Record Label on the Rise
By John Benson
It’s no secret complaining about the local music scene has become a favorite pastime of Clevelanders. Whether it’s the fighting among bands, no support system to help out rising acts or the overall apathy from the suburbs about what’s happening in the DIY clubs downtown, the complainers have a point.
Someone looking to change up the dynamic is Justin Markert, co-owner of local label Cellar Door Records, who along with his partner Rick Fike is attempting to create a one-stop shopping venue of sorts for the local Cleveland music and arts scene. For the past five years the duo’s label has released compilation albums featuring some of the finest rising acts in Northeast Ohio. Now they’ve upped the ante by opening up the Cellar Door space located in Asiatown’s The Loftworks building.
An opening gala featuring local bands The Modern Electric, The Lighthouse and the Whaler, Humble Home and Brian Straw opened the E. 40th venue on Fri 7/27. Cool Cleveland was at the opening and shot the video above.
Justin Markert: Me and my buddy Rick actually opened up a coffee shop in Madison, Ohio, eight years ago and that was called Cellar Door Coffee and Music. It was a coffee shop that had shows on the weekend. We brought in touring bands and paired them with locals. We were pretty good at that, selling out every weekend and bringing in 135 kids a night. We sold that, but the business end of the music thing we kept doing. We re-launched Cellar Door Records in 2007 and since then I’ve put out a handful of releases, individual albums as well as compilation albums. The latest is Cellar Door Records Vol. III, which I think has a great array of Cleveland music and really kind of shows off what the city has to offer.
How did the Cellar Door space come about?
So we’ve always had our eye open to new opportunities, and we were thinking about jumping back into having our own space. But with the coffee shop we had to be open everyday. With this we can kind of put on events as we please. From that perspective we really wanted to do a Cleveland arts-focused space, and we found a great space at Loftworks so we just kind of decided to go for it.
How would you describe the Cellar Door space? And, is there anything currently like it in Cleveland?
No, I think there are a lot of awesome things going on in Cleveland but as far as the way we’re looking to use this space, we feel it’s pretty original. We want to book music that connects an audience on kind of a more interesting level. Obviously there are tons of great DIY venues in town that put on shows all of the time. We’re not trying to compete with that as much as we want to put the bands in a more intimate place where everyone there is specifically there to hear that band and to get in touch with that music as opposed to being in a bar.
So it’s a club?
We’re not positioning it as a club. Basically it’s first and foremost the Cellar Door headquarters, that’s where the operations will happen. It’ll be a record store, offices for our blog and record label. But it’s also a larger creative space. We’re going to have monthly events, whether it’s a concert or the space can be used for independent film showing. Other things. We’re kind of open to art installations because it has that kind of a vibe to it as opposed to a concert club.
You have quite a few good bands on the opening bill, including The Lighthouse and the Whaler. Tell us about the lineup.
The Lighthouse and the Whaler are all over the place, including showcasing at SXSW. They’re making some waves. I think Brian Straw is a scene veteran. He’s one of my favorite guys. I’ve been looking up to him since I was a teenager. I also think Humble Home and The Modern Electric are on the cusp of doing some great things. They’re very young talented guys and their music is great.
Finally, looking ahead, what would make the venue a success?
The philosophical answer is, within our circle we know all of these great people and those people are making waves on the national level, but I think there are a lot of people in Cleveland who have no idea that’s going on. While we’re probably quick for criticizing them for not being in the know, or paying attention to what’s going on, it has a lot to do with kind of reaching out to that audience. So granted we’re not going to go down and protest on W. 6th but we kind of want to do a broader promotional feel outside the circle.
Basically, the goal is to get more people involved in the local arts scene, because the more people that are participating, the more people that are contributing and the more these artists can actually do their art for a living. From a practical standpoint, we want to host monthly showcases that are well attended, and we want to boost the name of Cellar Door the label. So really if the bands we work with grow their fanbase and the art space can become kind of a regular known name in the vernacular of the Cleveland art, we’ll know it’s a success.
The Cellar Door launch party takes place at 7 p.m. Fri 7/27 at The Loftworks building, 1667 E. 40th 2G, Cleveland. Bands scheduled to perform include The Modern Electric, The Lighthouse and the Whaler, Humble Home and Brian Straw. Tickets are $10 (include receive free copies of Cellar Door Records Volumes II & III). For more information, visit http://CellarDoorCle.com.
When he’s not writing about music or entertainment, he can be found coaching his two boys in basketball, football and baseball or watching movies with his lovely wife, Maria. John also occasionally writes for CoolCleveland.com.