akron!

by | Feb 3, 2015 | Arts & Culture

Beachland Ballroom- photo courtesy of

Beachland Ballroom- photo courtesy of

updated September 2022– How did Cleveland get its reputation as a city that can make or break a musician? Here’s a bit of background that sheds light on why NE Ohio is a revered music town, just like Memphis, Detroit & New Orleans.

  • Cleveland disc jockey, Alan Freed, is commonly referred to as the father of rock & roll as he was the first person to use the phrase “rock & roll” to describe Elvis and other R&B singers in the 1950’s
  • zWhat is widely recognized as the first rock concert, the Moondog Coronation Ball was held at Cleveland Arena in 1952 – and the concert is held as a tribute every year by local radio station WMJI and features the music of the 1950’s and 1960’s; some bands even have the original performers believe it or not!
  • From 1979-86, readers of Rolling Stone magazine voted WMMS the “Radio Station of the Year” award and it is widely recognized as breaking the careers of such legends as Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Rush and Roxie Music.
  • In 1986, the first year the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation began inducting performers, they also began a search for the city to house the rock hall, and explored Memphis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Cincinnati and Cleveland. USA Today then conducted a national poll asking Americans which city should be home to the Rock Hall, and Cleveland won hands down! The Rock Hall opened in 1995 on the shores of Lake Erie.

Musicians with NE Ohio roots that you might have heard of:
The Black Keys
Joe Walsh (James Gang & The Eagles)
Nine Inch Nails
The Pretenders
Eric Carmen (The Raspberries)
The O’Jays
Bone Thugs N Harmony
Jim Brickman
Tracy Chapman
Sonny Geraci
Kid Cudi
Robert Lockwood, Jr.
Marilyn Manson
Boz Scaggs
Michael Stanley
Joe Trohman (Fall Out Boy)
Mushroom Head
Frankie Yankovich (the polka kind)
James Ingram

So where can you go listen to live music in our region? Here are just a few options that range from classical to rock to jazz (largest venues listed first):

Rocket Mortgage Field House downtown Cleveland (locals all call if RoMoFiHo for short)- not only home to 3 sports teams (NBA Cavaliers, NHL farm team Lake Erie Monsters and AFL Gladiators),  but this 20,000 seat arena hosts all the big acts that come through town (think Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi, Elton John, Kenny Chesney)
The Wolstein Center, downtown Cleveland – part of Cleveland State University, this 13,000 seat stadium is home to CSU’s Vikings (hey, many years they are the best team to watch in Cleveland, so don’t knock it!)
Severance Hall, Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood – winter home of the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra, 2100 seats

