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Today's Family Lake County - Being a Big Sister has big rewards for all involved

Today's Family Eastern Cuyahoga - Connecting kids and culture

Today's Family Eastern Cuyahoga - It’s a real dog’s life at Camp Bow Wow

Today's Family Lake County - Learning a second language

Lake Erie Living - Big Chuck

Lake Erie Living - Silver Creek

Lake Erie Living Magazine, August-September 2009
Big Chuck

Lake Erie Living Magazine, June-July 2008
Bike Week

Cleveland.com- June 2008
Discover Area's Primal Past at Indian Museum of Lake County- cleveland.com

Northern Ohio Live : December 2006 : Hot Reads

SOHO CLEVELAND - April 2008

The magic of yoga is never out of style- Cleveland.COM

Northern Ohio Live, November 2004
Eric Carmen Press


Dressing for Success?

Does What Students Wear to School Really Matter?

Today's Family Magazine, August issue

Deanna R. Adams

Was it really that long ago when female students were forbidden to wear pants to school? That teachers would regularly measure girls’ skirts for proper length? And if a boy’s hair brushed over their collar, they were suspended?

While it may not seem like it to those who graduated in the ’70s, one drive past a public school these days, and the reminder that times have changed is just one student away. Children are now allowed much more diversity in their manner of dress. But are some kids taking this freedom of expression too far? Rock shirts, ripped jeans, and sneakers are a common sight in today’s classroom. But that’s mild compared to students who dare to bare, such as boys wearing low-slung baggy pants that reveal boxer shorts, and girls’ with budding breasts bulging out of short, tight spandex tops.  

As another school year approaches, the issue, and often heated debate, on how children, particularly teens, should dress for school has once again become a topic of conversation among administrators and parents alike. Part of the renewed local interest in the school dress code is due to the change in policy implemented by Cleveland schools last year. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District has made it mandatory for children in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade to wear standardized uniforms, and that high school students must adhere to stricter dress code regulations. This means no tops showing cleavage, no baggy pants, and no gang-related clothing.

And many schools across the nation are following suit. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 47% of public schools have adopted a stricter dress code and 12% now require the wearing of school uniforms. Some of the benefits, proponents say, is that when children dress the same, it creates school unity, is cost effective for parents, and provides a neutral learning environment.

 Wendy Delisio, whose two daughters, ages 15 and 17, attend Mentor High School, think uniforms could make things easier for all involved. “I think it’s a good idea,” she says. “It would make everyone equal, so there’d be less competition and emphasis on fashion, particularly with girls. Everyone would be on the same level.” 

Delisio adds that some parents can’t afford designer outfits, so if students were forced into uniforms, it would eliminate the pressure those parents feel when their kids beg for expensive clothing items. “With the fashion styles today, it’s hard to find decent and moderately priced clothing for young girls these days—at least clothes they like.”

In addition, many feel that uniforms could help students who are often targets for teasing and bullying. Many times, a student is harassed based on what they are wearing, thus creating a hostile environment in the school, and may also lead to depression in the victim. The presumption is that, overall, clothing affects behavior and performance, and uniforms and stricter dress codes would help students concentrate less on looks, and more on lessons. Which would ultimately produce improved grades, and perhaps even a better attitude. Enter the safety issue into the mix—that if all children wore uniforms, it would be easier to recognize a nonstudent on campus—you have a lot of positives.  

On the other hand, opponents to uniforms say that it censors free speech and inhabits healthy, individual self-esteem. Then there are those who remain neutral, or feel clothing isn’t all that influential.

“Personally, I’m not convinced that uniforms would make a big difference in how a child learns,” says Mentor High principal Joseph Spiccia. “I feel what’s most important, and what does make a difference, is the relationship students have with their teachers and students’ motivation for learning. I’ve seen kids who were not the best dressed in school who did very well, and those who were the best dressed, weren’t always the best students.”

Spiccia adds that Mentor Schools dress policy has become stricter in the last few years. “We try and monitor the students as much as possible,” he says. “But in the cases where a student is dressed inappropriately, we keep a lot of new sweat pants, and booster club T-shirts in storage for them to wear.

“We also send out the dress code handbook every year and hope that parents help us enforce the rules. And sometimes they need back up, so we are helping them, as well. It’s a two-way street. Ultimately, it’s the partnership between parents and the school that’s  always been important.”

And that may be the most fashionable trend of all.


Lakewood city school district - New Buildings and Programs Equal Community-wide Education

The Plain Dealer - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

By Deanna Adams

Lakewood's award-winning public school district, comprised of 10 schools, grades K-12, is renowned for its excellence in academics, the arts, sports and community service. It has consistently been recognized as a "Top 100 School District" nationwide by Money Magazine, and in 2003, was awarded the Pyramid Award from the National School Public Relations Association of Ohio for its "Lakewood Neighbors and Schools Working Together" program. That program accentuates the marriage between this West Shore community and its school system.

In order to uphold its code of excellence, Lakewood Schools have put into motion a plan to rebuild or renovate every school building in the district, its first major construction project since 1921. In the past few years, more than 6,000 Lakewood students have seen impressive changes in their academic facilities, beginning with the opening of two new middle and elementary schools last year.

"By this fall, we plan to have completed two newly renovated schools, Horace Mann and Emerson-which used to be middle schools, but are now converted into state-of-the-art elementary schools," says superintendent David Estrop. "People won't notice much on the outside, but they have been completely remodeled inside, and the classrooms will be identical to Hayes and Harrison, the first two renovated elementary schools." Construction on the next extensive project, Lakewood High School, is now underway.

Aside from the arduous task of renovating 80-year-old school buildings, the continual additions of special programs within the school system are a big reason why Lakewood City Schools have consistently ranked high in the state. The school district is part of a consortium made up of Cleveland State University's Fenn College of Engineering and local corporations, and is in partnership with the West Shore Career and Technical District, which offers a variety of vocational programs for students, ages 9-12.

West Shore programs include business and management, industrial and engineering, and, beginning this fall, a new Arts and Communication Technology program. In a recent survey conducted by the West Shore Career Technical District, 9th grade students in the neighboring areas of Bay Village, Rocky River and Westlake expressed an overwhelming interest in arts and communications. This paved the way for the new career program.

"We're all very excited about the resources that will be available to the students and teachers in this program," says Linda Thayer, director of the West Shore Career and Technical District. She adds that the school has teamed up with nearly twenty of the biggest names in regional arts and communication outlets. "Our partners include Playhouse Square, the House of Blues, WVIZ, and Ohio School of Broadcasting, among many others. They have all offered student opportunities that include professional development, internships and employment."

Estrop adds, "It will feature education in performance, along with the technical side - the real world setting. We're fortunate to also have an incredible partnership with the Beck Center, which will provide many opportunities for our Lakewood students." The Beck Center for the Arts will collaborate on the curriculum for the Art and Communication program, which will debut this September.

With so many educational and career-based opportunities in motion, it all culminates into a first-rate school system that continues to enhance the myriad needs of its growing community.

 

 

 


Lakewood Library "Libranium of Knowledge"

The Plain Dealer - Tuesday, July 15, 2008

 By Deanna Adams

While Lakewood Library won't be observing its centennial for another eight years, it has been busy marking a different kind of milestone. The library's main branch celebrated the completion of a two-year renovation with a rededication on June 1. The building, located at 15425 Detroit Ave., has nearly doubled in size, and now includes two new auditoriums, an expanded room for collections, a grand reading room and a new children's area which features a reading readiness lab, called the "Libranium". The library's technology center has also added 78 new computers for its patrons.

