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The brown bronze plaque explained, “Why Cleveland”? Why indeed. Why would one of the most influential genres of music in generations be honored in the city of Cleveland?
We had stopped in Cleveland for a day on a trip eastward. On a wet, overcast afternoon, we stood outside the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. Kathy, my wife, had asked the question.
Cleveland: The Birth Place of Rock and Roll
Cleveland earned its place on the rock and roll map in the early ’50s when local disc jockey Alan Freed was the first to call the R&B music he was playing on his nightly radio show “Rock and Roll.”
From then on, the Midwest has played a crucial role in rock’s expansion across the country and generations.
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The Highly-Anticipated Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
So, here we were, on the shores of Lake Erie, standing before the double geodesic-glassed pyramid design that housed the story of rock and roll. The 150,000-square-foot home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was designed by architect I.M. Pei and is a striking edifice against Cleveland’s industrial backdrop.
The lowest and largest level of the museum showcases the journey of rock and roll. It submerses you into the early influences and proceeds into the stories of the explosive new sound and its stars, moving through the early successive decades.
Sounds as divergent as gospel, blues, country, R&B, folk, and bluegrass helped to meld the music known as rock.
Learn the Stories of the Pioneers of Rock and Roll
As disaffected youth put crude poetry to discordant notes to create a genre embraced by a new generation, their parents bemoaned its influence on their children, clergy condemned it from the pulpit and politicians proposed legislation banning it.
All of this and the stories of the pioneers of rock and roll are explored in immersive exhibits. In 1986 the Hall announced its first group of inductees, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers. And, of course, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.
There were many visitors exploring the hall that day. It seemed everyone stopped and lingered at the Elvis Presley exhibit. Known as the “King of Rock and Roll,” his unique vocal style with a magnetic stage presence captured the hearts of audiences worldwide and they have never let go.
Not far from the King was the Father of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry. He Incorporated blues and country music into his sound, and his signature guitar-driven style powered the dozens of songs he wrote that would become rock classics.
Many Immersive Exhibits to Explore
You can also watch highlights of American Bandstand, the 1952 to 1989 show highlighting teenagers dancing to the hottest acts. Or you can spend hours listening to the museum’s selection of one-hit-wonder songs. Do you remember Brandy by Looking Glass?
White Elephant, Wheatstone Bridge and countless long-forgotten garage bands that came together and disbanded as quickly as the change of Illinois weather were the perennial sounds of my youth at countless dances, “keg” parties and occasionally a prized gig at the county fair.
The third level of the museum is dedicated to those bands and the enthusiastic young men and women who shared their love of music with us and dreamed of placing a tune on Billboard’s top 100.
The Garage is where you can pick up an instrument, crank up the volume and make your own music in an environment reminiscent of your father’s garage. Designed to evoke the birthplace of rock bands for decades, this is where you can revisit your teen-age dreams or make new ones.
At individual stations, we watched as intrepid artists picked up instruments and rocked. Video prompts guided them along the way. As I stood off to the side, I watched a father strap an electric guitar on his young son before they launched into a duet.
The Jam Space Sound Studio
Nearby was a sound studio known as the Jam space for those who want to jam with their friends or create an impromptu band with like-minded strangers. The Jam space boasts a full band setup, stocked with all manner of musical instruments gear.
A spontaneous session had broken out with outbursts of applause from us “fans” as each song ended.
The Newest Exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Music was always a part of my life but by the time rock became the framework of my formative years the Beatles had broken up. The newest exhibition at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is an all-encompassing project that compliments Peter Jackson’s docuseries, “The Beatles: Get Back.”
Focused on “Let It Be,” the twelfth and final studio album that the Beatles made together, it features unused footage and audio material to tell the story of the successes and conflicts involved in the creative process of putting together the album.
On the penultimate day, the Beatles performed the famous and unannounced concert on the roof of the Apple Corps building, attracting crowds of passers-by as well as the attention of the Police. It was the final public performance of the band’s career.
The exhibit features original instruments, clothing, and handwritten lyrics used by The Beatles and seen in the film. This includes items loaned out by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the estates of George Harrison and John Lennon.
As we stood and watched the impromptu concert unfold atop a London rooftop, I was reminded why this band, together only ten years, was one of the most influential groups of all time.
The Controversial Hall of Fame Gallery
And of course, there is the Hall of Fame Gallery. Each year’s inductees are characterized by their gold signature, music and contributions to the industry.
The inductees are also represented by an exhibit highlighting their careers. Some of this year’s inductees include Duran Duran, Eminem, Eurythmics, and Dolly Parton. This floor can generate as much controversy for who is not in as for who is in.
Three and a half hours later, we tore ourselves away. The museum was built to house the Hall of Fame. I walked away, realizing it also housed highlights and a few lowlights of my life. Rock and roll is the backdrop to a generation.
Pit Stop: The “Christmas Story” House
When we left, Kathy wondered aloud if the “Christmas Story” house might be nearby. I have to admit, I rolled my eyes. As she googled directions and discovered “it’s only 15 minutes away” I don’t think I hid my lack of enthusiasm, but, hey, how often are we going to get to Cleveland, so off we went.
It’s difficult to make it through the Christmas season without seeing “A Christmas Story” at least once. Set in December 1940, the movie tells the story of the holiday adventures of the Parker family and the oldest son’s quest for a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle for Christmas.
In the early 1980s, the producers were seeking filming locations for what was supposed to look like an Indiana steel town in the ’40s. They settled on a 2-story clapboard home in the blue-collar Cleveland neighborhood of Tremont.
While the holiday season is the most popular time to visit the A Christmas Story House, it’s open for tours and visits year-round. You can actually spend the night in it or The Bumpus House located next door. There is even a garage with the Parker family car and an old fire engine commemorating the stuck tongue scene (see the movie).
Two other homes across the street have been renovated into a gift shop and museum. We were too late for the final tour but we explored the gift shop.
Anything that you can imagine from the movie can be found here; including the original leg lamp, Ralphie’s bunny suit and the famous Red Ryder BB gun. I have to admit, it was hard not to get into the Christmas spirit.
The Architectural Wonder of The Arcade Cleveland Hotel
During our one night in Cleveland, we checked into the Hyatt Regency at The Arcade, a fascinating architectural gem. Built in 1890 at the cost of $875,000, The Arcade Cleveland opened to much fanfare as the very first indoor shopping center in America. With a glass skylight spanning over 300 feet connecting to towering buildings it is an impressive structure.
Located just a few blocks from the hotel, we found Masthead Brewing Company. Formerly a 1921 car dealership, the taproom is an open floorplan with high ceilings with communal tables and some 300 seats. We saddled up to the 100’ long bar and ordered a couple of pints and a Neapolitan wood-fired pizza. It was a satisfying end to a very good day.
Why Cleveland, Indeed!
Plan Your Trip To Cleveland
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – https://www.rockhall.com/
A Christmas Story House – https://www.achristmasstoryhouse.com/
Masthead Brewery – https://mastheadbrewingco.com/
Hyatt Regency Cleveland at The Arcade – https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/ohio/hyatt-regency-cleveland-at-the-arcade/clerc
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