Prior to opening the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in Collinwood some 14 years ago, current co-owner Mark Leddy worked with the environmental consumer group Ohio Citizen Action and then did freelance work on political campaigns. He also played organ with retro rockers Satan's Satellites and booked garage and punk bands at Pat's in the Flats. Co-owner Cindy Barber worked as a journalist (she was editor at Cleveland Free Times for six years and started there as assistant publisher in 1992). Diehard music fans, they turned their dream of running a club into a reality when they purchased the old Croatian dancehall and turned it into a music hotspot. Over the years, the club has catered to national and local acts like. Bands like the White Stripes played the Tavern before graduating to bigger venues. The garage-blues duo the Black Keys played their first-ever show in the club's tavern. This weekend, Leddy and Barber celebrate the Beachland's 14th anniversary with several cool shows including singer-guitarist Alan Leatherwood, garage rock pioneers the Sonics, jazz icon Stanley Clarke, indie rockers Parquet Courts and a slew of other acts. We recently sat down with Leddy and Barber to talk about the club's history and the weekend's lineup.
The club has catered to the local music scene from the beginning. Was there a key point at which it became a destination for national acts?
Cindy: [Mark] was working with national booking agents when he was booking Pat's and the Beachland helped us get bigger acts. Early on, we went to San Francisco to visit Dave Kaplan who was working out of a hovel in the Mission District and handling acts like the White Stripes. We initially made friends with him and Todd Coat, who owns Leafy Green Booking, and Dave "Boche" [Viecelli] who started Billions.
Mark: The president of Billions came out to tour the building when we just opened. We had a few contacts that were agencies that dealt with garage-y and punky things. To branch off into the indie rock world and all the other styles was gradual. Early on, we were getting offers to get shows that other clubs didn't want or on days they weren't booked. As soon as you have a viable spot, you get some calls. As soon as the bands started playing here and had a good experience, agents bring you more shows. Bands talk amongst each other too. Booking agents and band managers talk amongst each other. It happened very gradually.
I think the band Sleater-Kinney once called it their favorite place to play in the country. Is that true?
Cindy: Yes, there was an interview in Rolling Stone where they said that.
Mark: We get those kinds of comments a lot. The Hold Steady was just here. They said we were a national treasure. Bands get treated well at the tavern level. They get better treatment than they usually get. Bands in the ballroom may get even more rider stuff at a corporate room. But for a band like the Hold Steady when you're playing faceless corporate facilities, it's a nice break on the tour. It's more fun. You get to shop at the vintage shop. They like to chat up our employees because they know and care about music. The sound is good. They have a good experience.
Over the years, you've hosted a number of reunion shows and brought some acts out of hibernation. What are some of the highlights?
Mark: The James Gang did their first two shows back here.
Cindy: [Drummer] Jimmy Fox is an old friend. They were exploring putting the band back together and wanted to test drive it. We gave them one date and that sold out.
Mark: We had held two dates and wanted to see how it went. The first show went on sale and sold out in minutes. That was killer.
Cindy: They then did a West Coast tour.
Mark: One year, we got the Choir to reform. It's a band that had one hit single in Cleveland in 1965 but didn't break out of town. But we sold out two nights. Some of the guys going on to the Raspberries added interest. There were some Raspberries fans, but it was their old friends from Mentor who came out for the show. It seemed like Lake County emptied out. They must have made quite an impression on their fans back in that day that they could sell out two dates that many years later. James Gang selling out tow nights didn't surprise me as much as the Choir selling out two nights. We also did other Cleveland bands like Damnation of Adam Blessing and Death of Samantha.
Cindy: We did the Dead Boys without [singer] Stiv [Bators]. We've had Rocket from the Tombs, which has played here in a few different incarnations.
Mark: I'm sure we're forgetting a bunch of other important ones.
Talk a bit about this weekend's line-up.
Mark: The first one we booked was the Sonics. It's been on my wish list. The band rarely performs except at festivals. They haven't done a lot of club dates. I heard they had a new manager and booking agent, both of whom we know. I made an inquiry to see if it was financially feasible. It turned out that they were booked for two dates in the Midwest that weekend. It was sort of fortuitous. Not everyone knows the Sonics, but they're an incredible garage and R&B band from Tacoma, Wash. This will be their first time ever playing in Cleveland. They played little outside of the Pacific Northwest where they were from. They did have a few hits in Pittsburgh and managed to play there in the '60s. We have booked Stanley Clarke for Saturday. We heard he was on tour, and the agent was looking for dates. I remember listening to those records in high school and college and I thought it was really cool, especially since he's touring on the School Days record. That's the record we listened to back then. We try to have something for the key audience groups that come to the Beachland. We book it stylistically different and we wanted a good indie rock show and we talked Parquet Courts into coming out and playing. They're from Brooklyn. They're not on tour and I think they grabbed an Oberlin date to make it worth the trip out here. We had to figure out some tavern shows and [the local group] All Dinosaurs are a favorite and have played some amazing shows here in the past. Our manager Jeff helped put that show together and he's in Night Sweats. Black Puddle Noise has an employee in the band as well.
Cindy: I've been trying to get Alan Leatherwood to do something for a while and he was celebrating his 50th year in music. I figured why not incorporate that in our anniversary. He just put out a compilation of his old stuff. That will be cool. The people on the record with him are from Rocket 88s and they'll play first and then back him. We were stuck without a tavern show for Sunday, and I realized Sunday was Lou Reed's birthday and since he's so significant to Cleveland I wanted to do something since he's so significant to Cleveland. That's a free ending party. Rainy Day Saints are going to do something and [Saints frontman] Dave Swanson recruited Kevin Junior from Chamber Strings, one of our favorite bands ever, to play too. And the Mirrors will play. They'll play six Velvets covers.
I can't think of another club in the country that regularly books such an eclectic mix of music. Is the Beachland unique in this respect?
Mark: There have got to be others. But that was a stated goal right from the beginning. Our interests are really broad. On as many nights as possible, you want to have both rooms booked.
Cindy: There are only so many music fans in Cleveland. You want to have different styles to get the audiences you need.
Mark: Maybe in Chicago, you can have a place that just books indie rock. And another place that just books punk rock. Or a place that just books alt-country. Even in those cities, there's diversity. We're maybe more extremely diverse and that was partly by intention and partly by necessity. It helps that both of us have broader tastes. Much of the music scene is so segmented. When I would go out to clubs in the '80s and '90s, the same people would be at the punk show and at the rockabilly show. It was just a scene where people would go. It's not that way so much anymore, but we try to mash things up.
Talk a bit about the neighborhood. With the streetscaping and development in full swing, it's a transitional time. What's the ideal scenario?
Cindy: There is going to be this amazing cross section of arts going on in the community and this has taken so much inventive financing work. It's really significant.
Mark: You don't see much of [the changes yet], but I think it's good that business people with some money are coming in as well. It's often felt like the district has been held back by the fact that mom-and-pop operations are struggling to keep their heads above water.
Cindy: I'm hoping we can bring more music people over here to the practice spaces we have here and will have collaborations between the visual arts and music and ceramics and fiber and printmaking. It's really a grassroots thing.