Priding itself on its relationship to the arts, its historic heritage, and community service, Lakewood Library celebrates that association throughout its new facility, though it is most conspicuous in the grand reading room. The spectacular quiet study rises 14-feet high and spans 33-feet long. It showcases two large murals by renowned artist Richard Haas.

Director Kenneth Warren has seen a lot of changes since he began at the library 24 years ago.

"The library was not automated when I came here in 1984," he says. "The computerization and automation of library functions, maintenance functions, architecture and the increasing complexity of all those systems, have all contributed in bringing us into the 21st century."

Warren adds that in the past few years, Lakewood Library has been the recipient of several awards, most notably, its prestigious number one ranking by Hennen's American Public Library Ratings (HAPLR) as one of the best public libraries in the United States for three out of the past five years. Part of that achievement, Warren says, is due to a tight-knit library and school connection.

"Our relationship to the community is a critical element in the library's overall success," he says. "And as a school district library, we have an incredible program of outreach to the Lakewood City Schools, including a lunch reading program, a teacher delivery program and internships for West Shore Academy students which provides employment experience."

Other programs include Family Weekend Wonders (with stories, arts and crafts), the Sunday with Friends Series (a selection of concerts, lectures and recitals) and Business Book Talk with Tim Zaun (a book club for business aficionados).

Zaun, a Cleveland resident and writer, has been a regular at Lakewood Library for more than 10 years. "I started going when I lived in Lakewood, and although I moved, I keep coming back because it's the best library in terms of updated resources. I was thrilled that they were open to this book club idea of mine, and now, we get to have it in a beautiful new building," he says, adding that the program is now in its third year.

It's clear that when the time comes for its own centennial, Lakewood Library will have lots of fans joining in the celebration.

"We Lakewoodites love our independent library system," says Steve FitzGerald of LakewoodBuzz.com, an online community forum. "We support Lakewood Public Library repeatedly through our taxes and as a result, the library is gaining the capacity, vision, and confidence that serve our community in far-reaching ways. And based on his track record, I think Kenneth Warren, as well as Lakewood Library's great staff, will successfully lead our hometown library through an important evolution."


Today’s Family Magazine

Teacher Features:

Honoring our Education Heroes

 

This Mentor High Teacher Enjoys “Paying it Forward”

Deanna R. Adams

It’s 7:25 a.m. on a snowy Tuesday morning at Mentor High School. James Lefler takes a seat in a classroom desk, alongside the other students sitting in a roundtable, and doesn’t look a bit out of place. Well, except for the head of sparse salt-and-pepper hair, and the respect—and undivided attention—he receives from the teenagers. Mr. Lefler is, after all, the 12th grade English teacher. But with sneakers on his feet and tattoos on his arms, he seems like just one of the guys.

            That may be part of the reason his students actually listen to him. But it’s probably also due to the fact that he talks to them on their level. And with dramatic explanations about the underlining messages in the play they are studying, this casually dressed instructor makes even Shakespeare seem interesting. On this day, the class is studying MacBeth, and the kids—taking turns reading the lines—are thoroughly engaged.

At 7:30 in the morning. Enough said.

“He is a bit unconventional,” says special education teacher, Kellee Skouby, who co-teaches the class. “But he cares deeply about these kids, and about helping them learn. He’ll do whatever it takes and always has their best interests at heart.”

That much is evident when asked what his favorite part about his job is and he replies “the kids” without hesitation. “I really enjoy them,” says the 1967 Madison High School graduate. “And it’s so cool when, after laboring over a concept, trying to get a student to understand that concept, and then suddenly see the light bulb go off in the kid’s head and you know that he gets it. That’s a great feeling.”

“Getting it,” Lefler understands, takes awhile sometimes, and he’s not the type of teacher who will let a student simply slide by. “Many of these kids have been totally disenfranchised [in the academic world],” he says despondently. “Administrators will ask teachers to try and get kids to buy into the school more, and my response to that is, why can’t the school buy into them more? Because many of them feel like they’re not even a part of the school.”

So Lefler makes sure the students feel they belong, and are right at home in room A-31. “It’s an open classroom,” he says, “where they can feel comfortable coming to either one of us with a problem—be it academic, or personal. It’s the teachers who create the environment. If your attitude is that you’re just here to do the work and that’s all you’re here for, the kids will pick up on that right away. If you come across openly, they’ll feel they can trust you. And then, you have to do everything you can not to betray that trust.”

Lefler says the greatest challenge is working with kids who are bogged down with problems and to get them to open up. If not to him directly, through journaling. “Most don’t like to do it,” he admits, “but I want them to learn how to express themselves through writing.”

Lefler believes in the therapeutic benefits of writing out your feelings (he himself writes poetry). He combines his love of the written word and a Masters in counseling from CSU to help him with his juniors and seniors.   

“There are some kids who have so much baggage that they’re just turned off to everything. They have so much going on, so much pain, that English is the least of their concerns.”

Helping a kid through a difficult time gives him an opportunity to give back, the teacher adds. Because he knows how that feels through his own personal experience. His mother died in his senior year, and as a result, the honor student’s grades plummeted, going from a 4.1 to .67. Initially a college drop-out, he returned at age 31, ultimately graduating from Kent State University. So understanding how students think has earned him their respect, and many come to him for guidance, or simply to vent, about what’s bothering them.

“I came from an affluent family where I was pretty much handed anything I wanted. So I was extremely self-centered. I really think I became a teacher to make amends in a way for that self-centeredness. It’s my way of “paying it forward.” I really try and help these kids as much as I possibly can.”

Even with MacBeth. “If you take the time to make it as interesting as you can, they’ll buy into it with you. That’s part of the joy of doing it.” The walls in his classroom are decorated with a diverse selection of posters, from a charcoal drawing by a former student, to strong inspiring messages, such as:  “It is wise to direct your anger toward problems – not people; to focus your energies to answers – not excuses,” to a picture of William Shakespeare, of course.

Many at Mentor High knew Mr. Lefler before he began teaching there this year. That’s because he began his career in 1983 at Shore Junior High School, where he was every bit as popular as he is now in the high school. Many former students are currently in his classes. “It’s really neat having a lot of the same kids I had in 9th grade as seniors and seeing them as young adults now.” 

Senior Matt Ferron is one of those students. He says he is happy to have this teacher once again. “I really like how Mr. Lefler teaches because he is fair and laid back. He’s easy to work with and I love being his student.”

And it’s clear the feeling is mutual.

“I can’t wait for graduation,” Lefler says. “I am so excited about watching them walk across to get their diplomas!” Then he adds a proud smile, as if already there.   


Eastlake Educator Practices What He Teaches

Deanna R. Adams

Eastlake Middle School teacher, Mike Stenger, is one of a rare breed. He really, sincerely, actually, honestly, likes teenagers.

“I enjoy everyday with these kids,” he says. “Even my worst day here is not all that bad.”

It is precisely that attitude that makes him one of the best teachers in his school district, according to a former colleague.

“Mike is truly a master teacher,” says Carol Hoffecker, who recently retired from the Eastlake-Willoughby School district, and who Stenger credits as his greatest mentor. “He’s extremely knowledgeable, creative in his course instruction, and relates well to the kids. Most importantly, he’s the utmost professional.”

