Road Trip! Destination: Ohio's music scenes
By Michael Machosky
Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
To Pennsylvanians, Ohio tends to look like a vast, pancake-flat plain, empty of almost everything but fast food, factories and (bad) football.
Of course, that's what most places look like when you whiz past on the turnpike. Ohio has lots more variety — topographic, culinary, cultural — than we typically give it credit for. Ohio's cities have long had very good music scenes, even if they're as far from the usual hubs of the “music industry” as we are.
Music fans in Pittsburgh were used to the fact that you sometimes had to drive to Cleveland to see certain acts. Pittsburgh's venues and promoters didn't always have it together to make the city a must-stop location for tours, while the slightly larger market of Cleveland/Akron did.
Ohio also has a lot of music festivals, though the big one — the Nelsonville Music Festival in southern Ohio, was at the end of May.
As the subtle rise of vinyl LP sales indicate, there are still people who want to physically collect music, and there are still record stores where you can browse, listen and chat about music. They're still the place where “the music scene” congregates, in the daylight hours before the music starts.
This cursory guide mostly sticks to rock music and its various permutations, since — world-famous Cleveland Symphony aside — that seems to be what Ohio has always done best.
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7901.
In the late '70s and early '80s, Cleveland (and nearby nodes Akron and Kent) was ground zero for some of punk rock's key early mutations: The Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Devo. Since then, indie rock (Cobra Verde, Cloud Nothings), metal (Chimaira, Mushroomhead), and hip-hop (Bone Thugs N' Harmony, Kid Cudi) have all had their time in the sun. Garage-blues duo The Black Keys are from Akron.
• The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Visiting the I.M. Pei-designed pyramid(s) of pop is an essential, first-day stop in Cleveland. Current exhibits include “Rolling Stones: 50 Years of Satisfaction.” Details: www.rockhall.com, 216-781-7625.
• Records: Blue Arrow Records (www.bluearrowrecords.com), in the Waterloo Arts District, has the city's best selection of used records — even its floor is covered in a mosaic of vintage LP covers. Look for hard-to-find LPs by local legends like The Pagans, Death of Samantha and Pere Ubu. Plus, there's a used/vintage clothing boutique attached, and lots of friendly cats. Bent Crayon (www.bentcrayonrecords.com), in Detroit-Shoreway, is amazing for electronic and avant-garde sounds. Music Saves (www.musicsaves.com), near Blue Arrow, has a strong selection of indie-rock new releases and lots of great in-store performances.
• Venues: Now That's Class (www.nowthatsclass.net) is the essential stop for up-and-coming indie, punk, metal and experimental acts. It also has Donkey Kong, pinball, an arm-wrestling table, outdoor patios, Mexican food, a skateboard ramp and perhaps Cleveland's best jukebox. Other good venues include Peabody's (www.peabodys.com), Phantasy Nite Club (www.phantasyconcertclub.net) and the bigger Beachland Ballroom (www.beachlandballroom.com).
Pittsburgh's eternal rival Cincinnati has had an interesting recent musical history. The city has birthed several era-defining bands, like the Afghan Whigs and The National, even if they've sometimes had to leave town to find an audience (The National mostly reside in Brooklyn now, with everybody else). The city has a rich history in soul music (The Isley Brothers) and is literally across the river from Appalachian music's old Kentucky home.
Lately, roots-rockers Heartless Bastards, electronic beat-basher Enduser, jazz/hip-hop combo IsWhat? and ironic cheese-metal enthusiasts Foxy Shazam! have been getting lots of outside attention.
• Records: Shake It Records (www.shakeitrecords.com) sells everything from “Chicago post-punk art rock to Ethiopian Boogaloo and all stops in between,” with lots of in-store performances. Black Plastic Records (513-258-0535) buys and sells used vinyl records and a great selection of obscure band T-shirts.
• Venues: Bogart's (www.bogarts.com) is the main spot for mid-sized acts, music and comedy. For big acts (Rush, Bob Dylan, etc.), the Riverbend Music Center (www.riverbend.org) is a nice outdoor spot on the Ohio River.
• Festivals: Midpoint Music Festival: Sept. 26-28, featuring The Breeders, Metz, Foxygen (www.mpmf.com).
Central Ohio isn't a terribly exciting place to look at, unless you're a connoisseur of flat expanses and strip malls. Perhaps in reaction, Columbus-dwellers have long been adept at creating their own fun. In particular, the music scene on High Street is always interesting, and renews itself every few years through the never-ending stream of Ohio State students. The high point was probably in the late ”90s, when indie/punk bands like Scrawl, New Bomb Turks and Gaunt made noise. Recently, lo-fi punks Times New Viking, frat-rockers O.A.R., hip-hop beatmaker RJD2, metalcore band Attack Attack! and pop-rockers Twenty One Pilots have gotten attention.
• Records: High Street has long been one of the best places in the country to shop for records, not in quality so much as in sheer volume of options. If you have time for just one, though, make it the buy-sell-trade mecca Used Kids Records (www.usedkids.com).
• CD 102.5 (Formerly CD-101) is one of the only commercial rock stations in the country to aggressively embrace new rock music that doesn't sound exactly like it did 20 to 40 years ago. Recent playlists have included new bands like Wavves, Smith Westerns, Local Natives and Thao and the Get Down Stay Downs.
• Venues: The Wexner Center for the Arts (www.wexarts.org) gets some cutting-edge performers that don't always make it to Pittsburgh, from the Wayne Shorter Quartet to Squarepusher. Newport Music Hall gets big national touring shows, and the indoor-outdoor Lifestyle Communities Pavilion is the prototype for Pittsburgh's Stage AE (both www.promowestlive.com).
• Festivals: The four-day All Good Music Festival (in rural Thornville), wraps up July 21, featuring Further, Keller Williams, Trombone Shorty, Pretty Lights (www.allgoodfestival.com). Breakaway Music Festival, Sept. 14, featuring Bassnectar, Kendrick Lamar, Juicy J (www.breakawayfestival.com). Summerfest 2013, Aug. 24, featuring Matt & Kim, Cold War Kids, Ra Ra Riot (www.cd1025.com).
• Records: Record stores are in a tough spot now, as the natural human hunter-gatherer (some call it collector) instinct battles viciously with the even more primal “get it for free online” instinct. Somehow, Toledo hasn't been paying attention, and new record stores are still opening. After Boogie Records closed a few years ago, it seemed like that was it. But then, Ramalama Records (on Facebook, search Ramalama Records) and Culture Clash Records opened, and suddenly Toledo is a record collector's dream.
• Venues: Mickey Finn's Pub (www.mickeyfinnspub.com) gets some terrific small shows.
It seems distant now, but for a moment or two in the mid-'90s, this little industrial city in southwestern Ohio was the center of the music world. Suddenly, a few hard-working, do-it-yourself bands soared to prominence at around the same time. The Breeders, featuring Kim and Kelley Deal, who grew up performing at truckstops around Dayton, went platinum. A schoolteacher's hobby, Guided By Voices, released one of the landmark albums of indie rock, which was still kind of a new thing. And a bunch of terrific other bands, most now forgotten, seemed to suddenly come out of the woodwork. Things have mostly calmed down since then.
This had actually happened before — Dayton produced a large chunk of the nation's funk bands in the '70s, including The Ohio Players, Zapp and Slave. It could happen again.
• Festivals: Gentlemen of the Road Troy Stopover, Aug. 30-31, featuring Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show (www.gentlemenoftheroad.com/troy)
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