Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Day 25 - Cleveland

It's really late right now, but I want to hurry and get something posted.

It's about 1:30am, and we just got back from The Roots concert at the Cleveland House of Blues (HOB). We had arranged for a tour of the venue earlier this afternoon, and somewhere along the line we scored free tickets to the show. The tour was great; I've never known much about the concept of a House of Blues -- it turned out to be much more than just a live music venue. Our guide works with the nonprofit International House of Blues art education program. She herself is an art teacher and was able to give us some great insights into the symbolism and background of the art that entirely covers the inside of the building. From siding to ceiling to everything inbetween....every House of Blues displays literally hundreds of pieces by self-taught artists.

We weren't allowed to take pictures, so I can't show you any of the amazing pieces I had the opportunity to examine, but I can relay some of what I learned about the style. "Self-taught artists often use non-traditional materials in their artwork." The conclusion that I draw here is that they wouldn't be self-taught if they had money for lessons, so since they don't have money for lessons, they probably didn't have much money for materials either. Thus, they use the least expensive materials that are most readily available to them.

The first piece we looked at was called "Coronation Ball." The artist integrated bottle caps, serving platters and pizza pans (cut in half and arranged symetrically), old records, and a violin into this mural. Another self-taught artist who has sold several pieces to the HOB, Missionary Mary L. Proctor, uses forks, spoons, even paintbrushes in her work.

It's a new experience for me to see this type of art and try to appreciate it on the same level as Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, and Dali, but by the end of the tour I had a much higher respect for the art than I did when I first entered the building. This is due largely to interacting with our tour guide who had such an obvious respect for the pieces herself, and did a great job at communicating the message and passion behind the art.

Looking at new types of art is like learning a new language. In the beginning it can be really difficult, frustrating, and even though you try so hard, at the end of the first day you still understand nothing. At the end of my first day in a House of Blues I haven't learned how to interpret the messages of this art myself, but someone else guided me through and interpreted it for me, helping me get acquainted with the new style.

And just like the visual art, I had a new experience in music today.
I'd never heard of The Roots before this week, and I certainly had never listened to any of their music. This is rather embarrassing, but I must admit that I wrote off rap and R&B a few years ago without ever really listening to it. Given the choice, I probably would have attended the symphony instead of The Roots concert tonight, but since there was no option I happily went to The Roots.

Much of their music is rapping, but they have some great instrumentalists in the group, including a suzaphone. I didn't understand one word of the lyrics during the entire night, but there was always a beat to groove to, and the atmosphere was fun. And in the end, even though I won't be listening to them on my own free time, they put on a great show and I have a new respect for them as musicians.

So I think we pretty much covered the Blues scene in Cleveland; if only we had another few days to explore everything else in the city! Thus is the nature of the trip. On the up side, now I know of a great place to come back to in a city far, far away from my usual meanderings.

P.S. I can't even tell you how excited I am to wake up and see Niagara Falls tomorrow morning! Plus, we're having a group breakfast, so the day is going to be extra great. We usually only have time to grab a granola bar and dry cereal (or in my case a cheese stick and rice cake) every morning before hurriedly boarding the rental van, so every day that I get my morning eggs is a special day!


  1. VERY cool description of what a house of blues does and of the art you were able to see. I'm glad Cleveland went well & hope Niagara Falls was restful and magnificent. Take care, Shirah!

  2. I am so jealous you got to see the roots. Seriously. Oh good lord.

    Oh, and just an FYI, house of blues venues actually don't have that much blues music played there anymore, for real 'Blues scenes' in any city you have to go to local small venues or bars. That's where the local blues musicians will be playing.

  3. "...for real 'Blues scenes' in any city you have to go to local small venues or bars..."

    Yep the big venues are necessarily too commersh. They must appeal to the broadest audience possible to succeed. It's the same with country and western (is the Grand ol' Opry an exception? I think it is). For the real deal, cruise into Robert's Western World in Nashville. It's a most excellent hole in the wall.


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