Fri 7/27 – Sun 7/29
The three-day DEVOtional 2018, taking place July 27 through 29 at the Beachland Tavern and in Akron for a 5K race,is a musical affair, including original, Devo-inspired groups, as well as cover bands and even Devo karaoke. The fun features a meet-and-greet with Devo’s co-founder Jerry Casale, who over the last three decades has also been an award-winning music video and commercial director.
In addition, appearing at DEVOtional 2018 is not only German tribute band DEVO-tion, but also a film crew in tow to capture the show for a documentary. The weekend ends on Sunday with the 5K DEVO Run/Walk RACE in Akron with proceeds benefitting the Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts.
The festival, which started at the turn of the century at A.C.E. Headquarters in Cleveland before moving to Akron’s the Lime Spider and now the Beachland Tavern, is invariably a DEVO-centric affair that celebrates the group’s legacy and lifestyle.
CoolCleveland talked to Casale about the band, the festival and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
CoolCleveland: Over the past 17 years you’ve attended roughly half of the DEVOtional events. Why is it important for you to make an appearance?
Jerry Casale: I always felt that we owed something to our fans. What is a band without fans? And because Devo is not just a run-of-the-mill band, but something that represents like an alternate reality or alternate world, the people that kind of signed up for the devolutionary army were pretty special people. They took a lot of shit for that. There was a time when Devo was so polarizing and considered radical by mainstream culture that these fans who have stuck with us, a lot of them tell stories about how they were physically beat up besides being harassed and laughed at. De-evolution is real. It’s not a silly art joke, it really happened. And we’re living it. Now there’s this kind of communal confirmation, so I really feel like somebody from Devo needs to pay attention to what these fans are doing on their own. They’re kind of like Trekkies. I’m the only guy in the band who feels a responsibility.
CC: What else stands out about DEVOtional?
JC: I really appreciate the efforts of Jim Chaney, who is the organizer of the 5K race that raises money for the Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts. It’s about education and about music. Given what the forces of political, shall we say, authoritarianism or whatever you want to call it in this country have been gnawing away at education and especially the arts for 30 or more years, it’s very depressing and very infuriating. I grew up at a time when public education was good. That was invaluable. If I didn’t have education, nothing, including Devo, would have happened. Without me having great teachers and getting a scholarship to Kent State University, I can guarantee Devo would not have happened. I feel sorry for kids today. So I’m trying to do whatever I can do.
CC: What is it about DEVOtional that draws people out?
JC: We had substance. There were some real ideas behind Devo and the lyrics. Because of that, what we get from people is that we meant something to them, we changed their lives or we gave them hope or made them feel like they weren’t just alone. That they weren’t losers. That they were people who shared their experiences and their insights. We get that constantly.
CC: What kind of impact does Devo have today?
JC: Mainstream rock critics and record labels tried to crush Devo and remove their voice in the marketplace, but they were unsuccessful because there was a kernel of validity of what we’ve done. Therefore, it has some kind of timelessness. It’s lasted and this is proof of it. We have two generations of people after our peer group that discovered Devo, mostly through the Internet. They discovered something they weren’t a part of when it happened. It resonates with them because we were unfortunately kind of accurate in our predictions or our warnings. We didn’t want de-evolution to be real, but it turned out to exceed our expectations.
CC: What are the odds that Devo one day either appears at DEVOtional or performs in Northeast Ohio that weekend?
JC: If it was up to me, Devo would be fulfilling all of its promises since we were a multi-platform concept from the beginning, not a rock band really. Creating those videos and stage shows and writing and creating those characters was always part of a great big narrative. So we would be doing all of those things. Devo should be doing a musical, a movie. There should have been a Devo documentary. If it’s up to me, I’ll make sure Devo doesn’t go down quietly. At least we can die with our boots on. Look, 2020 is the 40thanniversary of the release of the album Freedom of Choice and the song “Whip it.” And 2020 is the 50thanniversary of the killings at Kent State University, which I was in the middle of. I got shot at like a lot of kids, but the bullets went over my head and killed others. I think if Devo wants to live up to anything that it supposedly stands for, we would do something by then, if not before. We’d play some huge event at Kent State University honoring students who were shot or wounded on May 4, 1970. We’d try to get Chrissie Hynde involved and maybe Joe Walsh. I think it would be very important and symbolic.
CC: Finally, it’s trivial coming off a discussion about the Kent State University shootings, but the fact Devo isn’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a travesty.
JC: I feel like we’ve been treated like the red-headed stepchild. There was must be a conspiracy because to keep Devo out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. When you see who gets let in, it’s just mind-blowing. It’s like rubbing your nose with a turd.