Surviving for 20 years is the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern’s biggest triumph, says co-owner Cindy Barber. “It feels like dog years,” says the former Cleveland Free Times newspaper editor, who left journalism in 2000 to create a music venue that would anchor an arts district on North Collinwood’s Waterloo Road. Twenty years later, that independent institution is a major reason Cleveland still rocks, attracting more than 80,000 visitors a year. This month, an anniversary series of more than 20 shows celebrate the milestone, including performances from Black Lips and of Montreal. We sat down with Barber to discuss lessons learned from two decades of rock ‘n’ roll. More Info & Showtimes: beachlandballroom.com
I wanted to help my neighborhood. In the ’80s, the ethnic people were all running for Eastlake. I wanted to create a destination location that would start to turn this neighborhood around.
The old Croatian Social Hall was for sale. When I walked into that big room, I realized how amazing the sound was. It was created for music, weddings and polka bands. People love the sound of this room.
To see a really good show in that room with 500 enthusiastic people feels like magic.
It’s refreshing to see some young bands have that spirit that we grew up with. We really want authentic rock ‘n’ roll.
We did strive for [genre diversity], even in the beginning. [Co-owner] Mark Leddy’s background is garage rock. I’ve always had a love for alt-country and Americana. But we also wanted to honor Cleveland music history, so we were even doing polkas. We did the 75th birthday of Little Jimmy Scott, the jazz singer originally from Cleveland.
We try to connect with artists. I think that’s what grew the Beachland so quickly. We made a point of talking to the performers and making friends with them.
By having two rooms, we’ve been able to start bands like Trampled by Turtles, Vampire Weekend, The National and the White Stripes in the tavern and then graduate them to the ballroom.
Watching The Black Keys sell out the ballroom for the first time, when we really invested our emotional core into them, was an amazing moment.
Getting thanks from the artists or patrons is really what keeps us going. Because we’re not making money.
The music business is high-stakes gambling every night. If you miscalculate, you can easily lose $4,000 in a night.
In September, I was ready to throw in the flag. We were struggling. But now my neighbors are creating new visions for their spaces. Our percentage of winners has improved. It feels like there’s positive energy moving forward. I’m energized right now.
Co-owner Mark Leddy has booked more than 10,000 shows at the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern. Here, we talk to him about what he's learned from the job.
At the music venue's 15th anniversary, its owners shared nine unforgettable moments from the White Stripes first show to this Drive-By Truckers moment.