Since 2015, getting a grant from the Panza Foundation has been like a stamp of approval for local, independent bands. But in November, co-founder John Panza realized bands needed something else: the long-term survival of Northeast Ohio’s music venues.
“Bands are like fish,” says the local musician and English professor. “If there’s no lake or pond to swim in, then there’s no band.” So instead of supporting its usual three to five bands this year, the nonprofit band incubator is funneling donations to the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern, Grog Shop, Happy Dog and Mahall’s 20 Lanes.
The November stimulus package, which awarded $15 billion in grants to live entertainment venues, theaters, cultural institutions and nationally owned concert halls, was a late boon for the independently owned institutions, but the Panza Foundation’s grant is still much needed. We talked to Panza about why these spaces are vital to Cleveland’s music scene and what might come of his organization’s grants.
Why make the pivot to supporting clubs in 2021?
When we choose bands, we spend the year essentially stalking them. We don’t have an application process. With no bands playing out since March, we figured why not pivot to support these people [behind the venues] who work really hard.
What makes Cleveland a special place for music venues?
We are a rather small town to have this many well-known, nationwide clubs. Places like Beachland and the Grog Shop being around for 20 years is unheard of. Over the past 10 years, things were really coming together. Each club had its own thing — Mahall’s with bowling, Happy Dog with food. And there was a network that was supporting each other. Grog Shop would host shows at Beachland, and Beachland would even host shows at the House of Blues. Even the Bop Stop, Five O’Clock Lounge and Brothers Lounge were doing their thing.
What would you like the venues to do with the money?
That money is going to be earmarked for whatever the clubs choose. That said, we are going to encourage them to use it for a concert series or to subsidize ticket prices. If you can only allow 40 people in a venue because of COVID restrictions, you’re going to have to charge, like, $20 a ticket. We’re hoping we can help bring that down so average people can go see the show.