            A 7th and 9th grade English teacher, Stenger’s professional manner is the first thing you notice when visiting his classroom, beginning with his polished attire of dress shirt, pressed trousers, and shined shoes. (For a recent field trip to the opera, he stressed the importance of dressing appropriately). But it is how this instructor garners respect from a group of teenagers, and his way of getting each one involved in whatever they are studying, that is most impressive.

            “I try and tap into what will interest them and go from there,” Stenger says. “Right now, we’re studying characterization based on the characters in Forrest Gump. I try and choose books that have something to say about human nature and the human spirit.”

            The diverse selections of books that fill his classroom underscore that fact. Novels as varied as The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and White Fang by Jack London all share a shelf in the back of his room. The students’ pre-Thanksgiving assignment will be reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. They will then watch the movie, in sections, allowing them to absorb the details, and leave ample time for a class discussion.

            Lively discussions are a large part of a day spent with Mr. Stenger. He encourages the students to voice their opinions and keeps them on their toes. At the start of his 9th grade class, he combats afternoon drowsiness by having students toss a tennis ball around the room to increase their alertness and put them in better moods for learning. While his room has a relaxed feel to it, it’s clear who the boss is, and students don’t hesitate to respect their teacher’s authority. Moreover, it appears they actually want to listen to him. 

            Now in his 4th year of teaching, Stenger hasn’t always been an instructor. After receiving his Bachelors in Communication from Cleveland State University, the 1993 Willoughby South High graduate worked at GIA Media publishing company and Cleveland.com before giving serious thought to becoming a teacher. “It’s something I really always wanted to do,” he says. “But everyone was in business in my family, so I just went with that.” The turning point came after several friends attended a teachers program at John Carroll University and convinced him to follow his dream.

No Nine-to-Five Job

Academics aren’t the only passion in this teacher’s life. A sports lover, he also coaches cross country, and track & field. “Mike has a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Mrs. Hoffecker says. “So that makes him a natural for his involvement in after-school activities.”

            Among his other involvements include the National Honors Society, in which he serves as advisor. And this past July, Stenger spearheaded a team of 25 kids for the Relay for Life Cancer Walk. His participation was partly personal. His twin brother, Mark, died from Malignant Melanoma in 2005.

“That event was an amazing experience for all of us,” Stenger says. “We all camped out on the Andrews campus and ended up raising $8, 240! Our goal was a mere $2,500, so the kids did a great job.”

Not surprising, Stenger gives more credit to the kids than to himself. The busy instructor practices what he teaches by showing respect, and leading the way by example. One poster in his classroom reads: “For success, attitude is as important as ability.” It is something this teacher demonstrates every day.  

It’s well known that the middle years can be hard on everyone, but the Eastlake teacher and father of a nine-year-old son, Zack, seems to understand, and has the sensitivity to deal with it all. “They’re going through a lot of social and emotional things at the same time and that can be tough,” he says. “But these kids have a lot to offer and they really rise to the occasion when necessary.  I learn something from every one of them, too.”

 And Stenger isn’t done learning. He looks forward to beginning work on his Masters in Literacy, and adds that he feels fortunate to be doing exactly what he’s always wanted to.

“You spend so many hours doing your job, you should love it,” he says. “I feel really lucky.”

Many who know of his dedication and compassion, would say that it’s his students who are the lucky ones.

 

Deanna Adams has the utmost respect for teachers, like Mike Stenger, who really want to be in the classroom every day, and she applauds their dedicated efforts to make a difference in children's' lives.

 

Lake County Business Journal, May 2006

Willoughby bed and breakfast provides homestead comfort
by Deanna R. Adams

 

With so many restaurants and pubs available in downtown Willoughby, some people joke that they may as well just sleep there.

Well, now they can.

The famed historic district now boasts its first bed and breakfast, thanks to Fred and Deanna Rowe. The new Homestead House Bed & Breakfast Inn is located at 38111 W. Spaulding St. on the street beside Arabica Coffeehouse and across from Willoughby Public Library. 

“I’ve traveled a lot over the years, in the United States and Canada,” Deanna Rowe said, “and I always try and stay at a B&B, particularly in a small town where I can walk around and window shop, and chat with the local people.”

That background came in handy when the Rowe's decided to become proprietors of their own B&B. Ironically, the house they purchased for their inn was once the original home of the Fine Arts Association, the organization Rowe now works for as director of finance and operations. She said the project was a community effort from the start.

“The city of Willoughby and its merchants have been incredibly supportive,” she said. “ Mayor Anderson and Janice Lipscomb [Willoughby’s community development manager] in particular, have done everything to help us, from research to finding vendors.”

The research included pouring through archives of the 1884 building’s history that detailed former residents, as well as recurrent rumors of stashed money and appearances of ghosts.

“Unfortunately, there was no hidden money,” Rowe said, laughing. “Although there is a ghost—on the back staircase,” she adds with conviction, without elaborating.

The 122-year-old building was originally the city residence of the Alfonzo Gunn family, which owned a farm nearby on Ohio 84, where Pine Ridge Country Club now stands.

“Upon his death, Alfonzo left that property to his daughter Harriet in his will, calling it, ‘The Willoughby Homestead House.’ So we thought it was most appropriate to use that name for the B&B,” Rowe said.

Acquiring a bed and breakfast has been on the city’s agenda for some time.

“We’ve actually been talking about it for years, how it would add to downtown’s appeal,” Lipscomb said. “We checked out several options, but for one reason or another they didn’t work out. Then comes Deanna and her husband, who purchased the building and said it was their dream to make it into a B&B. So we got lucky. And they’re doing a great job with it.”

The job hasn’t been easy, though, according to Rowe.

“When you acquire a house that’s more than 100 years old, you never know what might come up,” she said.

She adds that they have been meticulous about restoring the building as close to its original look as possible, having antique pieces made when they couldn’t find what they wanted.

Each suite, decorated in a different theme in keeping with the B&B’s 1880s history, will feature its own bathroom.

 Homestead House Bed & Breakfast Inn will be open daily.


Published in Northern Ohio Live, March  2006

 Girls With Guitars

These Northern Ohio ladies are paving their own road in rock…

“She begged and pleaded till dad finally listened. He drove her in the car down to Sears-Roebuck. He bought her that guitar and that was the beginning” – from Girls With Guitars, lyrics by Mary Chapin Carpenter, recorded by Wynonna Judd

 It’s 10 p.m. at Winchester Tavern & Music Hall in Lakewood and singer/songwriter Alexis Antes, the first of three female artists on this night’s bill, is welcoming the crowd.

 “How’re ya doin’ out there? Thanks for coming.” Her cowboy hat sparks country music expectations but soon as she starts strumming her Takamine acoustic guitar, the crowd realizes she has a different agenda. Her first song, off her latest release, “All Come Down,” is more of the pop-rock variety, as are the others she performs tonight. Her band, with bass player, Derek Poindexter, and drummer Brian Bretton, is a fitting accompaniment to Antes soft, clear vocals and strong guitar riffs. The gathering crowd is still getting settled at tables and chairs as she begins her set, but by the third song, she has their full attention.

“This one’s called, ‘Hide Your Eyes,’” she announces. “About loving someone who loves someone else ... never a good situation,” which brings laughs and a few I-can-relate-to-that nods in the audience.

