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.
Downtown, Coventry, Collinwood
Image © Nathan Rogers
RISE & SHINE: FUEL UP DOWNTOWN
Grab breakfast Downtown, since you'll have a busy morning nearby. There are plenty of options, but you can't go wrong with Rebol, situated smack in the middle of Cleveland's Public Square, or local favorite diner Yours Truly in Playhouse Square.
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 and must be made two weeks in advance.
A neighborhood mainstay on Cleveland's East Side, take a bite out of a vast selection of dishes named after the customers who helped Tommy's Restaurant thrive for more than 30 years at this hip, laid-back joint. Whether you're scarfing a corned beef sandwich, or hitting one of their many vegetarian, vegan or gluten free options, save room for one of their famous milkshakes.
P.M.: RECORD SHOP 'TIL YOU DROP
Stay on the East Side 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, where Blue Arrow Records 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: CITIZEN PIE
While you're in the Collinwood neighborhood, stay for dinner at Citizen Pie for a thin, perfectly-cooked Neapolitan pizza cooked in a brick oven direct from Italy with only the freshest ingredients. You're going to need plenty of energy for the night ahead, so power up with that pepperoni.
EVENING: LIVE MUSIC GALORE
Stay in the Waterloo Arts District for more live music at the famous Beachland Ballroom, 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 Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, 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.
The Flats, Little Italy, Uptown, University Circle, Ohio City, Lakewood, Asiatown
Image © Larry E. Highbaugh, Jr.
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: LITTLE ITALY
Little Italy beckons with its authentic Italian vibe, bakeries, mom-and-pop shops and restaurants. Take a stroll along Murray Hill before dining at Guarino’s, a longtime Cleveland staple owned by a Sicilian family that preserves the tastes of the old world. Treat yourself to dessert at one (or two) of Little Italy’s delectable bakeries and argue with yourself over which is better: the cannolis at Corbo’s or the cassata cake at Presti’s.
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 Music Center, 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. During the summer, you can catch the Orchestra at Blossom Music Center during their usual summer residency.
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 Foundry Concert Club for a metal mainstays, No Class for punk vibes or hit up Mahall's for a show and a few frames of bowling.
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.