Collective Soul – Cleveland Rib Fest

Story by Milli Thornton. Photos & video Copyright © Brian Williams.

IN JUNE 2009 I wrote in Travel Bummers that we’d missed seeing Collective Soul at the House of Blues in Cleveland. Our consolation was that we needed the eighty bucks it would have cost us for tickets—we were saving our spending money for the Montréal Jazz Festival.

Well, the karma gods must have felt we deserved a break. Not only did Collective Soul come back to Cleveland while we’re still living in Ohio but we got to see them for five bucks a ticket.

The only disappointments were the familiar leaden skies over Cleveland—seen below, dulling the smokestacks of a renovated factory—and the festival food.

Happy Rib Fest crowds against a typical Cleveland sky

Happy Rib Fest crowds chow down under a typical Cleveland sky

We had attended the Rib Fest the previous summer to see Mickey Dolenz and others in concert so I already knew this particular festival did not rock my socks. (I’m just not a rib person.) Last year we went off-site to dine at Hard Rock Cafe. This year we were on such a tight budget, we stayed in-house and shared a composite rib meat sandwich washed down with cheap beer.

In retrospect, for what you could buy with the festival currency (coupons purchased at the booths) it might have been cheaper at a restaurant. But was it all worth it to have a Hooters-style server in a Jack Girl low-cut T-shirt ring a bell and cry “Jack on the bone!” when we agreed to have Jack Daniels sprayed on our sandwich?

Strangely, even Brian didn’t think so.

Red Sun Rising rocks hard while the Nautica Queen turns behind them

Red Sun Rising rocks hard while the Nautica Queen turns behind them

Later, with evening daylight still strong, support band Red Sun Rising came onstage belting out hard rock. Proud to be from Akron, Ohio, the band did their darnedest to warm up the small pockets of people grabbing seats early for the main event.

Lead singer Myky (who looks believable as Johnny Depp at a fancy dress party) came off as so ambitious and energetic it was like receiving caffeine via the eyes. On his MySpace page Myky says: “Why should i settle for a nine to five job like the rest of you when i can live this life instead of mope through it like a zombie.”

Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica is an open-air amphitheater with a view of the Cuyahoga River immediately behind the stage. Myky was oblivious, lost in a wall of sound, as a classic moment unfurled behind him. The Nautica Queen dinner cruise launched from the dock, sailed down level with the stage and then turned in a stately curve to head upriver to Lake Erie.

After Red Sun Rising, we were treated to a performance by the Richmond Heights High School Choir doing pop classics such as Proud Mary and YMCA.

Modest light show for a famous band . . . but the setting made up for it

Modest light show for a famous band . . . but the setting made up for it

By the time Collective Soul came on at 9:15 it was dark. As they rocked out with some of their best-loved songs, lead singer Ed Roland continually turned to look behind the stage. “I’m not trying to show you my ass,” he joked. “This is really beautiful.” He was referring to the city lights sparkling on the river, soon obliterated by the thickening fog from their light show.

The light show was simple by today’s standards—pink, blue, orange and green spotlights cutting through the fog in contrasting bands—but nobody cared. This was Collective Soul live, just upriver from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and they were delivering the goodies.

Ed was gracious and affable with a goofy sense of humor. After performing “December” to the deafening cheers of the rib-eaters, he said with a boyish grin: “We knew that one!”

Collective Soul lead singer Ed Roland jokes for the crowd

Collective Soul lead singer Ed Roland jokes for the crowd

During his between-songs patter, Ed talked about the band taking some down time. “Some of us had babies, and we wanted to be dads at home.” More cheers. Then he announced that a few days hence they would be returning to the studio to record a new album. He asked the crowd to “bear with us while we experiment. It’ll be like practicing in the basement at age fourteen.”

Things were definitely disjointed as they blipped through several excerpts of newly-written songs. Fun stuff but not enough to tell what the new album will be like.

As a change of pace, Ed announced they wanted to do a tribute to their favorite great bands. I didn’t catch everything he said but there seemed to be a failed attempt to write one in the dressing room before the show. When they launched into a Metallica number as a symbolic tribute, everybody was happy.

It was over all too soon. As we walked back to our car, we stopped to marvel at how different the Rib Fest looked under the night sky, with the ornamental lighthouse blazing and the bridge lit up behind.

The Rib Fest after dark

The Rib Fest after dark

To the right of the Rib Fest arena, the smokestacks on the old factory built of bricks looked so much more stunning than they had under the dismal gray skies of afternoon. Now known as Windows On The River, it seemed strange to see limos disgorging expensively-dressed guests for a wedding reception. What? In there? From the outside you would not suspect it’s “Cleveland’s premier catering facility.”

From their About Us page:

The century-old FirstEnergy Powerhouse, known for its smokestacks and beautifully arched windows, originally powered Cleveland’s electric railway and streetcar system and is now a National Historic Landmark.

The Cleveland skyline after the concert

Cleveland's skyline after the concert

Below is Brian’s video of “December.” I chose this one because he managed to feature each of the players one by one, including drummer Cheney Brannon who joined the band in 2008.

Cheney was having such a good time, his smiles and grins could be seen from the bleachers. He was so unleashed during this song he looked like a caveman doing something primal.



Milli Thornton

Milli Thornton

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.

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  1. Wow! Looks like you had a great time! I love BBQ festivals!

  2. There is nothing like live music. Ronald would have loved the ribs. I prefer corn on the cob on a stick with real butter and chix skewers.

    Looks like you had a good time!

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