When she breaks into the Stevie Nicks song, “Landslide,” Robin Stone, also on tonight’s bill, and drummer, Joe Rohan, jumps on stage and joins in. The trio is rewarded with appreciative applause from an enthusiastic audience, who then participates in the chorus. Although Antes writes most of her songs, she’s aware that people love hearing the old and familiar, and makes sure to incorporate a few into her live set.

 

“While everybody danced to garage band covers. She was checking out riffs and memorizing cords.”

 

Antes, 34, has been singing since she was 12, with encouragement of her mom, Bobbie, a singer/songwriter in her own right. At age eighteen, she and friends, Victoria Fliegel and Anne E. DeChant formed Odd Girl Out, an all-girl folk-pop band in 1990. The group won praises locally, and traveled the college club circuit. Despite their breakup in 1995, the three are musically linked, often sharing play bills (DeChant is this night’s headliner) and contributing to each other’s recordings.

 

Robin Stone, 33, fell in love with music at age ten when she began playing the cello. It wasn’t until her college days when she taught herself to play guitar and discovered a talent for songwriting, that she abandoned her Pre-Med aspirations and pursued the music life.

Now as she makes her way to the stage, the near-capacity crowd creates a din of lively chatter, denoting a party atmosphere that politely calms down once Stone approaches the mic. She’s backed by a three-piece band that quickly shifts the mood toward jazz and funk, with bassist Tiger McGee, percussionist DJ Edwards on bongos, and drummer Rohan.

Hardly a newcomer anymore, Stone performs regularly throughout Northern Ohio, has recorded three albums, and has her own recording label, “She Loves You Records,” which Antes also records on. 

The band is moving to its own funky beat as midnight draws near and more money passes through the door…

It all looks pretty easy, some in this audience are surely thinking. Get up on stage, sing and play guitar, then autograph some CDs while fans approach you with songs of praise.

That’s the up side.

“There are drawbacks to be sure,” notes Anne E. DeChant, perhaps the best known female singer/songwriter in Cleveland. “This is not a stable business. It’s risky. I have to keep the wheels cranking, pay my own health insurance … And when I perform, I’m never sure what kind of reaction I’ll get.”

That much was clear twelve hours earlier when DeChant sang and strummed in front of the Art Metro in downtown’s Colonial Marketplace. The veteran musician shows off her acoustic side and appears to be having fun, despite the seemingly disinterested office workers who busily order up lunches and chat with friends. Curiosity brings a few quick glances her way, but food and conversation wins out.

A passerby in a business suit drops a bill into DeChant’s open guitar case without missing a beat on his way elsewhere. A woman who sees this, finally notices the singer and asks her friend, “Who’s that?”

Apparently, the wheels of promotion still needs more grease.

DeChant admits it’s an ongoing mission. “But even if just three or four people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I like your music,’ and sign the mailing list, it gives me three or four new fans.”

If, after more than a decade of college, clubs, and festival dates, four albums, television appearances, monthly email newsletters, and luncheon mall gigs, Anne E. DeChant still has work ahead of her, than those aspiring for where she is in her career, have their work cut out for them.

 “Girls with guitars now everybody’s rockin’ ”

 When influences are mentioned by any of these women, the usual diverse list of females pop up: Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Melissa Etheridge, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sheryl Crow, Chrissie Hynde (who had to leave Cleveland for fame and fortune). But also do the male artists: James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Marvin Gaye, and of course, the Beatles.

In a home recording studio on Hessler Street at Cleveland’s University Circle, two of the female trio, Burning Sage, drummer Sue Balaschak, and vocalist/guitarist Lin Sanders, are mixing their EP with engineer, Jay Bentoss.

“I started out playing acoustic,” says Sanders, who lives in Akron, “but I really like the intensity of an electric guitar. And now I’m working on my pedal work – I love my pedals!” 

At thirty-eight, bass player Lucy Marquez is “the baby” of the hard rock/electronica band. The others are in their mid-’40s and feel they’ve earned their right to rock. While Balachak played in a touring band for a decade, Sanders earned a Fine Arts degree at Kent State University and continues working as a ceramic artist. Although some compare her voice to fellow Akronite Chrissie Hynde, Sanders was more influenced by male rockers like Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, and the band, Tool. Since its inception in 2001, Burning Sage has earned supportive fans, yet area also fans of each other.

“Lin’s developed a great guitar style,” boasts bandmate Baraschak. “She can really throw down and captivate an audience.”

Becoming each others’ cheerleaders is especially important for women who realize that, in the music industry, it’s still a man’s world. Despite the fact many catch the music bug as teenagers, demands of family and making a living interrupt their rock ‘n’ roll dreams.

“It’s a constant juggle of home, work, kids,” Sanders admits. “Oftentimes you have to shove your creative outlets aside.”

 At 22, Akronite Rachel Roberts is a newcomer to the music business. 

 “I truly believe this’ll be a milestone year for me,” she says. “I’ve been writing songs and singing since high school, but only this past year, got up the nerve to perform in front of people besides my roommates.”

She adds she’ll never forget her first gig at a local coffeehouse.

“I was nervous but soon as I got up there, everything inside me lit up. It was like dancing without moving.” 

 Roberts now danced through performances at various venues such as the Barking Spider and Happy Dog in Cleveland, and the Lime Spider and the Northside in Akron. She’ll celebrate her 23rd birthday at The Northside with a party/concert on March 16.

It’s 12:15 a.m. at the Winchester, and a full house greets DeChant, who like her musical comrades, has earned respect and loyal fans.

“Anne E.’s awesome, a phenomenal talent,” says Kim Lewis of Lakewood, who sits at a front table to get a good view of her favorite female artist. “I can’t believe she isn’t a national act by now.” The comment is often heard on the Cleveland music scene, usually about male performers.

But tonight, the women rule.

Jim Mileti, owner of the Winchester, is understandably pleased by the crowd. “I like having female acts here,” he says. “They’re good songwriters. I wish there were more.”

“Thanks for supporting local music,” DeChant says to her pumped-up audience before blasting them away with a rockin’ song that gets the crowd singing along … 

 

“She gets the audition through a friend of a friend, who’s checkin’ out her legs and sayin’ “This will never work”

She flips on her boogie and turns to the band, gives a little grin and blows away the jerk.”


First published in Northern Ohio Live, September 2003

Life’s Been Good… To David Spero

This Clevelander’s career is what rock ‘n’ roll dreams are made of – and he’s not even a rock star

By Deanna R. Adams

David Spero is just getting to the part about working with Billy Bob Thornton (yes, that Billy Bob) when the phone interrupts – again. After a few minutes of conversation, he hangs up and casually remarks, “That was Alice Cooper,” as if getting a call from yet another celebrity (his third in a half hour) is an everyday occurrence.

Well actually, for this man, it is.

As Vice President of Education and Public Programming at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, part of Spero’s job was to contact musicians to attend fundraisers for the nonprofit organization. He was even known to persuade them to fly to Cleveland to talk about their careers, and perform at the Rock Hall – for free. It was his dream job. Yet, in March of this year, he left that position to become entertainment manager for TBA Entertainment, the Encino-based company that represents artists and produces television specials, tours and corporate events. The announcement of his departure surprised many Clevelanders familiar with his name and his work. But for his longtime friends, who for years witnessed Spero’s knack for being at the right place at the right time, it was simply yet another stroll down rock ‘n’ roll lane.

