Whiskey Hollow’s X Waters EP and These Knees’ Night Fires EP recently hit the local music scene, but their releases were barely static on most Clevelanders’ radars. Even worse, many didn’t even know the bands existed. This bothered Shawn Brewster — roiled him even — because he thought the albums were fantastic.
As the lead singer of rock-folk band Oldboy for six years and one half of acoustic duo Shawn and Shelby for two years, Brewster is entrenched in the scene and frequently hears other artists express how difficult it can be.
“I noticed a lot of musicians talking about the lack of people wanting to come out to see local original music,” he says.
This worried him, but he thought his connections could help get the word out about local music. “I was like, How can we draw attention to these bands?” he recalls.
So he launched a public playlist under the cheeky moniker the Beard and the Brew, which he debuted in January. The Spotify playlist, which is updated on Mondays, and accompanying Facebook page serve as a hub for everything Clevelanders need to know about the local music scene right now.
Songs rotate with weekly shows and give novice fans a sound bite of who’s playing — from Cleveland rapper Archie Green’s raw track “Layers” to Brooklyn folk rocker American Opera’s “Bright Lights & Amplifiers” to Cleveland punk rockers Village Bicycle’s “Rainbow Parade.”
While listeners get an earful of local and national sounds, Brewster tends to pull acts from under-the-radar spots such as the graffiti-splashed basement club Coda under Dante Next Door in Tremont and the nostalgic Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern. So even music fans may discover shows they’d otherwise have missed.
Crafting the weekly playlist has led Brewster to fresh musicians he likes such as Leyla McCalla, a New Orleans cellist-led trio. “[It’s] a fantastically cool band,” he says.
The Beard and the Brew evolved from his personal Spotify playlist titled Cleveland/Akron/NEO bands, which grew to 1,450 songs after he sent out social media messages to producers and college radio DJs asking for their favorite local tracks to add. He uses the list as the bones for the weekly playlist, adding a little Ohio Sky there and a bit of Brent Kirby here.
The Facebook page is like a mini blog with links to local events, music news and new music drops. He mixes in national announcements too like new music from Father John Misty or a local’s journey on The Voice.
Brewster hopes to expand the playlist to Akron venues and even partner with a brewery to do a podcast where he interviews bands. With fewer than 300 likes on his page, Brewster has a ways to go before the Beard and the Brew cuts through the static and gets fans to consistently come to shows. So he continues to mix playlists and hopes people will find something they like.
“You can sit down and get angry about it, get bitter about it, or you can do something about it,” he says.
Brewster shares tips for creating a killer Spotify playlist.
Set the mood.
Think about the first four songs you want to add to your playlist since those fill the top picture slots. “The four album covers give a vibe,” Brewster says.
Have an open mind.
Brewster checks venues to get a good sense of the music flowing in and out of town and listens to the artists’ latest albums. “I don’t pigeonhole it to my taste,” he says. But he weeds out artists that don’t meet his high-quality standard.
Keep it fresh.
Finally, he adds new music and then fills the rest in with local music from his own playlist. He tends to pick the three most popular songs from their latest album. “I stick to the things they are touring on,” he says. Sometimes, he drops in a throwback.
3 Shows to See
Grog Shop, the Clarks and Mason District, May 5
“It’s extreme longevity versus one band just starting out,” says Brewster of rockers the Clarks, who’ve been playing more than 20 years, and Mason District, a new local indie-rock Americana act.
Beachland Tavern, Holden Laurence, Bad Hounds, John’s Little Sister, May 5
This Wild Empty Promises release party for the Modern Electric guitarist Holden Laurence’s solo effort is a hot ticket, as the alternative album is getting rave reviews. “He’s really going to be an upcoming act to follow,” Brewster says.
Coda, Mossom, the High Definitions, Hellnaw, May 12
Brewster is pulling for this little-known Tremont venue under Dante. “It’s got an underground New York City feel, “ he says.