Grog Shop will celebrate its 19th anniversary as a major force in Northeast Ohio’s rock music scene with a free show featuring four local bands on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Musicians in the featured bands, which include Keelhaul, Puffy Areolas, Self Destruct Button and Mr. California, remember Grog Shop when it was a Coventry Road watering hole-in-the-wall a few blocks north of its current location on Euclid Heights Boulevard.
“The old spot was smaller and darker, and they used to book a lot of the top punk and indie bands of the '90s,” said Lamont Bim Thomas of Puffy Areolas. “I’ve seen everything from the Laughing Hyenas to High on Fire. Hell, I even saw pals Mudhoney rock the old Grog with the Chargers opening. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Melt Banana at both spots!”
Ron Kretsch of Self Destruct Button has no idea what bands were playing at the first show he saw at the old Grog.
“It was surely all locals, though,” Kretsch said. “It really didn’t look or feel much different than The Saloon, the bar it replaced in its location. It had weird sight lines to the stage and several pillars that really didn’t help any with visibility, but you made do. It was a fun place to play. I liked the boxy little stage.”
Thomas and his former band, This Moment in Black History, played at the multi-band 10th anniversary show at the old Grog.
Both Thomas and Kretsch were pleased that the graffiti wall, completely covered with press photos of bands who had played at the old Grog, survived its move to the transformed Arabica coffeehouse in 2003.
“My first impression of the new Grog Shop was ‘damn this place is big!’” Thomas said. “Then I thought ‘damn this place is super-clean,’ which most rock clubs are not.”
Kretsch had the distinction of being in the opening band — Lives Of The Saints — for the first show at the new Grog.
“We marked the occasion by bringing tons of daisies,” Kretsch said. “We covered the stage, our amps and ourselves with them, and we still had bucketsful to throw into the audience. So, hooray for showmanship!”
No word yet on whether daisies will take part in the 19th anniversary show, which Kretsch predicts “should be completely off the cliff.
“Keelhaul are internationally known for their hyper and insane math-metal. The Puffy Areolas’ improvised psych-blitz is gaining them national attention.
“Self Destruct Button are completing our transition from a noise band to a prog-punk/post rock outfit and, as we're recording a new album soon, we'll be playing 100 percent unreleased material, all from that forthcoming record.
“Mr. California has to be seen. I'm not going to try to describe that delirium.”
Grog Shop’s reputation as a premiere venue for local, national and international bands has led to its operation evolving and extending beyond the walls of 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd. It now books acts at all sorts of venues across the Cleveland area, from Cleveland Masonic Auditorium to Beachland Ballroom.
“The Grog Shop is a performance space that’s open to adventurous new artists, and the importance of places like that to a music scene is impossible to overstate,” Kretsch said. “As a musician and a fan, I can’t even guess at what life in Cleveland would have been like with no Grog Shop. It occupies an honored place with the Euclid Tavern, Speak In Tongues, Now That’s Class and the mighty Beachland in terms of its critical importance to the development of music in this city over the last 20 years.”
Upcoming shows scheduled at Grog Shop feature legendary guitarist Dick Dale (Oct. 13) and Battles (Oct. 5), a highly acclaimed rising star on the international rock scene.
“The club provides balance between showbiz and the underground,” Thomas said. “It gives show business types something to shoot for and underground guys motivation to do things under the radar that can’t happen in club atmosphere, unless it's bringing in money.
“I’ve walked this tightrope forever, and the Grog still works with me regardless. Kathy (Blackman, a.k.a. Simkoff, Grog Shop owner) has been very supportive and a dear friend for years. I may not pack the Grog as much as other clubs I’ve played, but I know at the Grog I’m dealing with lifelong friends who will go to bat for me as a musician.”
(The Free 19th Anniversary Show starts at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights.)