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InCuya Music Festival: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame pads its ‘experiential’ resume

August 19, 2018

InCuya Music Festival: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame pads its ‘experiential’ resume

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The word “experiential″ rolls off the tongue of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame President and CEO Greg Harris as easily as Chuck Berry slid into a blues riff.

The word, which means to learn by experiencing, has become the mantra for his stewardship since taking over from Terry Stewart in 2012. And it’s why the Rock Hall is doing more than 60 musical events this summer, including partnering with the people behind the inaugural InCuya Music Festival, set for Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 25 and 26, at Malls B and C in downtown Cleveland.

“We have a really first-rate foundation in exhibits,″ Harris said in an interview. “They’re important and always will be.″

Indeed, more and more of the exhibits that have opened under his leadership – from a Paul Simon retrospective, to a Graham Nash display that allowed visitors to try to harmonize with the Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash singer, to the new “Part of the Machine: Rock and Pinball″ interactive exhibit, to the “Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll” that dominates the third floor of the museum – have had that experiential quality.

But he sees live music as the ultimate experiential exhibit, as well as one of the best ways to pull off the museum’s mission statement, “to engage, teach and inspire through the power of rock ‘n’ roll.″

Live music is “a living, breathing art form,″ Harris said, noting that nothing makes it come alive like “having a band onstage cranking it out.″

In researching how best to continue the success the Rock Hall has enjoyed during its 23 years in Cleveland – a time that has seen the museum draw millions of visitors to the city and add more than $2 billion to the economy here – Harris and his team found that customers wanted more than to look at pretty and historic things.

“Hands down, they wanted more experiential activities, and wanted to connect with authentic experiences,″ he said. “There was nothing more important.″

Hence, the increase in live music, including a state-of-the-art outdoor stage on the museum’s plaza, in addition to the indoor stage that fills the entrance.

“Again, we have fantastic exhibits and a great foundation, but everything was pointing toward the way to improve the [museum] experience was more experiential activities, whether it’s the immersive theater on our third floor [or] hearing Jesse Dayton [an Austin-based guitar slinger] on our live stage,″ Harris said.

And that extends to the InCuya Music Festival.

“The leads in the Triple C group [Steve McHale, Doug Hester and Aaron Cornell] approached us,″ Harris said. “We’re frequently approached by people with ideas for music fests. This group was more organized than any other presentation we had seen.

“They had identified some real key things,″ he said. “They’d done their research. They knew it was going to be a multiyear thing, and they wanted a bigger promoter involved as well.″

That “bigger promoter″ turned out to be AEG Presents, the nation’s second-largest concert promoter, and a company that stages at least 30 festivals worldwide each year. That includes the Stagecoach Festival, Coachella and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

“Frequently, people go to a festival and think, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to organize a festival?’ ″ Harris said. “They have that passion and energy, but they don’t understand what it takes.″

Triple C’s history of entrepreneurial undertakings dates back to a company called Explorys, of which McHale was a co-founder. By the time Explorys was acquired by IBM in 2015, six years after spinning off from the Cleveland Clinic, it had grown into one of the largest health-care data sets in the world.

“Explorys made its niche in drawing meaningful conclusions from the mountain of data generated by electronic records,″ said a Plain Dealer story reporting the sale to IBM. “New partners add their records to the data trove, creating a stronger product as the company grows. This insight will help fuel IBM Watson Health Cloud, a new open platform, according to a press release from the company,″ the story said.

With that kind of history, it’s no wonder the Rock Hall elected to get involved in the InCuya Music Festival.

“We’re helping some of the marketing and promotion of it,″ said Harris. “Any festival-goer will be admitted to the museum for free [and] we’re going to book and program some music and things at the museum.″

Harris, who once was a co-owner of a record store in his native Philadelphia, is tapping a bit of his own past to create the future, for both the festival and his museum. Back in the day, bands would do in-store appearances.

“It’s like at the record store,″ he said. “It was always the best day in the world when you have the band playing at the store on the sidewalk out front.″

Or on the grassy areas of Malls B and C.

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