His new gig may be similar to the old one but for one difference.

“It allows me to return to management, which I’ve always loved to do,” he says. “I like working more closely with the artists. Is it challenging? It can be. Is it fun? Absolutely.”

“Fun” is often in this man’s vocabulary. The second born of four children and the son of one of Cleveland’s legendary TV producers, Spero is comfortable mingling with the rich and famous. Although his list of jobs over the last four decades includes various titles, he’s best known for managing the careers of Michael Stanley, Ian Hunter, Harry Nilsson, Joe Walsh and Eric Carmen. Well, there were also those years he spent as a rock ‘n’ roll deejay for FM stations WXEN, WNCR, WMMS and WWWM (M-105). So arranging music programs at the Rock Hall wasn’t a far stretch. And neither was his efforts to develop good relations between the museum’s hierarchy and the rock stars, some of which might have otherwise declined to visit the museum because of their belief that “you can’t house rock ‘n’ roll.”

“David orchestrated many great events and activities that were firsts for the museum,” says president and CEO Terry Stewart, who notes, for example, the successful ‘Rock To The Rescue’ [the 2001 benefit for the Rock Hall’s education department and New York City’s Port Authority]. “Helping us set such precedents were invaluable.”

Perhaps Spero will be best remembered in the Rock Hall’s history books for pioneering the MTV Summer Series, which featured performances by the hottest new pop artists. The concerts, recorded live at the Rock Lady on the Lake, drew more young people to the museum since its opening in 1995. Stewart was sorry to see his valuable employee go, but it was also a difficult decision for the man who often said, “This is the best job in the world!”

“It really was,” says Spero months later. “I loved my job at the Rock Hall. But there were limitations on what I could do [often based on budgets] and what I wanted to do. Besides, I simply got the bug to be out and about again.”

Being out and about these days means traveling across the country for meetings and to “make sure things are done right” for his client’s careers. Those clients are well known in the music world and span musical eras. They include guitarist Mark Farner (Terry Knight and the Pack, Grand Funk Railroad), keyboardist/singer Felix Cavaliere (The Young Rascals), singer Sam Moore (Sam and Dave), drummer Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company), the band Survivor (of “Rocky” soundtrack fame), guitarist Kenny Olson (Kid Rock band) and Billy Bob Thornton (the Hollywood actor whose career began as a rock ‘n’ roll drummer and will soon tour to promote his new CD).                                                           

Glory Days

For this 51-year-old born in Shaker Heights, celebrities have always been a part of his life. Dad was Herman Spero, who produced programs for WEWS, Channel 5, and was responsible for such beloved television shows as the daily children’s favorite, Romper Room, the Sunday afternoon staple, Polka Varieties, and the Saturday baby boomer must-see, the Upbeat show (originally the “Big 5 Show”). The young Spero was five when he made his TV debut as a guest of “Miss Barbara” on Romper Room. But it was the Big 5 Show, which aired at 5 o’clock on Channel 5, that became the prerequisite for future endeavors. The black and white music/dance show, targeted for young viewers, debuted in August 1964 and was such an immediate hit that by the following year it was broadcast in color, renamed Upbeat, and nationally syndicated. Thirteen-year-old Spero was given the job of holding up the cue cards, but before long the teenager was writing them, as well as suggesting ways to attract more viewers of the mostly adolescent audience.

“We had practically every big name in pop music at that time,” notes the producer’s son. “My dad had a real understanding about what was important to the artists. One of the things I learned from him was how to pay attention to their needs. To this day, when I see people who appeared on the show, they always mention how great he made them feel.”

Working on Upbeat (with host, WEWS weatherman Don Webster) at such an impressionable age gave the 1969 Beachwood High graduate fond memories, along with valuable experience dealing with the stars. While TV and movie stars like Bob Hope, Ed McMahon and Upbeat performers would often visit the Spero household, it was music that was the special link between father and son.

“My dad would always listen to WIXY-1260 on the way to the TV station and he’d ask me questions like ‘is this the next big thing, or what do you think of this?’”

That shared enthusiasm created a bond that lasted until the elder Spero’s death in 1979.

A Little Help From His Friends

Not everyone gets to meet the rock ‘n’ roll idols of his or her youth. In that respect, David Spero just might be the most envied person among music fans. He’s had a backstage pass to nearly every sought-after concert since the ‘70s and his list of close acquaintances reads like a Who’s Who of past and present music makers. Besides befriending some of the biggest names in rock royalty, he’s on a first-name basis with politicians. While showing his celebrity photographs adorning the walls of the renovated garage that serves as his home office, he gestures towards a snapshot of President Clinton and says, nonchalantly, “That’s one of me and Bill.” And the Beatles he idolized as a teen? Ringo is now a pal of his.

By the time he was 20, Upbeat was off the air, but the boy who grew up on it was just getting started. Now used to meeting and greeting the biggest stars of the day, he was a natural to become a rock ‘n’ roll deejay (without spending one day at broadcasting school).

“I met David when he was a jock on ‘MMS and I did a Coffeebreak Concert -- back when it was done in the studio,” recalls Michael Stanley, who Spero managed in the early days of his band, MSB. “To this day I think he was the best disc jockey I ever heard. Our common bond has always been music. And we’ve always been each other’s fans. I consider him one of my oldest and dearest friends. The music part is really secondary to that.”

Spero, his wife Ellen, and son Adam, now reside in Stanley’s former South Euclid home, and the manager is quick to reiterate that his closest friendships remain in his own backyard. Among them include veteran local drummer Tommy Rich, and Jim Fox, drummer and founder of The James Gang, which Spero helped reunite for a 2001 concert.

By the end of the 1970s, the radio world was heading towards the corporate-owned enterprise it is today, and claiming that it just “wasn’t fun anymore,” the popular record spinner decided to get out. He spent the next thirteen years as manager/director for the Midwest branch of Columbia Pictures. When the company moved to Chicago in 1991, the Cleveland boy stayed put -- which meant he was now out of a job. But within hours of his unemployment, a phone call came to his rescue.

“Joe Walsh had just released his “Ordinary Average Guy,” and called to ask me about tour dates,” Spero recalls. “We got to talking, and before I hung up, I was his new manager.”

Walsh, of course, is the renowned guitarist for the James Gang, and later The Eagles, the LA group now inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their acquaintance goes back to the mid-‘60s when both were rock lovin’, free-spirited teenagers. Walsh, then a Kent State University student, was in a band called The Measles, which performed at Chippewa Lake for an Upbeat segment. Spero, recognizing Walsh’s talent, sparked a conversation that began a lifelong friendship.

The compassion for the artists he learned from his father served the manager well when dealing with Walsh’s attempt to “get clean” after years of substance abuse.

“Joe went through some very difficult times,” notes Fox. “And when he made the decision to quit for good, David was right there. It became clear early on that he had only Joe’s interest at heart, and that meant a lot to those who really cared about him. It’s that sincerity that makes David such a good manager.”

 In these high-tech times of faxes, emails and video conferencing, it is the old-fashioned telephone that remains the essential link in Spero’s world, both in business and friendship. Yet some calls haven’t always brought good news.

“Harry Nilsson was not just a client but also a dear friend,” Spero says of the late singer who was as much known for his legendary friendship with John Lennon as for his biggest hit, “Without You.”

