Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Museum is for real hipsters

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Cleveland. If, like me, you grew up in the 90s, you’re probably familiar with the phrase “Cleveland rocks!”—an old rock song that was used in the intro for The Drew Carey Show. I suppose I always knew Cleveland had some sort of history with rock & roll and music, but until I lost myself inside Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Museum, I didn’t realize how extensive of an history it is.

The Rock and Roll Museum is located, fittingly at the end of Rock & Roll Boulevard. Because the museum famously inducts musicians (and other notable industry rockers), I think there’s this assumption that the museum caters to an older crowd. Especially because it’s an historical museum. But that theory didn’t hold up on my visit. This museum isn’t just for hard-core Deadheads. If you’ve ever believed in the power of song, the political movements from the past 65 years or had a fleeting interest in the radio, then the Rock and Roll Museum will prove to be not only enlightening and interesting, but fun and informative. This museum is for real hipsters.

Visiting the museum

I found Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Museum to be an excellent place to spend a few hours. The visit starts downstairs where you can a brief history of rock and roll—where the term comes from, initial reactions to the music and how it has evolved over the years. Early in the exhibit was an area all about the backlash against the rock and roll movement.

Three video monitors showed footage from protests against the music genre. Attack words like “rebellion,” “communist ideology,” “degrading,” and “just blatant, raw sex.” Reverend Jimmy Snow famously derided rock & roll for its “beat.”

Learning about the many controversies surrounding rock music, it’s hard not to feel a bit of pride for those that changed music as we know it. Music is a powerful thing and the Cleveland Rock & Roll museum celebrates it in all its glory. The museum is full of quirky artifacts and relics from the history of rock and roll—everything from costumes and cars to guitars and concert wristbands. You’ll see whole exhibits on the punk/new wave scene in NYC, Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 TWA luggage (for which he was a brand ambassador), Atlantic Records and the indie scene made popular by bands like New Order and Joy Division. Oh, and, Elvis was there too.

Alan Freed & the definition of rock and roll

Freed—the Moondog, a crazed hipster who talked over the music, howled, pounded on phone books and banged on a cowbell.

Alan Freed, a Cleveland, Ohio disc jockey, was one of the first inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He’s also the man who is most credited with coining the term “rock and roll” to describe the black rhythm and blues records he began playing in 1951. The music proved popular regardless of race and it was the Moondog Coronation Ball on March 21, 1952. The oversold music gig is generally regarded as the world’s first rock concert but a riot prevented the show from even happening at all. Freed eventually relocated to New York City where he promoted rock music as the genre grew and grew.

And because Cleveland just keeps on keeping cool, even the Ritz-Carlton has embraced the city’s rock and roll history. The sixth level of the downtown Cleveland Ritz offers martinis and other cocktails designed in the rock and roll theme. Everything from an AC/DC Martini to one called “Bad Romance.” And the appetizers were mighty fine, too! Cleveland—undoubtedly the city that rocks.

My visit to the Rock and Roll Museum & Hall of Fame was sponsored in part by Cleveland Tourism, as well as the state of Ohio.

Blogs published by Adam Groffman • Please note some posts do make me some money, but I never sacrifice my integrity in exchange for a favorable review. Read the full disclosure policy.

19 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I’ve never been to Cleveland and still have the image in my mind of when the river caught on fire. I know they’ve done a lot since then to try and clean up the city. And i have heard nothing but great reports about this museum. I would certainly enjoy listening to music for a few hours.

    • Yeah, Cleveland definitely is having a hard time shaking the image of their river on fire. If you love music, you should definitely try to visit the Rock & Roll museum at some point – it’s honestly very cool.

  2. I am not big on museums but I really enjoyed myself at the Hall of Fame, so much to do even if you are not a big music fan.

    • That’s so true, Ayngelina. They’ve got all those interactive exhibits and tons of fashion and unusual things you probably wouldn’t expect for a music museum. But I personally loved the listening stations.

  3. My favorite part of this museum is the listening stations where you can hear hundreds of songs. I want to stand there for hours listening to them all.

    • Yes!! I could’ve stayed inside all day but it was summer so I only spent 10 minutes at the listening stations. I think it’d be best to visit the museum on a cold, rainy day in the winter, because you could easily stay inside all day then :)

  4. This museum is definitely one I want to visit someday. I really enjoyed Memphis for many of the same reasons. That city has loads of music history and attractions. Looks like I need to find myself in Cleveland too. And rock and roll themed drinks sound delicious.

    • Still haven’t visited Memphis myself, Suzy, but I definitely think I could find something of interest there.

      And yes, the rock and roll drinks were wonderful!

  5. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been on my list for a long time. Interested to see what else there is to do in Cleveland…

    • Don’t worry! I’m working on a Cleveland travel guide — I was surprised to find so many things to do there. I think it’s a good place for a weekend visit if you like music :)

  6. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum fails to symbolize the Rock n Roll character and culture that Cleveland and the musical phenomenon is known for. The corporate status of the museum is contradictory to some of the classic spaces of Rock and Roll, the spaces that attract your “hipsters.”

    There is something unique about the ad-hoc performance spaces that symbolically enhance to Rock and Roll music and lifestyle. CGBG’s and Woodstock in NY are good examples. Perhaps the museum would be more appropriate for hipsters if it was designed like these places. These places capture the moment, promote a fuzziness of the programmatic details, harness the energy of rock and roll, create an authentic one-of-a-kind experience, and attract rock and roll musicians (and hipsters) and fans alike all in one location, at one given time. That is what rock and roll is about. Thats what attracts hipsters. And thats what this museum should be about.

    • Hey Brandon,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I know what you mean—the museum is certainly commercial and the architectural style is less authentic than the actual bars where rock has lived for so long.

      I did think the exhibits in the basement, where the rooms were dark and the way to get around was slightly confusing, brought the rock & roll spirit to life. I found those exhibits particularly inspirational. The museum does a great job of presenting the history, maybe the commercialism detracts from some of the authenticity, but overall I thought the museum was a great experience.

      Thanks again for your insightful comment!

  7. Cool post, really interesting photos. Check out my site, if youve got the time. Im kinda new, but would be great to hear some advice on my site. Cheers!

  8. I visited a while back and yes, it rocks. But the rock n roll cocktails sound pretty good, too.

    • It’s my perfect kind of itinerary—some history followed by cocktails related to the history I just learned ;)

  9. It’s a great attraction for young hipsters-in-training, too! Our 12-year old son had a Beatles epiphany while making his way through the exhibit and watching the old films. He still listens to some pretty crap music, but at least he knows there was once something better.

    • Hahah Traci, that’s awesome! Keep the music alive :)

  10. I haven’t been to the Rock Hall in years… but it IS a really cool museum. I think a return visit sometime soon is in order!

    • You should try to catch the induction ceremony for the new rock & roll hall-of-famers sometime! I bet that’d be a really cool and unique experience.

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