Live music thrives in Cleveland & Akron!

by | Feb 3, 2015 | Arts & Culture

Beachland Ballroom- photo courtesy of ThisIsCleveland.com

Beachland Ballroom- photo courtesy of ThisIsCleveland.com

updated December 2023 (as we all need live music in tiny little venues to get us thru winter months)

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:

Our favorite live music venues (biggest to smallest)

Rocket Mortgage Field House downtown Cleveland (locally known as The Rocket or RoMoFiHo) has events in between games (home court to NBA Cavaliers and NHL farm team Cleveland Monsters) and this 20,000 seat arenahosts most of the big arena sized shows that come thru town (think Bruno Mars, Madonna, Kenny Chesney, Drake)

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

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 on weekdays in summer months (Fri/Sat reserved for orchestra); 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)

The Agora in MidTown Cleveland on Euclid Avenue, half way between Downtown and University Circle, big parking lot, and it has had a national reputation for decades and brings in rock, metal, indie, you name it!

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,  Collinwood neighborhood on the eastside of Cleveland, 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), seats 300.

Bop Stop, in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood and great jazz venue; located inside The Music Settlement building

Kent Stage, Kent –  a little over 600 seats, this venue hosts live music, theater and film

Cain Park – outdoor, covered ampitheater that also offers under the stars lawn “seats” and provide good nibbles and adult beverages to make it a fun picnic and have recently hosted The Indigo Girls and Judy Collins

Brothers Lounge, Cleveland’s westside on the border of Lakewood, great jazz & blues

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,in Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood, not only great live music on a tiny stage by the windo, but their simple menu of literally 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) makes it a real neighborhood joint.

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

The Treelawn – live jazz in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, playfully named for the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street that many midwestern states call the tree lawn

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

Nighttown – re-opened in November 2023 after a 2 year absence and jazz fans all over are getting excited about the return of live music to the Cedar/Fairmount neighborhood in Cleveland Heights

Coda – tiny venue underneath Dante’s restaurant in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood

The Winchester Music Tavern – in Lakewood, lots of new/upcoming bands

Vinyl is making a comeback – here are our favorite record shops:

who doesn't remember their first 45 record?

who doesn’t remember their first 45 record?

Music Saves in  Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood features new releases in vinyl

Blue Arrow Records Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood (specialty and 2nd hand vinyl)

My Mind’s Eye Records in Lakewood

Bent Crayon Records, Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood (in 78th Street Studios)

Square Records Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood

Did we miss your favorite spot? Let us know with a comment!  More than 100X a year, we get to spend a day exploring Cleveland/Akron with a candidate/new hire and their family as they consider a relocation to our region so we have to know a little bit about EVERYTHING to match lifestyle and interests and woo the best possible talent to our region. If your organization could use this kind of talent attraction partner, call us 216.231.9311.