"Cathedral Concerts series is music to their eyes" - Crain's Cleveland Business

 Cathedral Concerts series is music to their eyes

Elevation Group's program provides unique, majestic setting

By TIMOTHY MAGAW / Crain's Cleveland Business

Blanketed in warm candlelight with medieval ambiance as his backdrop, Irish troubadour Glen Hansard hypnotized a crowd of about 500 people with a two-plus hour performance last month at Trinity Cathedral — a majestic, 100-plus-year-old church on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland's campus district.

The acoustics weren't forgiving of the occasional clang of an empty beer bottle, but the setting was a unique one in a city with no shortage of concert halls. While Trinity is an active church, religion, for the most part, was left at the door that night. Still, the notion of being part of something special — something bigger, perhaps — was all too present.

“These rooms were built to impress,” Hansard said early in the show. “They were built to awe and to inspire.”

Launched late last year, the Cathedral Concerts series, of which Hansard's sold-out Feb. 12 performance was a part, has captivated Cleveland concertgoers in ways its organizer — Cleveland-based agency The Elevation Group — says aren't possible in other venues.

Inspired by performances at historic cathedrals in Ireland and England and his familiarity with Trinity from a previous project, Denny Young, one of Elevation's founders and president, said the series was designed to allow fans to experience some of their favorite artists in an unparalleled and intimate setting.

“I don't think there's a concert venue remotely as unique, different and unusual as Trinity Cathedral,” said Young, whose company bills itself as a sponsorship marketing, event production and communications company.

Elevation publicly launched the series in December with a sold-out performance from Red Wanting Blue, a Columbus-based rock group that makes regular stops in Northeast Ohio. Upcoming acts include indie-rockers The Airborne Toxic Event, '80s legend Howard Jones, songstress Mary Chapin Carpenter, folk singer Marc Cohn and singer and keyboardist Bruce Hornsby.

And while the series is headquartered in Cleveland, Young envisions it becoming national in scope. At current, Cleveland's WVIZ/PBS ideastream is recording the shows to air locally and across the state starting sometime later this year.

Young said he'd like to see it grow into something similar to the nationally acclaimed and broadcast Austin City Limits concert series. Young said he'd also like to stage shows in historic cathedrals in other markets, though the concerts would only be filmed in Cleveland.

“We've always set out to grow this organically, Young said.

“We want this to be a national concert series that emanates from Cleveland.”

Something completely differentTrinity Cathedral's makeup is perfect for a concert series, Young added.

For starters, it's equipped — and willing — to sell alcohol. A little more than a decade ago, the church added new facilities behind the cathedral, including space for dressing rooms and restrooms. It could be a challenge finding cathedrals with similar amenities as Elevation explores the possibility of hosting concerts in other markets, Young said.

Although Northeast Ohio's population has remained stagnant, a slate of new concert venues have opened shop in recent years, all of which are, to an extent, fighting for their share of the region's limited entertainment dollars.

The Music Box supper club, for one, opened in The Flats last year with success, and the Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield has done an admirable job in attracting some big-ticket acts since opening in late 2013.

However, Young said Cathedral Concerts isn't designed to compete with those other venues. Given that the series is producing only one or two concerts a month, it isn't competing on a nightly basis with, say, the House of Blues or the Beachland Ballroom. In many cases, he said artists who frequent the same cities are “looking for a different look” to give their fans a new experience. Take Red Wanting Blue, who performed at the cathedral in December and is returning for another sold-out show at the House of Blues this Saturday, March 14.

“I think that we have an opportunity to garner attention for the shows that wouldn't be the same if we were doing them at a normal, traditional concert venue,” Young said. “Every show we've done has sold out.”

Trinity Cathedral, of course, is no stranger to music. Each Wednesday from October through May, the cathedral puts on free classical and jazz concerts for downtown workers and residents as part of its Brownbag Concerts series.

If anything, the Cathedral Concerts series is exposing the cathedral and its Episcopal congregation to new audiences, said Trinity Cathedral's dean, The Very Rev. Tracey Lind.

“For us, it's an opportunity to welcome 500 people to a concert and have them see the beauty of the space, hear great music and feel a sense of hospitality,” said Lind. “What can be better? For us, we're just hoping some people will realize this is a cool place and will want to learn more. We're hoping to have a long partnership with Elevation.”