photo courtesy

photo courtesy

Playhouse Square, downtown Cleveland’s theater district – although performing arts are its bread and butter (Broadway shows, Shakespeare, etc.) the beautiful theaters also hosted comedians and musicians including iconic performers that prefer more intimate venues (or who can’t fill the giant stadiums) such as Bob Dylan, Duran Duran
EJ Thomas Hall, downtown Akron – part of the University of Akron’s campus, EJ Thomas and has almost 3,000 seats and hosts all sorts of performing arts, including concerts
Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls – built as the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra, it also hosts dozens of popular concerts each summer (leaving most weekends for classical music) and seems to lean towards country western these days. You can sit in the covered pavilion or bring a picnic supper to enjoy on the bowl shaped grassy lawn (can’t bring in own food/drink to popular shows, only orchestra)
Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights’ Coventry Village neighborhood – small venue, mostly standing room/mosh pit, new and breaking bands of all genres, lots of college kids as it’s just up the hill from Case Western Reserve University and tickets are very affordable.
Hard Rock Rocksino, Northfield –  originally a harness race track, they added slots and games recently and now bring in top notch entertainment to lure the gamblers – have had Charlie Daniels, The Four Tops and Loretta Lynn recently
Music Hall at Cleveland Public Auditorium, downtown Cleveland – beautiful Beaux Arts building with charming 3,000 seat hall. Where the last few Rock Hall induction concerts were performed when Cleveland hosted (every 3rd year)
Akron Civic Theater  – don’t let the outside fool you, the 1920’s former movie palace has been lovingly restored and offers concerts of every genre
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, Cleveland’s Flats (West Bank) – an open air amphitheater overlooking the Cuyahoga River that is open roughly Memorial Day through Labor Day. It holds 5,000 in bleacher seats and a mosh pit and it’s amazing to listen to David Gray, Lord Huron, The Killers or Fall Out Boy while watching a 300′ ore boat go past headed to Lake Erie
Lock 3 Live – Akron’s outdoor live music venue that offers everything from cover bands to local talent
Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland’s eastside Collinwood neighborhood – housed in a former Croatian social hall, has a tavern that holds 150 and a ballroom that holds 500 and cuts across every music genre to feature new and upcoming acts. Although only open since 2000, owner Cindy Barber is revered for her commitment to keeping live music joints going in the city
Blu Jazz, great jazz club in the lower level of a former opera house in Akron
Music Box Supper Club, Cleveland’s Flats (West Bank) – owners Mike & Colleen Miller opened this 2 story, 2 stage venue overlooking the Cuyahoga River (but completely enclosed so great in winter months) in 2014 and offer an eclectic line up ranging from widely recognized musicians and bands who prefer smaller venues to connect with their audience to almost unknowns waiting for their big break. Truly a supper club with dinner served at your table (or just show up for the show and enjoy drinks). Larger venue holds 300.
Bop Stop, in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood and great jazz venue; located inside The Music Settlement building; partner with Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen to provide food for the concert nights
Kent Stage, Kent –  a little over 600 seats, this venue hosts live music, theater and film
Brothers Lounge, Cleveland’s westside close to Lakewood – describes itself as Cleveland premier rock & roll night club & restaurant
Parkview Nite Club, Cleveland’s westside Gordon Square neighborhood – on W. 58th and tucked into a sidestreet you might go right past it, but it is old school and cool to listen to live music at this bar with great pub food
The Happy Dog, 2 locations: Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood and University Circle neighborhood – started with a simple concept: serve just tater tots and hot dogs with 50 different topping options (yes you can put all 50 on your hot dog for the same price as 3 toppings, but it will be nasty, we guarantee it) and then serve tons of different beers and bring in DJs and live music to create a real neighborhood joint. It’s working and the place is beloved by Clevelanders
Mahall’s 20 Lanes, Lakewood – part bowling alley, part restaurant, part bar and part nightclub, very cool to do it all at one location
Goodyear Theater & Goodyear Hall – built in 1920 and re purposed many times, in 2016 these two live music venues debuted with the theater holding 1,500 and the hall 3,500.
Dusty Armadillo, Rootstown (Kent) – mostly country, but lots of times, blends of other genres as well (great country dancing too)
Vosh, a fine dining restaurant with one of Lakewood’s prettiest patios offers live music in the former Bonne Bell cosmetics company’s warehouse building
And here is a rock n roll guy, Jules Belkin, that every Clevelander knows by reputation as he helped booked virtually every big touring act to a gig in Cleveland during the 1960’s-1980’s. He and his brother Michael sold their company, Belkin Productions to Clear Channel Communications, which still has him on it’s staff roster today.
And NE Ohio still has quite a few independent record stores (YES, vinyl!) including:

who doesn't remember their first 45 record?

who doesn’t remember their first 45 record?

Music Saves, Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood (new releases)
A Separate Reality Records, Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood
Blue Arrow Records, Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood (specialty and 2nd hand vinyl)
Hausfrau Record Shop, Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood
Loop, Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood
My Mind’s Eye Records, Lakewood
Bent Crayon Records, Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood (in 78th Street Studios)
Square Records, Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood
The Vinyl Underground Record Store, Kent
Checkered Records, Plain Township (near Canton)
Frankenstein Records, Canton
And a cool website that tries to keep track of all of the vinyl record stores left:
Did we miss your favorite spot? Let us know with a comment!  Executive Arrangements has been the go to expert on all things NE Ohio since 1979 when it began helping Cleveland and Akron companies to attract and retain the best possible talent by showcasing all that the region has to offer for families considering a relocation. For more info call us at 216.231.9311.