48 Hours of Music
Two days of Cleveland's music highlights, planned out
By Denise Koeth, Image by Dale McDonald
Cleveland rocks. And rolls... and swings, thumps, wails, sways, and all that jazz. Basically, you name it and we’ve got it when it comes to music. We're what you may call a diamond (record) in the rough if music is your jam.
Past and present, Cleveland has made an indelible mark on the music industry. It was here where disc jockey Alan Freed coined the term "rock and roll" to describe the records he played as early as 1951 on Cleveland radio station WJW. Here where one of the Beatles' wildest shows took place--during which about 2,500 fans invaded the field at Cleveland Stadium, requiring the Fab Four to hide out in their backstage trailer until order was restored. And here's where even today tradition and quality buck cheap trends, as Cleveland is home to Gotta Groove Records, the only fully vertically integrated record manufacturing operation in the world.
But enough bragging. If you're visiting Cleveland for a music-themed weekend, we've got the perfect itinerary for you. Just be sure to pack your boogie shoes.
DAY 1Downtown, Coventry, Collinwood
RISE & SHINE: FUEL UP DOWNTOWN
Grab breakfast in the Gateway District, since you'll have a busy morning nearby. There are plenty of options, but you can't go wrong with classy Urban Farmer, located in The Westin; Rebol, situated smack in the middle of Cleveland's Public Square; or Jack Flap's Luncheonette, housed in the 5th Street Arcades.
MORNING: THE HOUSE THAT ROCK BUILT
No trip to Cleveland is complete without a journey to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Walk through seven levels of exhibits and gawk at artifacts and memorabilia from generations of rock legends. Check out rotating exhibits, including the latest class of inductees, and peruse the well-stocked gift shop for the perfect souvenir.
Already been to the Rock Hall? Take a deeper dive and check out its Library & Archives, housed nearby on Woodland Ave. The building often offers companion displays to current Rock Hall exhibits, as well as extensive collections of library materials (books, dissertations, periodicals, and audio and video recordings) and hundreds of archival collections (personal correspondence, business records, photographs, song manuscripts, posters, and original audio and video recordings). Just be sure to let them know you're coming--appointments are required.
While you likely won't hear any live music over the lunch hour (that happens in the evening), you can bask in the afterglow of greatness at Nighttown, located just east of University Circle. A collection of memorabilia from earlier eras decorates the six distinctly different dining rooms and three bars of the swanky restaurant, which has hosted more than 1,000 musicians throughout its 50+ year history (trust us, there's even a list).
P.M.: RECORD SHOP 'TIL YOU DROP
Head east for a tour of some of Cleveland's greatest vinyl shops. Start in the Coventry neighborhood with Record Revolution and The Exchange, then head to the Collinwood neighborhood and plan for a long stay in the Waterloo Arts District. Hit up Music Saves and Blue Arrow Records, the latter of which features a floor covered entirely with decoupaged record album covers. If you can't find what you're looking for at one of these vinyl shops, chances are it no longer exists.
DINNER: BEACHLAND BALLROOM
While you're in the neighborhood, stay for dinner at this locally famous hot spot, known for playing a pivotal role in launching the careers of several local musicians, including The Black Keys, who played their very first show there. Pub grub is paired with a respectable beer list and nightly live music at what is hands down Cleveland's most eclectic music club.
EVENING: LIVE MUSIC GALORE
Stay in the Waterloo Arts District for more live music at Calliloo Café or Millard Fillmore Presidential Library, or walk to Cebar's Euclid Tavern, located around the corner on East 185th. Uber your way back to Coventry for a show at The Grog Shop or head back Downtown to check out the House of Blues or the Agora Theatre & Ballroom. There's also The Odeon Concert Club, located on the East Bank of the Flats.
If mainstream hits dominate your radio dial, you may want to check the schedules of several larger Cleveland concert venues, including Quicken Loans Arena, Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, and even Blossom Music Center, located in nearby Cuyahoga Falls.
HIT THE SACK: SLEEP LIKE A ROCK STAR
You don't have to be a rock star to book a night in the Hilton Cleveland Downtown’s Rock and Roll Suite, designed in collaboration with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Crash in this 22nd-floor gem that offers views of the lake and city, in addition to glam details: framed vintage concert posters and handwritten lyrics from the Rock Hall archives, plus funky accents and furniture, including an 8-foot table featuring a smashed guitar.
If your budget is less lead singer and more roadie, try a Downtown hotel that is an official preferred partner of the Rock Hall. Each has created unique packages to include special pricing, Rock Hall tickets, and additional value-added amenities.
DAY 2The Flats, Little Italy, Uptown, University Circle, Ohio City, Lakewood, Asiatown
RISE & SHINE: BRUNCH AND A SHOW
Head to the West Bank of the Flats for brunch at Music Box Supper Club, where there isn't a bad seat in the house at this intimate hall with fabulous views of the Cuyahoga River. Grab some hair of the dog at the Bloody Mary Bar and wake up your senses with a great concert--many feature cover bands of true music icons--all from the comfort of your table.
MORNING: GRAVESIDE GROOVES
Cleveland is the final resting place of some legends. Head to the picturesque Lake View Cemetery near Little Italy to pay your respects to Alan Freed, whose memorial stone depicts a portrait of Freed on one side and a jukebox on the other. After 12 years on the road--from California to a mausoleum in New York to 12 years on display at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame--Freed's ashes were laid to rest in Lake View in 2016 during a lively, yet respectful, ceremony that welcomed about 400 guests, including Singer Jimmy Clanton, The Drifters, and musician Steve Van Zandt of the E Street Band. While you're there, tour 285 acres of history and architecture, including President Garfield’s Monument, Wade Chapel’s Tiffany interior, and the gravesites of John D. Rockefeller and Elliot Ness.
LUNCH: SO DOGGONE HAPPY
Down the street from Lake View Cemetery lies Happy Dog at Euclid Tavern, the second location of Cleveland's gourmet hot dog emporium. The hip spot offers diners 50 house-made toppings for its all-beef hot dogs, vegan sausages, french fries and tater tots, plus an extensive beer list and live music from local bands and cool regional and national touring acts.
P.M.: GO OLD SCHOOL
Put on your Sunday best and party like it's the 1800s--or at least enjoy classical music of that era--at Severance Hall, home of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra. Be sure to reserve seats for a matinee concert led by Music Director Franz Welser-Möst. If you can't land a ticket to a performance, consider taking a free tour of the building, available on select Sunday afternoons from October through May.
DINNER: MODERN JUKEBOX MAGIC
Ohio City's Jukebox is a city tavern with a rockin' twist: the in-house jukebox catalog changes monthly to feature 99 new songs on a rotating basis. Be sure to bring your pocket change--and your appetite--to this fun, eclectic joint that offers tasty appetizers, sandwiches, and that Cleveland staple, the pierogi, with several varieties and dipping sauces on the menu.
EVENING: GO WEST
Head west down Detroit Ave. for live music on this side of town. Check out BOP Stop @ The Music Settlement for jazz, The Brothers Lounge for a mix of musical tastes, The Foundry Concert Club for a metal mainstays, and Now That’s Class for punk vibes.
If you'd like to get in on the musical action, check out The Big Bang Cleveland on the East Bank of the Flats, where dueling pianos and audience participation are always on tap. Or head to Cleveland's Asiatown for an out-of-this-world karaoke experience at Galaxy KTV, which offers a main lounge space and nine private, acoustically-enhanced rooms for singing your heart out.
It's impossible to do it all when it comes to music in Cleveland. But hit some highlights on this weekend set list, and you won't find yourself singing the blues due to missed opportunities.