In the spirit of rock and roll and pride for the Cleveland music scene, the Rock Hall frequently partners with area venues in celebration of rock and roll as an art form, and one such venue is the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern. In its now 10 year run, the Beachland has become one of the most renowned places to perform at and see live music. Rock Hall Assistant Curator Meredith Rutledge shares its history and hopes with Beachland co-owner Cindy Barber.
A local and national music treasure celebrates its 10th anniversary March 5. Cindy Barber, co-owner of the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, an anchor of Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood, is planning on commemorating this milestone with t-shirts sporting the slogan, “The Beachland – Celebrating 10 Years of Deficit Spending!” When asked about her inspiration for starting a music venue, Barber replies, “Insanity is what made me think of starting the Beachland!” Barber is only half-joking about the challenges that have faced the Beachland during its run as one of the nation’s premier and most eclectic venues. She had been working as co-founder and editor of the Cleveland Free Times, and at the end of the 1990s was offered another newspaper job in Pittsburgh. “This was when the newspaper world was being rapidly corporatized, and I was finding the business to be way too stressful. I decided I just couldn’t work for anybody ever again,” Barber said. “I tried to think of what I wanted to focus on.” As a long-time resident of North Collinwood, Barber could see the changes taking place in the neighborhood. The older, ethnic residents and businesses were moving out, and drugs were being sold on the street in her formerly safe neighborhood. North Collinwood, with its relatively inexpensive and high-quality housing stock and studio spaces, had a history of attracting artists and musicians, and Barber had always been involved in Cleveland’s music scene. The idea of opening a music venue came into focus when Barber found the former Croatian Liberty Hall and Ballroom, which was built in 1950. “This was the biggest building that was for sale in the neighborhood,” Barber said. “First I looked at the building and wondered, would this work best as a music venue, or a restaurant and catering operation? Then when I saw the ballroom I started to think about what was going on in the city – alternative music venues like Wilbert’s were going out of business. The ballroom had been built as a music venue, it wasn’t a big warehouse with echo-y, bad sound and I thought, this could work!” Barber had shows booked for the venue even before she obtained financing for the building. Her business partner, Mark Leddy, had built up a reputation – and, most importantly -- a mailing list after promoting a string of garage rock shows featuring mostly Detroit-based bands throughout the 1990s. “We sat down and stuck those old-fashioned mailing labels on postcards, sending them out to Mark’s mailing list to promote our first shows,” Barber said. “The first week we opened with the White Stripes and the Greenhornes, from Mark’s Detroit connections, and we hit the ground running.” “There’s a moment where something magic happens – and it happens over and over again – every night, and it’s going to keep on happening,” Barber said when asked about her favorite moments of the last ten years. Some of her highlights are of performances by Eli “Paperboy” Reed, the Cramps and Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople and “Cleveland Rocks” fame. She recalls a Drive by Truckers show attended by “about 10 people – but it was one of the most amazing shows ever,” and speaks with understandable pride of helping the Black Keys obtain a booking agent and manager. “National and international acts love playing the Beachland and look forward to coming to Cleveland to see us,” said Barber. “Sleater Kinney said in Rolling Stone magazine that this was their favorite place to play. The Hold Steady, Neko Case, the Raveonettes – bands from all over, who have played all over -- are very vocal about sharing their love for the Beachland.” In fact, former Squeeze frontman Glenn Tilbrook has written a song about his favorite venue, called, unsurprisingly, “Beachland Ballroom,” which appears on his latest album. Tilbrook’s exuberant Beachland performances have seen him lead the entire audience out, Pied Piper-like, into the middle of Waterloo Road in front of the venue to dance and sing along in wild abandon. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="274" caption="The Cramps on stage at the Beachland Ballroom in 2003."][/caption] Despite the challenge of keeping a business afloat in these trying financial times, Barber looks forward to the Beachland’s next 10 years. “I always hope that the Beachland will continue to survive, and I’m hoping we can figure out a way to keep it going. We want to see this street and neighborhood grow into a real music and arts community and help nurture the next generation of artists and musicians.” One of her great joys has been watching youngsters from the neighborhood grow up and blossom into burgeoning artists and musicians. “When Nicholas was little, he used to sit cross-legged on the sub-woofers during sound checks and performances, just absorbing everything, “ Barber laughingly said about the son of her friend and longtime Collinwood resident Joan “Joan of Art” Deveney. “Now he’s all grown up. Just a few months ago he performed some songs he’d written on the Ballroom stage. I’m so proud of him, he’s so talented, reminds me of a young Bob Dylan. I let him take out the garbage at the club and now he’s going to do something in the music world!”
In honor of the Beachland's 10th anniversary, the Rock Hall will screen the Roky Erickson documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me on March 3 preceding Erickson’s performance on March 6 during the Beachland’s 10th Anniversary Weekend.