Fun in Cleveland (Seriously)

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Ronnie Wood's 2012 acceptance speech as a member of The Faces.
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Ronnie Wood's 2012 acceptance speech as a member of The Faces.

If you want to totally immerse yourself in rock music and the rock star lifestyle, Cleveland is the place to do it.

I recently got to attend the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. HBO is broadcasting the show May 5, but there’s nothing like the electricity of a live concert. The cool part about the city is that everyone gets into the rock heritage. There were lots of places to check out and get stoked for the show.

One thing I learned: The term “rock ‘n’ roll” was an old black blues musician term for sexual intercourse. Cleveland DJ Alan Freed first used the term to describe his radio show’s music to white audiences.

If you’re a rock star or in that league, stay at the Ritz-Carleton, Cleveland. It’s right downtown and Ohio is opening its first casino next door. If you’re not a rock star, no worries. Their Lounge On 6 runs a special Monday–Friday, 5–7 pm: $6 cocktails and bar snacks!

Even the Holiday Inn by the airport gets into the rock scene: your wake-up call there involves a guy singing the weather to 50’s early rock tunes.

Attending the induction ceremony gets you free admission into the mind-blowing Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and its museum. The interactive booths are an intense learning experience unto themselves: they show the roots of rock, with various artists’ influences. Looking at the photos, I had doubts, until I listened to the songs with headphones. I could practically see light bulbs going off above my head.

The city of Cleveland hosted a free concert at their big venue, “The Q,” with George Clinton and local boy made good, Kid Cudi. Clinton knows how to entertain an audience, with a rollerskating go-go dancer/singer dressed like an underage hooker and an acrobat dressed as a shirtless pimp.

The Beachland Ballroom is an intimate venue featuring bands like Punch Brothers and Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. That week, they had cover bands playing the inductees’ music.

Beachland’s bar isn’t a production line of barkeeps throwing beers at patrons – it’s a real cocktail lounge with a late '60s feel. They serve food and have a Sunday brunch, too. For extra fun between sets, they have a vintage clothing and record store in the basement, open during most shows.

Before the induction, I ate dinner at the chef’s table at DANTE. Chef Dante Boccuzzi is a former musician who now uses his considerable creativity in the kitchen. The high-energy atmosphere in the kitchen – opposed to the laid-back restaurant section – definitely revved me up for the concert to come. Dante cures his own charcuterie, ranging from rich and fatty to well-cured with a salt hit. House-made pasta with a lightly poached egg is unctuous and luxurious in texture.

A few drinks and a limo ride later, I was at the induction ceremony at Public Hall. My seat was way up in the rafters, but I could jump around without bothering anyone. The celebrities were down below in black tie. Every moment seemed to have once-in-a-lifetime import, but certain things stand out.

Donovan recited a searing poem he wrote for the occasion that caught everyone off guard. Old-timers in the backup bands and recording engineering business – introduced by Smokey Robinson – touched the audience with their frailty and perseverance.

It became clear that someone else would be performing for the Beastie Boys, as Adam Yalich has cancer. Who would it be? My eyes stared at the Jumbotron; gradually, I realized that one of the singers was Kid Rock! The Roots sang the other parts, with a gritty, modern version of Beastie Boy faves like “Sabotage.”

The audience let its feelings be known when it was official that Axl Rose would not be there to perform with Guns and Roses. Earlier in the week, he had written an open letter letting his band mates and the RRHOF know of his contempt. People were audibly booing at the show being taped for broadcast by HBO.

At the end of the induction, there’s a tradition of having a jam with all of the performers. This year, many didn’t stay for the end of the nearly six-hour concert, but Slash, Ronnie Wood, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, George Clinton, Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong and Kenny Jones finished the show together.

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