Cleveland Rock Clubs Rise Up

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A couple of months back, Cleveland’s pursuit of unpaid tax money from its live music clubs brought attention to the city’s high admissions tax, which greatly exceeds those of most other U.S. cities.Now the clubs are taking their message to the public in hopes of fostering some understanding — and sympathy.

The Cleveland Music Club Coalition was founded last year in opposition to the 8 percent tax, which is assessed on tickets purchased for concerts and other events. Founding members include the Agora, Brothers Lounge, the Beachland, Happy Dog, Now That’s Class, and Peabody’s. And reinforcements are on the way.

“The Barking Spider has already signed on,” says Happy Dog’s Sean Watterson, the group’s de facto leader. “We’ve got Hoopples, Stone Madd, the Bop Stop, the Roc Bar, Prosperity. We’re reaching out to more clubs.”

Musicians, too, are uniting in support of their venues — and they’re getting artsy about it: On February 10, each member club will host a concert dedicated to educating people about the tax. It’ll be kinda like Schoolhouse Rock, but without the trippy cartoons.

“It will be a diverse offering because that’s what Cleveland is,” says Watterson. “A night that celebrates local music and raises awareness of the value the music scene provides to the city.”

Four councilmen have heard the cry, and they’ve proposed legislation to ease the burden on venues that hold fewer than 700 people. So far, Mayor Frank Jackson has blown it off.

“Our ultimate goal is to get the city to pass this exemption ahead of the Rock Hall induction ceremony on April 14,” says Watterson. “Then, when the national press comes to town, they’ll tell the story about the city recognizing the value of music and the importance of music. It’s a real opportunity for a win-win.”

And if nothing else, it’s an opportunity for the Beastie Boys to light up the mayor in a way he has not yet experienced.

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