A Concert in Cleveland

Grandma hits the club scene in search of her grandson’s band.

It’s a warm summer evening and at 9:30 on the spur of the moment I’ve been invited by my two sons and their wives to visit Cleveland’s nouveau Warehouse District! How exciting! I’m aware that the action has moved there from the Flats area on the Cuyahoga River after drownings and robberies in previous years. So I’m expecting some danger and mystery, along with some entertainment and fun. There might even be dancing, so my new husband, who happens to be a drummer and aficionado of music of the 40s, anxiously joins us. (Carl, my husband, and I, both widowed after years of marriage, have been wed for eight years, but I still refer to him as “new” and “younger.”)

My first concern is… what to wear?! The kids, all dressed in jeans and T-shirts, tell me I look fine in my shirt and capri pants—just grab some cotton balls and we’re off. During the drive downtown I reminisce about the Warehouse District, which years ago housed Cleveland’s industries like the George Worthington Company, and later Wolf’s Antiques Gallery and stores like Buckeye Pants, Harry Weinraub’s suits and Jay Vee cheaper suits. Now these grand old buildings are being renovated into apartments for yuppies, and the storefronts at street level are restaurants, gay bars and places with names like “Velvet Dog.” And “Blind Pig”—which happens to be our destination.

Turning onto West Sixth Street, we pass the century-old historic Rockefeller Building, and I remind my sons for the hundredth time that their grandmother was the pie chef there at the Colonnade Cafeteria back in the 20s. Then we pass by the Greek Isles restaurant owned by my good friend and patriata George—OPAH!—and enter the club scene at last. Lots of cars cruising, people strolling about, and no parking, but our driver finds the last spot in a lot at $10 an hour.

As we pass the bouncer at the door of the Blind Pig, I see the wall-to-wall people, all standing drinking beer right out of the bottle in this long, smoke-filled barroom. No dancing, no chairs to sit on, harsh overhead ceiling lights—and the décor? There isn’t any. We elbow our way toward the bandstand in the rear and I discover why we brought cotton balls. The amplification is so loud we can’t even talk. Lots of lip reading and finger pointing now. Carl has to cup his hands to his ears to take drink orders.

Ah, but it’s my grandson Marc’s band “400 Pieces” making all this noise, so it’s O.K. This is what we came for! I can’t tell for sure, but Marc seems to be the ringmaster—a combination contortionist/jumping-jack who also yells. I mean sings.

Settling in, I begin to scrutinize the crowd, especially the girls. There seems to be a contest in indecent exposure here. Tight knit tops with spaghetti straps and no bra, short skirts with scandalously low beltlines showing lots of skin and belly. The boys’ arms are covered with tattoos and they are wearing not only earrings but nose rings as well. Surely this must be what the word “debauchery” means. But wait—here comes the girl singer Melissa and she’s dressed properly! I love her already.

She’s wearing boots, a short black skirt and lacey top with long sleeves and ruffled collar. And her hair isn’t straight with blond streaks like all the others, it’s dark and cut in a curly bob that bounces when she sings. Somehow the songs all sound alike, though—angry. Listening to her husky voice and hard-to-understand lyrics, I find myself musing: is it a sad song? A mad song? A who-gives-a-damn song? Grandson Marc’s face wears a pained expression as he pounds his guitar and shouts as back-up singer.

Now I have a confession to make. I came here secretly hoping for some déjà vu. Back in the 40s I was a girl singer with a band that played at the Cabin Club on Cleveland’s East Side. People came to dance to a nine-piece band that played music with a melody. The girls all wore dresses, high heels and jewelry. They sat at small black and chrome tables, sipped cocktails, and enjoyed the mood lighting from deco wall-mounted lamps. Between songs, I sat on a chair at the side of the band, maybe dreaming of romance. Who could blame this grandma for being wistful and wondering: if today’s songs were more tender about love, perhaps today’s marriages would have a higher batting average for “happily ever after”?

The band finally takes a break, interrupting my reverie, and we get to meet and greet all five of them before my sons signal that it’s time to remove the cotton balls—we’re leaving. Our brief odyssey is over.

On the drive home I can hear my sons (both guitar players) critiquing the band favorably, while new husband Carl, still in culture shock, is preaching his favorite sermon about music being the heartbeat of the way we live, and it can’t get much worse.

And me? I’m wondering how I can discover what’s going on down the street at that other bar, the “Velvet Dog.” There might be dancing there. Or even Goth…. —MS-S