“So when his wife called me at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, I knew she was going to tell me Harry had died.” The news of Nilsson’s death in January 1994 weighed heavily on Spero, who has said that he mourned the singer’s passing almost as much as his own father’s. The agent spent the rest of the decade handling the careers of his other clients and promotional tours.

Then came the summer of 2000.

Another call, another opportunity. 

“I’d just come off of the Eagles’ ‘Hell Freezes Over’ tour, and then Ringo’s All-Starr Band tour with Eric Carmen,” he explains. “After that, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to do any more tours. I was in a position that enabled me to kick back for awhile.”

He kicked back just long enough for that phone to ring again. Spero picked up the receiver and was greeted by Robert Santelli, then-vice president of education and programming at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Santelli told him that he was leaving Cleveland to become the director and CEO for Seattle’s new Experience Music Project, and would Spero (already on the museum’s Cleveland Board of Trustees) be interested in taking over his position at the Rock Hall?

His intended retirement was promptly set aside. Spero fit right into his new role and became a needed addition and advocate for the rock museum. “I think the reason I’ve done so many things is that each experience has offered its own strengths and challenges,” he says. “There are also times when you need to move on and find new opportunities.”

Those opportunities now take him to LA, New York, Nashville, and all points in-between. He says he can easily get by on four hours of sleep, which is a good thing considering the time spent in his home office, waiting in airports, and standing behind the scenes at music clubs and concert venues. And just as he did in his job at the Rock Hall, he continues to bring international stars to his hometown. On a recent night at the Hard Rock Café, Simon Kirke performed in the intimate confines of the restaurant. The former Bad Company drummer sang, played guitar, keyboards and gifted the audience with one entertaining rock story after another. All the while, the rock star’s new manager quietly looks on, though at one point suggests to his client that he “speak a bit more slowly.” Kirke complies, even thanks Spero out loud for his hard work and support, prompting an appreciative round of applause. By evening’s end, both are accepting autographs and posing for photos.

After chatting on his office phone with Alice Cooper, in town to celebrate the first anniversary of his downtown restaurant, Cooperstown, Spero gets back to that Billy Bob connection.

“I met Billy last summer,” he continues. “Joe Walsh had called me to say Billy was coming to town and asked if I would show him around the Rock Hall. We became friends and he then hosted last fall’s American Music Masters Tribute to Hank Williams.”

Part of managing Thornton is getting his new release, “Edge of the World,” off the ground with a forthcoming summer tour. While Spero admires his client’s work as an actor and musician, Thornton, in turn, appreciates his manager’s storied past.

“David Spero was raised in the midst of a magical time in music and it shows,” Thornton says. “His knowledge of musical history makes him a great manager for so many legendary artists.”

Working with legendary artists, as well as the up-and-coming ones, is what keeps Spero motivated. “You need to mix the old with the new to keep up the variety of interests,” he says, then gives a quick tour of his office, which can pass for a museum in itself. The room is filled with autographed guitars, drumheads, framed photographs, and signed posters. In the bathroom, signatures from hundreds of famous visitors serve as wallpaper. 

“I’ve been lucky,” he says. “I know a lot of cool people and have had some great experiences.” Then just as he begins to tell another celebrity story, the chiming of the phone interrupts again.

It’s London calling.

With that, the reporter bids goodbye, and the busy rock manager gets back to work. ~~ 


First published in Northern Ohio Live July 2004

Rockin’ Through the Nite

The man who rallied to get the Rock Hall built in Cleveland is on another mission

By Deanna R. Adams

Inside the Alan Freed Radio Studio on the fifth floor of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, veteran disc jockey and rock historian Norm N. Nite cues up the next record with the help of engineer John Hovanec and musical assistant Chris Jones.
     “This one’s from 1955. ‘Only You’ by the Platters, one of the groups inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where we’re broadcasting live,” Nite tells his radio audience. Then, clicking off the mic, he adds, “This music is really special. These songs are important to millions of people, not just myself. They’re filled with the memories
of our lives, a timeline of our own personal history.”
      Nite is referring to the music he plays on his Sunday night radio show, Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll. From 8 to midnight, Nite plays exclusively those records from the 1954-1963 era. Pre-Beatles. Pre-Madonna. Pre-rap. The songs radio listeners don’t hear much anymore.

       A handful of music fans are in the studio with Nite. “Having people here to talk with, and enjoy the music with, is really a lot of fun,” he says, as another song begins. “It’s one of the best parts of doing this show.”
       Soon Hovanec gives a signal, the “On Air” light blinks, the record fades and Nite switches his conversational tone to the smooth, crisp announcing voice he’s known for.
“That one’s ‘Please Be Mine,’ the flip side to ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love,’ by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. And you’re listening to Norm N. Nite on WCBS 101.1 FM.”
     Say what?
     That’s right. He said WCBS. As in New York City. Although the show broadcasts live from Cleveland – the designated home of rock and roll – it doesn’t air on any radio station here. So if you’re not in New York, you can hear this program only online, specifically AOL for Broadband. If that’s surprising to you, consider how implausible it is to Nite, who lobbied relentlessly to get the Rock Hall built in Cleveland.
      “I really can’t understand it,” he says, shaking his head. Neither can anyone who has joined him in this state-of-the-art studio on Sunday nights. “I go there to learn,” says regular visitor Andy Kenen, who teaches literature of popular music at Kenston High School in Bainbridge Township. “I didn’t listen to that music much growing up. I was into folk then. But through Norm’s show, I’ve learned to love it. I especially enjoy hearing Norm’s stories about the artists, which I then relate to my students. I just wish we could hear it on the radio here.”

Ever since the Rock Hall opened in September 1995, the question repeated time and again is “Why aren’t the induction ceremonies held here?” It’s true that the music industry is in New York, making it more convenient for inductees to attend the annual event. But most Clevelanders suspect that the real reason is that people simply don’t want to come to Cleveland.
      “I can change that,” says Nite, who wants to syndicate his program nationally. (The show’s been number two in the ratings since its launching a year ago.) “Just think. A rock and roll radio show broadcasting live across the country from Cleveland, Ohio! That would certainly bring more visitors here – which, of course, would bring more revenue to the city. And if we tie in special events, like dance contests to attract people across the nation, Cleveland would be the place to come.”
      Considering his reputation for getting the job done, Nite might be just the person to pull off such a feat. Many agree that if it weren’t for his persistence, the Rock Hall might very well be hugging another coastline. In the spring of 1985, as the story goes, Nite sat in the offices of Atlantic Records co-chairman Ahmet Ertegun, one of the founders of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Foundation, and wouldn’t leave until he was heard.   

