Downtown Cleveland on Lake Erie is a pleasant place.
When I am driving in my car on long and winding roads, I listen to satellite radio. Sirius XM’s Classic Vinyl station plays the “first generation” of album rock from the 1960s and 1970s – the music I grew up with.
Classic Vinyl broadcasts from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. A visit to the rock museum has been on my “bucket list” for some time. This summer I finally got there.
Cleveland is not a big city: population 388,000. The greater city has a population of about two million. It’s a three-hour drive from the Windsor/Detroit border, and an easy detour for Sudbury snowbirds heading to Florida. (A day’s drive from Sault Ste. Marie down Interstate 75.)
Michigan seems “very American” to me, but Ohio feels more comfortable and less aggressive. It is literally across the lake (Erie) from southern Ontario.
As an aside, Ohio was settled by Central and Eastern Europeans, so expect to find Polish sausage, stuffed cabbage, perogies and corned beef sandwiches on many restaurant menus. Ask for pop not soda.
The $95-million Rock Hall building, located on the downtown waterfront, was designed by I.M. Pei. The architect, known for his triangle-shaped buildings, designed the Louvre’s pyramid entrance in Paris.
The downtown area has a pleasant public square and many impressive neoclassic and art deco buildings such as the 10,000-seat Public Auditorium built in 1922.
Cleveland, like Sudbury, is a comeback city. A former Great Lakes shipping hub and a major manufacturing centre, its economic problems date back to 1978 when the city defaulted on federal loans. It has reinvented itself as a tourist destination and invested in rejuvenating its waterfront, which was once described as looking “worse than a back alley.” It is no longer a dirty rust belt town.
According to the Rock Hall’s website, since opening in 1995, there have been more than 10 million visitors and its annual economic impact to the region is $107 million.
Why is Cleveland the capital of rock? The term “rock and roll music” was first used by Cleveland disc jockey Allan Freed in the early 1950s. He played blues, country and African-American music – then known as race music – along with pop on his radio programs that appealed to both white and black audiences. Rock and roll, slang for sex, comes from blues music of the 1920s and 1930s.
At the museum, the story of rock starts with early influences such as Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, and the Platters. There is an Elvis exhibit, a film about Dick Clark and his American Bandstand television show, which ran from 1957 to 1987, memorabilia about The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Jackson Five, Bowie, Prince and everyone in between. I relived many memories.
I enjoyed looking at the clothes and costumes of the stars. Musicians will be impressed by the instruments and set lists on display.
Special exhibits during my visit included The Life and Music of Johnny Cash, and The Power of Rock Experience film, which highlights hall of fame inductees. On the top floor was an exhibit celebrating 50 years of Rolling Stone magazine. (My mom and I got our picture on the cover of Rolling Stone for $40 US. Money well spent!)
In the gift shop, music fans can purchase CDs and DVDs of their favourite acts, books about music, posters, and, of course, T-shirts, fridge magnets and key chains.
The Hall began inducting acts in 1986. The first inductees were Elvis, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Acts become eligible 25 years after the release of their first commercially released recordings. The annual Hall of Fame inductee ceremony takes place in Cleveland every other year.
If you are going to Cleveland, depending on the time of year, you might take in the legendary amusement park, Cedar Point, in nearby Sandusky, the Cleveland Museum of Art – admission is free – the Museum of Natural History, the Great Lakes Science Centre, as well as pro baseball, football, basketball or hockey games.
And for something completely different, visit A Christmas Story House and Museum. Fans of the 1983 A Christmas Story movie, which was shot in Cleveland and Toronto, can visit Ralphie’s house used in the film.
During my visit to the Rock Hall, I spotted one of the hip Classic Vinyl announcers. I heard her distinctive raspy voice. I turned aroud to see this little white-haired lady with a cane. I am feeling my age.