“Rock This Town!” Provides Insider’s View of Belkin Productions’ Heyday

 

Thu 11/1 @ 7PM

Boxes of old T-shirts collecting dust in the attic is the perfect metaphor for memories from yesteryear needing to be documented for future generations.

Literally and figuratively speaking, that’s exactly what Fran Belkin, who spent more than 30 years working with her husband Jules and his brother Mike at legendary concert promoters Belkin Productions, is doing with her new book “Rock This Town!”

“I found a box of T-shirts in my attic about three years ago, and it was all this swag we had made for bands,” Belkin said. “A friend of mine who does museum designs said it’s a collection. Once we photographed it, we realized we really had something special on our hands. So we decided to write a book.”

At that point Belkin reached out to graphic designer Christopher Hixson. The end result is the 144-page, full-color paperback with more than 465 images and 100 stories shared by Belkin, Jules and the Belkin Productions crew.

Belkin will be the first to acknowledge Rock This Town! started off as something different.

“I really just wanted to do a book on the T-shirts, but Chris kept saying we have to include the story of Belkin Productions,” Belkin said. “I said, it’s been told so many times. He said there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t know that story.

“In the end, the T-shirts really became the background. Like any piece of art, you start in one direction and always end up someplace else. So we decided then that we would include the whole story of Belkin Productions. That opened up, of course, a bees nest. I had to find all of these stories.”

What followed was an extensive interview process that took Belkin cross-country interviewing Belkin Productions employees. It turned out that endeavor was harder than she expected.

In talking with people who were at some of the biggest concerts of the decades, Belkin discovered there were so many shows in the ’70s and ’80s they often bled together for employees.

For example, Belkin flew to Los Angeles to interview former production VP Wendy Stein, who initially couldn’t recall specific stories. However, once the two started delving into picture albums, the memories started flooding back.

“She was in touch with a guy who was a runner for us,” Belkin said. “He was the one with Paul Simon who heard Bruce Springsteen and said, ‘Oh, that guy is going nowhere.’

“These nuggets I had to pull out of people. It was really tough. I actually remembered more than almost anybody because I was not in the firing line. I was in the background.”

From the World Series of Rock shows to Pink Floyd buzzing the audience with its plane before walking on stage at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Belkin was not only present but played a hand in designing the production company’s T-shirts for many concerts.

Some of which it turned out weren’t always band favorites.

“I never realized that Bruce Springsteen didn’t like that green shirt, the one that said ‘The Boss’ scripted in bright yellow,” Belkin said. “Wendy said they hated that shirt. Bruce didn’t like being called ‘The Boss’ anymore. That’s funny, I had no idea.”

Belkin, who has scheduled book signing events for November 1 at the Rock Hall, November 10 at Barnes and Noble in Woodmere, November 16 at Appletree Books in Cleveland and December 8 at Fireside Books in Chagrin Falls, stressed despite what the public may have thought, the Belkins weren’t chummy with the artists. Instead, they grew strong relationships with manager, tour managers and agents.

While Rock This Town! includes plenty of familiar faces, it’s the insider’s view to the midwest concert scene during a legendary era that makes the book special. Belkin hopes Rock This Town! readers view the book as a love letter to not only Northeast Ohio but also Belkin Productions.

“We were so lucky,” Belkin said. “Everybody that lived through the ’70s, ‘’80s and even the ’90s. It was a very special era. Not just in music, but for Cleveland, which was at the pinnacle of popularity. Every band wanted to play here.

“Also, you’ll see a comment from U2’s Bono, who said, ‘When I saw Belkin on a contract, I knew everything would be perfect.’ So Belkin Productions had a reputation for excellence and that reflected on Cleveland. So everything — the radio stations, the concert promoter — worked together to make it a very unusual and special time.”

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