Strangely enough, it wasn’t the move of Black Keys drummer, Pat Carney, from Akron to NYC, or the seemingly imminent relocation of bandmate Dan Auerbach, which led me to start taking stock of all musicians who have departed the Cleveland-Akron Metro over the past year. Rather, it was the less publicized breakup of Cleveland rock mainstays Coffinberry, spurred on by bassist guitarist Tony Janicek’s move to Portland. For those of you not scoring at home, here’s a list of some of those who have left NEO in the past year:
JR Bennett of Unsparing Sea (Nashville)
Pat Carney of the Black Keys (Brooklyn)
Jon Finely of Beaten Awake (California)
Tony Janicek of Coffinberry (Portland)
Ryan Weitzel of Mystery of Two (Brooklyn)
In the order of hurt, it’s hard to single out one of these recent exits as the most painful. Carney’s relo stung because he was on record as harboring resentment towards Devo, and The Pretenders, and other acts from previous eras who left NEO. Bennett’s was a case of a group, Unsparing Sea, which should have garnered a much bigger audience outside of Ohio, but never did, leaving untapped potential on the stage and in the studio. The consistency off Coffinberry, meanwhile, was taken for granted, and only after announcing their dissolution, did an overflow crowd come out to Pat’s in the Flats.
The Black Keys will soldier on, to be sure, and the breakup of Mystery of Two isn’t a given. Even if Mystery of Two’s drummer Nick Riley has been gigging around town with Filmstrip, it remains unclear how active the band will be in the coming months and years. Unsparing Sea, Coffinberry, and (presumably) Beaten Awake are all down for the count.
Let’s be honest, Cleveland didn’t get its reputation of being an anti-destination (Rightfully so, or not so much), because all of its artistic talent (And jobs, for that matter) chose to stay in the city. And, Cleveland and Akron bands have this habit of dissolving, re-forming, and absorbing other musicians from other bands in the cycle, all with little fanfare, meaning there are even more names which probably should be added to the above list.
Now, add Brandon Stevens, the head of Exit Stencil Records who recently re-located his label’s operations to Brooklyn, and the talent drain in the Northeast, Ohio music scene becomes even more apparent.
So, which departure hurt the most? It’s like asking which nun in Catholic school had the most vicious ruler. They all did. They all hurt.
Being from Cleveland, the capital of Rock ‘N’ Roll and the capital of self-defeatism, cynicism, and pessimism, it would be all too easy to sulk. We lost Lebron. We lost The Black Keys. The Indians lose, the Browns lose. We always lose.
Yet, should you stop being a Clevelander for a moment, you would realize it all isn’t doom and gloom. Anecdotal evidence suggests Cleveland is and has always been near the top in the United States in terms of per capita live music venues. Plus, Cleveland holds its own in per capita drunkenness. Add these two together and (in theory) there should be no shortage of new talent. Whether that talent sounds any good the morning after, however, is up for debate.
Two acts which do sound good, sober or otherwise, Cloud Nothings and Prisoners, have already started making headway with lo-fi pop and ragged, Replacements rock, respectively. Cloud Nothings, in particular, have garnered more press than any recent Akron or Cleveland act not named the Black Keys. Prisoners, on the other hand, should be busting out of this town any minute. Granted, both bands are years away from becoming the Godfathers of Northeast Ohio, Rock and Roll, but when you also consider veteran bands and artists like This Moment in Black History and John Petkovic of Cobra Verde and Sweet Apple, have both released invigorating new albums this year, one has to conclude the scene is in good hands. It’s just lacking the one act, the one band, that everyone in town can rally around. It used to be The Black Keys. It may still be the Black Keys, however, the opportunity is there for someone new to be the national face of Cleveland rock.
Now, let’s hear from you. Which recent exit was the biggest to hit the Northeast, Ohio music scene? Which band or bands to you see stepping up in the coming months to take the place of the likes of Coffinberry, Mystery of Two, and Unsparing Sea? With the Black Keys mostly out of town is their even someone you would hold up as the face of Northeast, Ohio music?