Back in the mid ’00s, singer/songwriter/guitarist Diana Chittester migrated to Cleveland from Pennsylvania to take advantage of the area’s lively music scene. She was starting to build up a loyal following for her passionate, high-energy performances, supple vocals, deeply felt songs and skillful guitar work when Jessica Rosenblatt walked into one of her shows in 2008, introduced herself and suggested she could be helpful in helping Diana advance her career.
She’s been a lot more than that. Jessica and Diana became life partners as well as business partners, marrying last fall. And with the outgoing Jessica’s special gift for networking and connecting, it’s allowed Diana to focus more on performing and writing.
Five years ago, the duo sat down and created a five-year plan. They had recently launched Fighting Chance Records as an umbrella for looking after Diana’s business: releasing her music, booking her shows, landing her slots at conferences and other special events, and putting her in front of people that could help get her music more widely noticed. Within five years, they decided, they’d like to be taking on a select roster of other artists who could benefit form the connections they were making.
That time is now, and they recently announced the first three artists they will be working with, all with northeast Ohio roots.
Singer/songwriter Anne E. DeChant is the best known. She was one of the frontwomen of the popular Cleveland folk rock ensemble Odd Girl Out in the early-mid ’90s and since then has released a series of increasingly accomplished solo albums. Although she moved to Nashville in 2008, she’s frequently back home for performances.
Shooter Sharp and the Shootouts is a new project of Canton native Ryan Humbert who is widely known for his series of original Americana-flavored releases and his special event shows, including tribute events to some of his key influences. The new band features a hardcore traditional country/honky tonk sound.
The third artist is Akron’s Angie Haze, a theatrical whirlwind of a vocalist/multi-instrumentalist, whose “gypsy folk” music is a colorful hodge-podge of global influences. While she plays often around the Akron area, she is so far relatively unknown even in Cleveland, a situation Fighting Chance aims to change, broadening her base and getting her on the road.
“It kind of started five years ago when we established Fighting Chance Records,” recalls Jessica. “We have this great book by Jeri Goldstein, How To Be Your Own Booking Agent. It said to write out your goals for 1, 5, 10 years, and our five-year goal was to take on other artists. Our idea was that we would be touring everywhere like Ani DiFranco and be playing in front of thousands of people and then take out other artists and putting them in front of other people.”
It didn’t quite work out like that. One of the plans they made was to move to Portland, Oregon. They departed in the late summer of 2014, on the heels of the release of Diana’s third album, the presciently titled Find My Way Home.
“We decided two years before we moved that we were going to do it and then things started going well for us [in Cleveland],” Jessica says ruefully. “That whole year building up to the move, we said, oh crap, we don’t want to move. But we went and I’m glad we did. We saw the most beauty ever driving there and back. But work-wise for a musician, Cleveland is incredible. Portland wasn’t like a hard-working music town. It had a particular sound. We found ourselves driving three or four hours every weekend to make what we made here.”
The move lasted less than a year. By the beginning of the summer season, they were back in Cleveland and Diana was playing virtually every major festival and event and landed opening slots on high-profile shows. She’s built up a sideline teaching performing and songwriting in schools and encouraging girls to explore and develop their talents, serving as a role model for girls. She’ll be a guitar instructor at the Johnny Cash Day celebration at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum on Sat 10/22.
“When you write your goals five years in advance, you have all these ideas where things are going to go and they don’t,” says Jessica. “But that’s not always a bad thing.”
As Jessica describes Fighting Chance, it’s less of a traditional record label focused on putting out releases, and more of a multi-faceted agency providing whatever services the artist needs based on where they are in their career.
Their first move with their expanded roster was to attend the Ohio Artist Presenters Network (OAPN) conference in Sandusky October 17-19 in mid October to represent the artists they’ve taken on.
“We are an artist agency where we don’t own Angie or Annie or Ryan,” says Jessica. “We try to connect them. It’s called ‘records,’ but we’re looking at it as an agency hub. We’re in a connecting business. I really like networking and talking with people; I always find opportunities. But if we’re already booked or it might not be a fit for Diana, I might know someone else. So I want to make this into a business model. We’re using what we know to help these artists.”
“It comes down to what each artist wants,” she adds.
Citing as an influence Ani DiFranco’s legendary Righteous Babe Records and her development of a personally controlled music business hub outside the major label system, Jessica says, “It’s a job, you have to work at it. I never understood somebody who played a lot of music and thought somebody was going to scoop them up. That’s like playing the lottery.”
She points out that all of Fighting Chance’s artists make all or most of their living from their music.
“I think Cleveland/Akron/Canton has the best music scene,” she says. “We have incredible acts and the hardest working musicians. And Cleveland is becoming a place where you can make a living doing it. Audiences are supportive of musicians, venues are supportive of musicians, and musicians are supportive of each other.”