      “Ahmet told me, adamantly, that the Rock Hall was to be built in New York,” Nite recalls. “Had I accepted this and walked away, that would’ve been it. But this was my town we were talking about. And I was just as adamant about it being in Cleveland. So I stayed and recounted all the reasons he should reconsider. And he did.”
      When it comes to rock, Norm N. Nite knows what he’s talking about. Born to a music-loving family in Tremont, Norman Durma was a teenager when Elvis, Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Bobby Darin were changing American pop culture.
       “That era should be treated with respect,” says Nite, who recalls listening to Alan Freed’s radio show on WJW. “It’s where it all started. So many of those artists are gone now, yet their impact on the music remains.”
       The 1958 graduate of West Tech High School began spinning records at Ohio University’s college radio station. In 1967, he made what became America’s first recorded narrative history of rock music, “Rock & Roll – Evolution or Revolution,” which led to an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show. After hosting a Saturday-night oldies show called Nite Train on WHK-AM and holding a full-time on-air position at WGAR, he was ready for the big time. He had all the requirements of a rock jock: a distinct broadcasting voice, easygoing style and genuine excitement for the music. More important, Nite wouldn’t just play a record; he’d enlighten his audience about a group’s history and how a particular song came about; he later compiled his knowledge in a four-book series, Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock ‘n’ Roll. When performers
came to Cleveland, the young DJ interviewed them for his show. His taped conversation with Little Richard secured him a job at New York’s WCBS in 1973.
       “I met Norm back in ’75 when we were both air personalities at WCBS,” recalls Joe McCoy, now WCBS vice president/program director and Nite’s boss. “Even then, his love of music was evident. And his knowledge about the individuals who made the music is unsurpassed. This is not just a job for Norm; he lives it – 24 hours a day.”
      Recently, at his favorite neighborhood haunt, Sokolowski University Inn, where one of his tapes provides background music, Nite excitedly discusses his quest for syndication.
      “I want to build a bridge between Cleveland and New York, so Clevelanders can experience the great things about New York and New Yorkers, in turn, can discover all the amenities we have here.”

     Cleveland lawyer Avery Friedman, whose clients include Nite and legendary radio personality Casey Kasem, supports Nite’s mission. “Norman is one of our city’s biggest success stories. He knows so much about music and oh, the stories he has! We really should be able to enjoy what he has to offer.”
     WCBS, which is owned by Infinity Broadcasting, would like to see it happen, too, McCoy says. “There has to be enough interest in the major markets, so we need to explore that avenue. The important thing is that Clevelanders know they can listen in on AOL, and get that awareness built first.”
    

    Back at the studio, Nite is telling his studio audience about Alan Freed, the DJ who popularized the term “rock and roll” and who Nite inducted into the Rock Hall at the first induction ceremony in 1986. “The man’s right downstairs,” he says, alluding to Freed’s ashes, contained in an urn on the museum’s second floor. “Sometimes on Sunday evenings, when it’s closed, I can actually feel his presence and others who are honored here as well. I’m privileged to be given the chance to keep their memory and music alive. And, based on the letters and e-mails I get about the show, there’s a huge interest.”
     That was evident on June 6, when the Rock Hall hosted a dance party to celebrate the program’s one-year anniversary. Music lovers came to see veteran performers such as the Edsels, Ben. E. King and Ruby Nash of Ruby and the Romantics Fame (“Our Day Will Come”).
     “That was a great time,” says John Markulin of Euclid. “People were dancing and having fun. The best part was the end, when everyone sang along to ‘Save the Last Dance for Me.’ It doesn’t seem right that we can’t hear the radio show in our hometown.”
     “There is an audience for this music,” Nite adds. “Now I just need Clevelanders, and a local radio station who can only benefit from it, to get behind me.” ~~


First published in June 2005, Northern Ohio Live magazine

Rock ‘n’ Roll – the Next Generation

Meet these talented young musicians and see why there’s hope for Cleveland’s new rockin’ generation

By Deanna R. Adams

Some baby boomers say that it’s a shame their kids don’t have those great teen clubs to go and watch their peers play in a rock and roll band, like when they were young. They add that today’s music is cookie-cutter and not nearly as eclectic as what they’d enjoyed in the past. And radio, in particular, is limited and as uncreative as it once was innovative. “They don’t know what they’re missing” is a common statement among music lovers, 50 and older.

But talk to young musicians today and you’ll find they have their own ideas - and auditioning for American Idol isn’t the only means of a shot at stardom.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities available and I’ve found Cleveland to be really supportive,” says 17-year-old Kate Voegele. “But you do have to get yourself out there and work at it.”

Voegele is a recent Bay Village High School graduate whose music career has been in high gear since she picked up a guitar two years ago and began performing at local venues. Since then, the singer/songwriter has shared the stage with such diverse rock luminaries as John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews and Jessica Simpson. In addition, she was one of three finalists in the Pantene’s Pro-Voice Competition for vocal ability and her debut CD not only brought her attention in her hometown (thus earning her a 2004 Northern Ohio Live Award of Achievement) but also gained her respect and credibility in a business often known for cynicism.

“I keep hearing from older adults about how hard it is [to break through] and how it was easier getting noticed twenty, thirty years ago, especially when it came to getting your songs played on the radio,” Voegele says. “But today, we have the Internet, which is a great way to have people hear your songs, and get bookings all over the country.”

But the Internet isn’t the only avenue for today’s aspiring musicians.

So You Want To Be A Rock ’n’ Roll Star 

The Annual High School Rock Off is a good example. Held each January at The Odeon Concert Club, this local competition allows young musicians to compete for cash prizes as well as the opportunity to open for a national act at the Odeon or Tower City Amphitheater. This year, 256 aspiring artists submitted demo tapes or CDs for consideration. From there, 72 were selected, before narrowing down to 18 for the “Final Exam,” in which three winners were chosen by music industry judges.

            “I’m always amazed at these kids’ talent and delivery on stage,” says judge Bill Peters, who works in Sales & Marketing for Warner Brothers Records, and is President of Auburn Records. “I always look for originality, which can score high marks.”

First place went to Eclyptic, a “classic rock band with a modern twist” formed by four freshmen from Hudson High School. The fifteen-year-olds won over the judges with their musical ability, stage presence, and edgy rendition of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” The grand prize package was worth $15,000, most of which, according to members, went to new equipment. And as Northeast Ohio’s Best High School Band, their school also benefited, receiving a $200 donation to its music program.

“The exposure’s been great,” says lead guitarist Chris Bohrer, 15, whose mom Deb, helps book the band. “We’re getting a lot more gigs now.” The group performed at Peabody’s for the Cleveland Music Festival last month and on July 1, opened for the Moody Blues at Tower City Amphitheater.

The Hudson quartet draws on music they grew up with. In other words, their parent’s music. “We always had music playing at home, like Led Zeppelin, Lou Reed, and of course, lots of Beatles,” Deb Bohrer says. As demonstrated in concert, the group often takes a familiar classic rock song and makes it their own.

 “These guys are incredible for their ages,” says Gary Shay, Director of Aurora Academy of Rock and Roll, who’s helping the band hone their skills. “I was impressed by their intense love and understanding of the roots of rock. They even listen to their parents’ old vinyl records.”

The young band also left an impression on rocker, Tommy Lee, of the heavy metal band, Motley Crue. Shay sent Lee the band’s new CD electronically and days later, received an email from the famous drummer. “I can’t believe I was listening to 14-15 year olds!” he wrote. “Eclyptic has what it takes to make it.”

Talent is one thing, but in the world of rock, marketing is a key component. Second place Rock Off winners, Gravity, a quintet made up of students from Normandy School and Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School, proved they are already on top of the promotions game. That night, they had their friends wear T-shirts with their band name, then passed out extras to the crowd. This ensured that even if the group didn’t place, concertgoers would remember them.

