By Justin Markert
On Friday, three very diverse, yet equally engaging bands will get together at The Happy Dog for the 9th Annual WJCU Blizzard Bash. Every year the WJCU crew takes time to organize this event and do something for the community. This year’s Blizzard Bash will feature bluesy rock band Welshly Arms, Cellar Door artists So Long, Albatross, and the party funk rock band We The People. Tickets are $5 and all the proceeds will benefit The Greater Cleveland Hunger Network. We caught up with one of the event’s organizers and NEORocks co-host Eric Simna to learn a little more about the event.
First off, tell us a little about the Blizzard Bash.
Blizzard Bash started off as a small event on the campus of JCU. It was started by our then brand new General Manager Mark Krieger as a way to reach out and do something for the community. Initially, it was a donation AND food drive for the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland. It’s a little hazy when exactly the event first happened, and that leads to fun discussions about what number Bash is it this year. We just use years now- it’s safer that way. 2009 was the first year we decided to take the event off campus. We realized that if we really wanted to make something of the event, getting out into the community was necessary. We also came to see that organizing a food drive was taxing on our resources, so we went to a completely monetary donation model. That year Blizzard Bash was on a Tuesday night at The Grog Shop. The performers were Zach, J.D. Eicher, and 70 Lewis. Since then, we’ve bounced between Brother’s Lounge and The Happy Dog on Sundaynights. For the first time, we’re hosting on a Friday night and are very excited for it. Blizzard Bash will forever be the weekend before Thanksgiving (as long as I have a say in it).
Why did you choose these bands?
Cleveland has a ton of local talent. We don’t need to bring in big national acts to have a great show. So, I always start thinking in early summer about the Bash- who seems to be doing well, who is on the rise, who do I want to maybe get a little more exposure for, and who appeals to the widest demographic of WJCU’s listenership. Obviously, draw is important. We want to raise as much money as possible for the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland.
I identified a handful of bands I thought would do well for this type of show, and started talking with a few people I trust- getting their input and playing around with lineups. When I came up with Welshly Arms, So Long, Albatross, and We The People, those people I trusted kind of all gasped and just said ‘yes.’ All three bands have their own style, but all of them work well together. They have elements that tie together, as well as bringing something different.
I’ve watched Welshly Arms pack the Beachland Tavern shoulder to shoulder, without a whole lot of promotion. They’re ridiculously talented and all around a great show. Sam knows what he’s doing, and I had to make sure to get them involved with WJCU before they got too big for us to just call out of the blue.
So Long, Albatross is another band that can fill a room. As someone who pays attention mostly to the local scene, when they are on a bill, I see a buzz. Their stage show is high energy and just a blast to see.
We The People bring the party. They’ve been around the shortest of the 3 acts, and are hungry to grow. They are a mix of young talent and grizzled veterans that are out to have a fun time, and I expect them to set the bar high to start the show.
What are some of your personal favorite performances from previous Blizzard Bash events?
I have one story that I will NEVER forget. There are others, but this one is the best. The first year that I was responsible for helping book the event, we were at Brother’s Lounge and The Jack Fords were headlining. Bobby Latina is a force to be reckoned with on guitar. Well, he caught the eye of this little old lady that had come for the show. She was dancing in front of the stage all night, right in front of Bobby. Of course this led to Bobby playing to the crowd, and eventually, the lady threw a scarf over Bobby, trying to pull him closer (all while still playing). It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen at a show. And The Fords just tore up the stage that night. Just before going on, I told them that they had an hour to play, and they had prepared a 75 minute set. I’m pretty sure they only cut one song from the set. High energy isn’t the right word for what was witnessed that night.
In addition to working on this event, you also host NEORocks. Tell us a little about the show.
NEORocks is a show dedicated to local music, new and old, from Northeast Ohio. Of course, there are many plays on the name you can go with- N.E.O. Northeast Ohio, or NEO, new. They both work, and that was the idea when the show started, five and a half years ago. Originally, the show was supposed to be a summer filler show, while Peter Niro, who hosted The Undiscovered (WJCU’s old locals show), was on vacation globe trotting. By the end of the summer, Pete decided to retire his show, and we kept going.
I knew nothing about the local scene when starting the show. For the first 3 months, every moment I had, I spent on Myspace (yeah, the show is that old) searching for music. It was and still is my goal to play as many local artists as I possibly can. Now, I barely pay any attention to the national scene, and when someone asks me about some new national act, my response is typically, “Who?”
What are some of your favorite local and national bands?
I hate these kind of questions. There are so many that I always feel like I’m leaving people out. There’s Brent Kirby and his mile long list of groups, Rob Duskey, Jason Meyers, Tophat Black, Winslow, Tropidelic, Red Sun Rising, Rosella (RIP), Audiblethread (RIP). I stick out like a sore thumb at 99% of the shows I go to. But you’ll find me at just about any genre of music in Cleveland.
Nationally? Mumford is one that I will never change the dial if it comes on the radio. Capital Cities, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Eminem, Evanescence, Metalica, 80s, bad 90s pop (yes, the boy band era and Britney. I was a young teenager), all the way back to Big Band and Jazz.
What’s the best local concert you’ve ever been to? Best national?
The Eagles are amazing live. I saw them at the Gund, for their first ‘farwell’ tour. I’ll never forget that show. It was a blast.
After that, Robert Randolph and the Family Band played at HOB just after Michael Jackson’s death. Winslow opened the show. Everybody at the venue was there for Robert. After Winslow’s first song, all the people that were going to ignore the “local opener” were in the pit, hooked. It was the greatest moment I’ve experienced at a show- the seemingly uninterested audience all of a sudden right there. Of course later that night, Robert ripped off a 75 minute set that felt much shorter, because there is NO downtime in his shows. I think he maybe played 4-5 actual songs on the night, but jammed them all together and wove them in a way that just worked. Oh yeah, and the tributes he did to Michael were not so shabby either.
What’s one of the weirdest things that’s ever happened on the air.
To protect the guilty, I think I’m going to plead the 5th.