Cleveland Revs Up for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Festivities

The Midwestern city prepares for the economic and social impact of 10 days as the center of the rock world

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Lesley Ann Miller/George Rose/Getty Images
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at twilight at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.
By |

Steve Schimoler, owner and chef at Cleveland, Ohio's Crop Bistro & Bar, has been working hard to create the perfect rock-themed menu for his restaurant, with the hopes of attracting some of the rock stars, record industry executives, and music fans who will flood into town for the 27th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony later this month. He is particularly proud of a cocktail he calls the "Sugaree" (shaken not stirred) – in honor of the Rock Hall's new Grateful Dead exhibit.

Schimoler is one of the many Cleveland business owners eager to contribute to the 10-day celebration of rock & roll that began April 5th, and culminates with the induction ceremony at Public Hall on April 14th.

As Valarie McCall, Cleveland's chief of government affairs and a member of board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, puts it, "Everyone is catching that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony fever."

For a Midwestern city that has been hit hard by the country's economic recession, mortgage crisis, and, of course, the departure of LeBron James, it is difficult to overstate the positive impact such a celebration has on the economy, culture, and morale of Cleveland, with inductees like the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N' Roses, The Faces, and many other celebrities coming to town.

Putting on a show of this magnitude requires a citywide team effort. Even Cleveland's airport workers, taxicab drivers and downtown trolley conductors are participating in the festivities. The moment travelers step off their airplanes at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, they "won't take five steps without being reminded that they are coming to a city that loves rock & roll, has a rich history of rock & roll, and is extremely excited to host the induction ceremony," says Cleveland's director of port control Ricky Smith.

"This year, our meet-and-greet efforts will probably be on steroids," he adds, with a laugh.

The airport recently unveiled a two-story high billboard for the induction just outside the baggage claim area, and decorated indoors with more than 60 "Cleveland Rocks" posters, a mock "walk of fame" featuring Rock Hall inductees past and present, and large guitar statues.

Around town, taxis are sporting advertisements for the induction ceremony, and a handful of Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) trolley drivers have agreed to dress up as their favorite rock stars – including Rick James, Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, and Aretha Franklin – while they transport visitors to and from induction events. Prime celebrity-spotting downtown hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton and the Renaissance are completely booked the week leading up to the induction, and others nearby are filling up quickly.

Cleveland has hosted the Rock Hall induction ceremony twice before – on May 6th, 1997 and on April 4th, 2009.  In 2007, city and Rock Hall officials announced plans to bring the inductions (which are normally held as a one night only, private event at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria hotel) to Cleveland every three years.

Rock Hall president and CEO Terry Stewart says he always envisioned Cleveland's Rock Hall induction ceremonies lasting much longer than one night – and open to the public. "We wait for this for three years, and to have it go from, say, 6 p.m. to midnight, and then have it be over, after all that pent-up energy, seemed like it was inappropriate," he says. This year, "it's going to be like a music festival atmosphere."

The Rock Hall has worked closely with city officials and local businesses to plan 10 full days of events to engage the community, including a concert with inductee Bootsy Collins at Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom on April 6th, a performance by Girl Talk at Public Hall on April 7th, a gospel music celebration honoring Kirk Franklin on April 10th at Playhouse Square's State Theatre, and a free concert for Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena on April 12th, featuring Kid Cudi and George Clinton. Tickets to the induction ceremony itself sold out four short minutes after they went on sale to the general public. (For those who cannot attend, the ceremony will be broadcast on HBO on May 5th.)

The Rock Hall is also dedicating its new Library and Archives at Cuyahoga Community College's Metropolitan Campus on April 9th, and launching Voice Your Choice, a national project that invites students to create their own inductee class, over induction week.

A study by regional development organization Team NEO revealed that Cleveland's 2009 induction ceremony activities generated an economic impact of more than $13 million dollars for the city.

"It's important to the city to host a marquee event where the Hall of Fame itself is located," says Michael Belkin, senior vice president for Live Nation Entertainment. "Morale-wise, it's a humongous lift to our city… It's important for us to say, 'Hey, we are worthy, … we are capable of hosting this world-class event.'"

Bill Rowley, chair of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum board, compares the induction ceremony to a Super Bowl that comes to town every three years. Cleveland fans "not only support (the induction) financially, but they will be there at every party, every night, and it will be jam-packed," he says.

According to the Rock Hall's Terry Stewart, some 50 restaurants all over Cleveland plan to host live or DJ music events throughout the week leading up to the induction. Crop Bistro & Bar, in Ohio City, will feature "last-second, unannounced" performances by Cream of the Crop, a band consisting of chef and owner Schimoler and a handful of his employees. Before the 2009 induction, Todd Rundgren made a surprise guest appearance with Cream of the Crop at the nearby ABC the Tavern, and Schimoler hints that other guest appearances could be possible again this year at Crop, or elsewhere.

Cleveland's House of Blues, on East Fourth Street (a bustling downtown entertainment district), is hosting the official, invitation-only after-party following the April 14th induction ceremony, but rock fans not on the invite list can catch a glimpse of the action next door at the Greenhouse Tavern. Chef and owner Jonathan Sawyer is opening up the restaurant's rooftop after the ceremony, and serving up drink specials inspired by the music of the Beastie Boys.

On April 13th, a band that goes by Gunz N' Rozez will kick off a tribute concert – "Appetite for Induction" – at the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern. Club owner Cindy Barber says guests will come decked out as their favorite rock stars, and even walk down a red carpet.

Cleveland musicians will also take the stage and perform all week at the Hard Rock Café, which is located in Tower City Center downtown. In addition, the restaurant is also honoring this year's inductees with a special, free exhibit of their mementos, "Code Breakers of Rock and Roll," which runs from April 6th to 15th.

"We get so many people in here who are music fans, but do not even have tickets to the induction," David Schulz, the restaurant's sales and marketing manager, says. "We want to provide a separate space so people who are in town can see some of these bands, and their memorabilia."

Up to 25 percent of out-of-town visitors, who travel in from all over all over the world, don't actually have tickets to the ceremony – or any other official events, explains Todd Mesek, vice president of marketing and communications at the Rock Hall.

"They just come," he says, "to be in the glow of downtown... It's a tremendous, exciting, sometimes palpable energy that builds as we get closer to the ceremony."

As Cleveland-based artist manager David Spero puts it, "We will be the center of the rock & roll world for a week, like we used to be."

If You Go:
• Induction news and updates are available at rockhall.com.

• Positively Cleveland, the city's convention and visitor bureau, has put together a comprehensive guide to finding housing, transportation, dining, and updated event schedules at ClevelandRockWeek.com.

• Information about Cleveland's RTA can be found at riderta.com, or by calling 216-621-9500.

• A listing of some of the restaurants participating in induction week events can be found at clevelandfoodrocks.com.

x