Several dozen people mingle at Happy Dog at Euclid Tavern on a recent evening, clinking bottles of Great Lakes and trading stories about the prior weekend's shows. The occasion? Sixth City Sounds' first "Mixing Session," an informal meet-and-greet for musicians and artists in Cleveland. That debut event also served as an introduction to the new organization.
Formed earlier this summer by members of Cleveland's music scene — Chayla Hope, Teddy Eisenberg and Jeanette Sangston — Sixth City Sounds is trying to answer a well-worn question: How can we place a stronger spotlight on local music? Entreaties to "shop local," "eat local" and "drink local" have been roundly embraced, but getting people to "listen local" remains a challenge.
Hope, longtime singer of Seafair, points out that music can and should be viewed on some level as an opportunity for economic development. Good bands command a rabid audience, and local shows can turn bars and clubs into gravitational centers for Cleveland's neighborhoods.
But outside of clever civic branding campaigns, Cleveland is more prone to shun its musicians and artists. Noise ordinances and anti-busking policies have discouraged the entrepreneurial spirit in many cases; often, the only way to pick up any steam as an artist in Cleveland is through pure word-of-mouth and social media. That's where Sixth City Sounds comes in: The group wants to bring musicians and their audiences closer and, hopefully, perk up the ears of our city leaders. There are so many good bands that it'll make a listener's head spin.
"That's one of the things that we're trying to scream from the rooftops right now," Hope says.
The trifecta, as Sixth City sees it, involves businesses, artists and public entities like RTA or the city itself. The right blend of zoning policy, commercial growth and creativity can turn an open-mic night into a scene.
And Cleveland already lays claim to an incredibly rich tapestry of musicians. "It is something that adds to what makes Cleveland unique," Eisenberg says.
Sixth City has rolled out a couple of major initiatives so far. First, Sixth City is providing some local businesses with CLE Music Shelves, which will display three local records for purchase at stores like Coquette Patisserie and CLE Urban Winery. The bands being featured right now are FreshProduce, Ma Holos and the Ohio Weather Band.
Then there are the RTA Summer Jam Sessions, which continue through November. The idea is to take the music to the people, Sangston says. These pop-up shows take place on trains or buses and in shelters. After a successful debut outing, featuring volunteer musicians like Ray Flanagan and Rachel Shortt, Sixth City hopes to fund the project and pay musicians who perform. (You can watch videos of those performances at sixthcitysounds.org.)
It's a blend of those ingredients that will foster a sense of musical and creative place. And, the Sixth City folks point out, it can only happen when we tune in together.
"We feel that Cleveland works best when we all have a seat at the table," Sangston says.