Mike and Colleen Miller, the married couple (he’s the vice president and she’s the program director and president) behind Music Box Supper Club, the new club and restaurant that’s set to open on the West Bank of the Flats in August, just got some good news. The city approved their plans to put a tin awning on the club’s front entrance. That’ll help give off a casual, riverside vibe, which is what they say they’re going for. They intend for the club to be fancy—but not too fancy.
“I think it’s cool because it’s going to be a combination of listening [environments],” Colleen Miller says of the new club one recent afternoon over lunch at Shooters, which sits in the same building as the Music Box. “It’s not overly pristine.” While Cleveland already includes a proliferation of clubs and venues, the duo stands a good chance of finding a niche on the local market and brings years of experience to the table.
Together, they owned a Chicago blues club in the early ’90s after Mike Miller, an advertising executive for many years, had what he calls a “mid-life crisis and quit the day job.” Among their many notable bookings: a then-unknown jam band called Phish played the joint. They also booked acts such as Blues Traveler and the Spin Doctors as those bands were on their way up. After selling the club, Colleen Miller turned her talents to the Chicago Folk and Blues Festival, and Mike Miller went back into marketing. Colleen Miller would eventually land at the Old Town School of Folk Music and then City Winery, two Chicago establishments known for nurturing quality music in the singer-songwriter and jazz/rock/folk realms.
“When I’m in Chicago, I still love going to City Winery more than any other place,” she says. “Our club will be a little bit different, but it’s my inspiration piece, if you were watching the Martha Stewart channel.”
About five years ago, the Millers moved to Cleveland, where Mike Miller grew up (he half-jokingly claims he discovered the Flats in the early 1970s when he and his buddies used to drink at the sailor bars and bragged about how easy it was to be served even if you were underage). Their neighbor who works for a commercial real estate firm mentioned that Jeff Jacobs, who owns most of the property on the West Bank of the Flats, was looking for a tenant for the space that was occupied by the dance club Coconuts.
“We wanted to do something in Cleveland,” Mike Miller says. “Our neighbor said he had a space. We came down and met with a representative of Jacobs’ Nautica Complex management group, and he had done his homework and knew about us and City Winery. He was interested in the concept. They wanted an adult sit-down place. We were driving home on the Shoreway and we thought it was calling our name. Somebody had to do something about the space.” The Millers wrote up a business plan and got some local investors to help them put together the money to renovate the place.
They’ve completely gutted it to install new electrical and plumbing and create a stage on both the first and second floor. "The people who stepped up to help put together the financing are Cleveland boosters who love Cleveland and love music," Mike Miller says. "They are mostly people who run businesses from across the region who love music, food and Cleveland. They wanted to make something happen that is going to make the city proud. I’m proud of the investor group we put together."
So far, they’ve announced about 20 shows. The alt-country act honeyhoney (Aug. 15) kicks things off. Other highlights include David Lowery’s alt-rock act Cracker (Aug. 17), Canadian folk icon Bruce Cockburn (Aug. 20), Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mavis Staples (Aug. 21), Ukrainian folk-punk act DakhaBrakha (Aug. 22) and folk-punk singer Billy Bragg (Sept. 15). A special four-night residency with X — during which the Los Angeles punk band will play its first four albums, one per show —is also slated for Sept. 9 to 12. Justin Currie of the Scottish rock band Del Amitri makes a rare appearance in town on Sept. 16. New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint will perform with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Oct. 14). It’s an impressive lineup for a club with an unproven track record.
“To me, it’s about the total experience,” says Miller. “The concerts will go off at 7 or 8. You won’t be waiting around until 11 p.m. like a lot of places are doing. It’s going to be the perfect evening out. You’ll have easy parking, a great meal, great music and you’re home in bed by 11 or 11:30. You’ll see artists who’ll really knock your socks off in a real intimate setting. The artists love it too. They love these rooms that offer more intimate experiences. And we have these magical views. You have good music and a great bottle of wine. People are so busy that they go out and you better experience something memorable. People are going to walk out of the place and go, ‘Wow.’”
Colleen Miller agrees.
“We want to make sure we provide something worth their time and money,” she says. “People are really passionate about live music here.”