In 2010, after Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers canceled a gig at Blossom Music Center, opening band the Drive-By Truckers were determined to play — and Beachland Ballroom & Tavern co-owner Mark Leddy was determined to make it happen. The Old 97s were playing the Ballroom, so the Truckers were relegated to the Tavern, where years earlier they'd played to 20 fans and pounded a hole in the stage during a band squabble. The show was announced at 5 p.m. and sold out by showtime. The fans who were able to get tickets got a raucous three-hour show.Talking to Leddy about the Beachland’s history is to relive epic moments like this as if they are small everyday occurrences. Probably because they are for the man who has booked more than 10,000 shows over two decades and overseen small evolutions in the careers of legendary bands. As the Beachland Ballroom celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, Leddy has scheduled a series of 20 shows featuring some of the venue’s favorite acts, including the Black Lips, the New Bomb Turks and Of Montreal, starting on March 4. In between calling King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard “the best show in years” and reminiscing about impromptu Squeeze shows in the Tavern, we got Leddy to share some thoughts about what he thinks makes the Beachland special. More Info & Showtimes: beachlandballroom.com
On What Makes The Beachland Different
The owners of venues are typically here nearly as much as we are. I think that’s something that’s distinguished us and why people have liked us here. We’ve demonstrated that we’re music fans foremost. Artists can pick up on the fact that the people here, even the door guys and bartenders, have really high music IQs. It’s a business, but it’s a labor of love.
On the Importance of Live Music
For a lot of people, the experience of seeing live music with a whole bunch of people — it’s almost needed. Everyone’s worried about money and day to day life is more stressful than ever. The live music experience is cathartic, and for a lot of people, it’s kind of necessary to keep them going and to keep doing what they’re doing. They need what music brings in the live experience. It’s just good for their soul.
On What Cleveland Could Be
We have a lot of venues, and a lot of competition. But I feel like we could be kind of like Austin or New Orleans, a capital where tourists go to see live music. I personally feel like we need to elevate the feeling of how important live music can be to this city a little closer to those levels. The talent is certainly here.
On The City’s Support Of Live Music Venues
I’m looking forward to a chance to elect a new mayor who might have a more progressive approach towards the arts economy overall. That is going to be an important facet to us surviving. There just needs to be better policies in the City of Cleveland than we currently have for venues like ours to survive. There just has to be change.
On Almost Shut Down The Beachland This Year
We thought about, What if we just went up until the March 20-year anniversary and then shut it down? There were pretty serious talks about that. In fact, I thought that’s what was happening. I mean for the whole summer, even when we were having good shows, no one was coming. And it would be like OK, we have $2,000 less for having done all that work. We were just not hitting our numbers. Then some good things started to happen. We had an OK week. We found a silent partner. We’ve always known you have to be pretty tough at this, but that summer trend, where we’re competing with nice weather and all the free festivals, is getting tougher to survive.
On Having Two Stages
This interesting thing has happened over the years on a night where we’re doing two shows where people are exposed to things by accident. They came to see one band, but they accidentally walked into the tavern. Or they came the Ballroom but they want to check out what’s in the Tavern. Usually it’s a separate admission, but we’ll usually work out a deal to give them a taste of both. Those are the nights people find a new favorite band.
On Learning From Rudy Ray Moore, the Comedian Behind The Character Dolemite
Seeing that Netflix movie Dolemite Is My Name with Eddie Murphy reminded me of that show, and how he recognized that we were a little new and green. You know, he put his arm around me and said let me show you how I do my merchandise here. He was giving me tips, “You’ve got to have something at every price point. I’ve got this collection of VHS tapes for $125, I’ve got polaroids for $10, but the key is the Rudy Ray Moore back scratcher. Even if they’ve got some quarters in their pocket, you need to get those quarters.” I think every single person went home with a polaroid and a back scratcher.
On How Bands Inspire Him
It really is the inspiration for what we do. We appreciate people that take the chance on their music and then take their music on the road, and we try to give them a good environment. I think that works back and forth because you know. I think when a band gets to a room that they really vibe with — and it's not just the audience but it's the physical room and the staff— they’re ready to go before they’ve even hit the stage. The booking, the marketing, the staff, the audience, I just love seeing it all come together for an epic show.
Just surviving for 20 years feels like an accomplishment, says Beachland Ballroom & Tavern co-owner Cindy Barber. Read her reflections on the troubles and tribulations of running Cleveland's premier rock club.
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.