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November 7, 2013

Farewell to tradition

By Travis Raymond

Peabody’s Concert Club closed its doors for the last time early Oct. 30 to end a decade long reign on Cleveland State University’s campus and over three decades of music in the city.

Cleveland State’s purchase of the Rascal House property, where Peabody’s leased its space, brought the party to an end.  Demolition of Rascal House and Peabody’s is scheduled to begin by mid November in order to make way for a new medical building, the Center for Innovation and Health Professions.

The Peabody’s legacy began in Cleveland Heights in 1977, and then moved to the Flats into what was the old Pirate’s Cove, rechristened Peabody’s Downunder in 1984.  New owners brought the club to Cleveland State’s campus in 2001 and eventually changed its name to Peabody’s Concert Club.

In the flats, Peabody’s was known for having hosted popular bands before they became major acts like Jane’s Addiction and Pearl Jam.  Its raucous shows down on Old River Road were the stuff of legend in the 80s and 90s.  At 2045 East 21st Street, Peabody’s was known for booking some of the hottest tickets throughout the heavy metal spectrum like Gojira, Amon Amarth, Suicide Silence, Deicide, and Cannibal Corpse.  And the shows stayed just as raucous – the club’s move soon drew controversy and noise complaints from Viking Hall which housed students next door.

The venue hosted many other genres of music as well, and a variety of musical artists used the club to film music videos, including Transit, D12, and Potluck.

Dark and huddled in comparison to the Wolstein Center just across Prospect Avenue, Peabody’s was nestled behind Rascal House Pizza.  In through the front entrance, a concert-goer would twist around the feature act’s merchandise table before making it into the venue’s first room: the main bar.  Beyond the bar was the main room and stage.  Steel I-beams stretched down from the high ceiling – two of them framed the stage, but there was no barricade to separate the crowd from the band. 

A hallway to the left led to the restrooms and the Pirate’s Cove, another stage and bar.  The restrooms were often a disaster and a swamp due to the old plumbing.  They would back up when the weather was bad and make the place reek.  Upstairs, The Rockstar Room, another bar and stage. 

Most surfaces were painted black save for some of the bare brick walls.  The floor was a dirty gray.  It was also usually dirty.  The place was dark, small and the polar opposite of pretentious.

“We don’t necessarily have the fanciest facilities in the world but we have a good vibe for the concert experience,” said Chris Zitterbart, the club’s owner since 2005.  “It’s very intimate and personal – just a really good blue-collar rock and roll club that fits the personality of Cleveland.”

Zitterbart, like many of the club’s patrons, considered the venue’s intimacy to be its most endearing feature.  He says it made all the difference.

“We’re known as the home away from home for a lot of touring bands,” Zitterbart said.  “When people walk through the door it’s almost like a mini homecoming.”

With instructions to vacate the premises by midnight Oct. 31, Zitterbart scheduled a series of farewell shows featuring a wide variety of Peabody’s favorites including KMFDM, The Black Dahlia Murder and Skeletonwitch.  Zitterbart simultaneously undertook an exhaustive search to find a new venue for Peabody’s but ultimately decided to end the club’s 30 year run with the close of the campus district location.  Zitterbart will take a number of his staff and begin booking and managing shows at Cleveland’s historic Agora Theater.

At The Black Dahlia Murder’s final performance at the club Oct. 24, guitarist Brian Eschbach expressed gratitude to Peabody’s and to the crowd.

“We’re having a good time but it is kind of bittersweet,” Eschbach said.  “We’ve been coming here ever since we hit the road 10 years ago – this place is great and you guys are a big part of that.”

Headlined by Dying Fetus, the final concert at Peabody’s was Oct. 29.  Over a decade of live music within that darkened room came to an end as the death metal trio from Maryland closed the night with “In the Trenches.”

The set over, drummer Trey Williams pushed sweatily out into the crowd.  Tall boys and shots were toasted in the bar and a slow clap and chants of Peabody’s reverberated throughout the club.  Then fans began to wreck the place.  Someone ran screaming out the front door with a piece of the wall.  Bricks and pieces of the walls and toilets became souvenirs.  A crowd took turns hanging from the ceiling fans over the bar but failed to get them down before security stepped in.

“I think it has been a really good run,” Zitterbart said.  “I certainly wish I could have stayed here for a few more years but it just wasn’t an option.”

Many of the club’s patrons were disappointed by the forced closing, including Ben Chambers.  A senior at Cleveland State, Chambers performed at Peabody’s with multiple bands growing up.

“I saw my first show and played my first show in Peabody’s,” Chambers said.  “The Agora is great, but for a long time when you said heavy metal in Cleveland, you were talking about Peabody’s – now it’s gone and that sucks.”