The event also primes youngsters on dealing with adversities that are bound to come up while performing. Special Blend, a three-piece group from Westlake, found this out firsthand. When bass player Alex Butler broke a guitar string in the middle of a song, he called out to the audience, “Anyone have a bass I can use?” He got one, and the band played on. Although the group didn’t win, Butler responded to the incident like a pro, “It was a learning experience,” he said.

The Kids are Alright

Fifteen-year-old drummer Steve Renko is fast becoming a legend on the local music scene. The Euclid resident whose band, Just Missed (now Hit List), was runner-up in the 2004 High School Rock Off, currently plays in Ernie Krivda’s Fat Tuesday Big Band, as well as special gigs with the Armstrong Bearcat Band. Renko began playing when his drummer father, Mitch, gave him his first set of sticks when he was two. He’s been impressing people ever since. At age twelve, Renko won the Guitar Center Midwest Drum-off Regional Competition, beating out contestants more than twice his age. And this February, he performed at the Grammys, having been chosen among thousands to play in the High School Grammy All-Star Big Band.

“Steve has this innate sense of timing and rhythm and that’s something you can’t teach,” says guitarist Butch Armstrong of the Armstrong Bearcat Band. “We’ve called him to play at the last minute and we’re always amazed how he can pick up on everything we’re doing and keep the groove – with no rehearsals.”

Eighteen-year-old Victor Rasgaitis is another up-and-comer. Like Voegele, he is a singer/songwriter and recent Bay Village High School graduate. A fan of local troubadour, Alex Bevan, Rasgaitis also uses humor in his act. At this year’s Rock Off in which the solo performer competed against mostly rock groups, he began, “My name is Victor and this is my band (pointing to his guitar).” His entertaining performance earned him third place, as well as attention from Dave Watson, National Director of Promotions at Columbia Records, who saw his act and contacted him after the show.

“Dave’s been really helpful,” says Rasgaitis, who cites the Eagles and Jimmy Buffett among his influences. “He gives me tips on marketing and points out my strengths and weaknesses, which I really appreciate.”

Stand By Me  

Besides the benefits of contests and the Internet, this generation of music buffs has older musicians who often take them under their wings by teaching or giving them occasions to sharpen their performance skills. Renko notes that Armstrong and veteran guitarist, Alan Greene, both welcomed and encouraged him at the age of ten to perform with them on Jam Nights. Many local clubs, bookstores and coffee shops offer these Open Mic Nights to musicians of all ages and genres. The summer months are ripe for teens to take advantage of these opportunities to develop their craft and stage experience.

College radio, long known as a worthy vehicle for breaking artists, is another viable outlet. Peters, who hosts the longtime Friday night program, “Metal to Metal” on college station, WJCU-88.7 (John Carroll University) stresses that college radio, particularly in Cleveland, remains an open market for local musicians. “There are at least five college stations here that embrace new music,” he says, adding that most stations are also broadcast on the Internet. “I always dedicate some time on my show for local artists and happy to do so.”

Then there are the parents, who often serve as their children’s managers, or involved in other ways, such as driving them to practice sessions and appearances.

“It’s always exciting watching Victor perform,” says mom Leslee Rasgaitis. “It’s exhilarating to see just how far he’s come.”

“I think the kids today are really on top of things,” Peters says. “I think even more so than we were. There’s definitely hope for the future.” ~~


First published in June 2005, Northern Ohio Live magazine

Cleveland Rocks – Again

A Three-Day Music Fest Promises To Alleviate Summertime Blues

By Deanna R. Adams

When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened on September 1, 1995, all of Cleveland was abuzz. There was a downtown “Rockin’ in the Streets” parade, live coverage from major television networks, and appearances by such music luminaries are Little Richard, Yoko Ono, and Atlantic Records founder, Ahmet Ertegun. The festivities began early that Friday morning and didn’t conclude until 2 a.m. Sunday. That was when the last musical note was strummed after a marathon seven-hour concert at the Cleveland Stadium that boasted such diverse acts as Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Johnny Cash, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-stars, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.

What a time it was. Hard to believe that was ten years ago.

Since then, the Rock Hall has seen more than five million visitors from around the world pass through its revolving glass doors. The museum continually hosts a variety of educational programs and often features new exhibits to encourage repeat attendance. Still, some Clevelanders express disappointment that the annual Induction Ceremonies have been held in their city just once - eight years ago.

Lately, there has been some vindication. This January, two Cleveland area artists were inducted into the 2005 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And although the O’Jays and Chrissie Hynde didn’t go back to Ohio to accept their award, which once again, took place in New York, it seemed to suggest an upward swing.

That mood continues this month with the first CMJ/Rock Hall Music Festival, a three-day event that celebrates new music by up-and-coming-bands. The party begins at the Rock Hall, Wednesday night, June 8, with an opening concert by The Pixies at 7:30 p.m.. The contemporary alt-rock band will do a second show that same night at the Scene Pavilion. For the next three evenings, there’ll be performances at other area clubs: the Agora complex, Odeon Concert Club, House of Blues, the Beachland Ballroom, Grog Shop, and Peabody’s, as well as the Festival Village at Nautica Entertainment Complex, located on the West Bank of the Flats. Cleveland RTA will provide transportation between the Rock Hall and Festival Village in addition to club venues. The festival will continue through Saturday, June 11.

“When we first announced this last fall, people got excited but were waiting to see who the bands were,” says Todd Mesek, senior director of marketing and communications at the Rock Hall. “Now, with all the hot up-and-comers scheduled to perform, we’ve been deluged with calls and interest from fans in and out of Cleveland. It’s going to be a dynamite event.”

The purpose of CMJ (College Music Journal) is to showcase the best of today’s new music and bands, and the festival roster of 100 featured bands-on-the-horizon underscores its mission. Along with live performances, there’ll be educational programming and panel discussions, such as a session with Grandmaster Flash, the hip-hop artist who pioneered the use of dueling turntables to enhance musical sound, thus leading the way for rap music and club deejays. Sire Records co-founder, Seymour Stein, will discuss his history with the record label that launched such careers as the Ramones, Talking Heads, Madonna and Barenaked Ladies. They’ll even be a “Guitar Heroes” Competition sponsored by Guitar Player Magazine, and a host of other events. Programs are free for Museum members or with Museum admission.

While the Music Fest is sure to be a financial boost for Cleveland, coordinators hope the magnitude of this event will pump new musical life and excitement back into the city that’s still referred to as “The Rock and Roll Capital.”

“It’s a huge shot in the arm for Cleveland on an national and international scope,” notes Warren Zanes, Rock Hall vice president of education. “A significant event such as this will build on the character of the city and improve its status as a progressive music town, much like the SXSW [South By Southwest) Festival did for Austin [Texas]. It’s the best way to get a sense on where music is headed.”

Local bands will also be on hand to showcase their talents at the Festival. Rosavelt, Plasma, Dreadful Yawns and Mushroomhead are among those scheduled to perform. 

While Zane and Mesek hint there’ll be more events leading up to the Rock Hall’s 10th anniversary, they stress that the CMJ Fest, which will become an annual event, is the musical summit.

“There have only been a handful of events like this ever,” Zane notes. “To have it in Cleveland is vital to our city’s growth as a thriving music capital.”

“The enthusiasm and support from the press, fans, club owners, and the industry has been phenomenal,” Mesek adds. “Everyone is genuinely excited.” ~~


*Author’s Note: CMJ returns to Cleveland again this summer, June 14-June18, 2006.

 

 

 

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