InCuya music fest ready to rock the Malls downtown

From Beyonce to David Byrne, it’s been an impressive summer for concerts in Cleveland. As the season approaches its end, denizens of The Land will be treated to one last hurrah: the inaugural InCuya Music Festival, the first contemporary, multi-day music fest to be held within city limits in quite some time.

“We’re hoping to make it the late summer party that everyone wants to go to,” says Sunny Nixon of the recently-formed investment group Cleveland Concert Company. A prominent Cleveland attorney and self-described “devoted evangelist of the city,” Nixon serves as chair of the organization founded by Doug Hester, Steve McHale, and Aaron Cornell (who is also her husband).

Together, they liaised with a surprising array of organizations—including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, AEG Presents (which recently bought and renovated The Agora), and the City of Cleveland itself—to make InCuya a reality.

A diverse production team has made for a truly diverse musical lineup: 80s Brit rock group New Order shares marquee space with living legend Booker T. Jones, and recent R&B sensation SZA will cede the stage to folk-rock darlings The Avett Brothers. And there’s still space for local-boys-made-good The Modern Electric on the bill.

“We recognize that Cleveland is a diverse city,” says Nixon. “We want this to be a very inclusive event for many age groups and walks of life.” She imagines the fest as “something a college student might bring their mom or dad to and party together.”

Nixon, an avid and knowledgeable music lover, is particularly proud of the festival’s emphasis on female artists like female-led funk group Tank and the Bangas. “We’re hoping people will discover new artists,” she says. In her ideal vision, InCuya will become for music what the Cleveland International Film Festival is for movies: a way for attendees to experience artists they may never have otherwise found.

So why a music festival in Cleveland now? The one-two punch of the Cavs 2016 championship and the Republican National Convention did a lot to “show people we could host a large-scale event,” says Nixon. “The renovations of Public Square and the Malls opened up a lot of opportunities.”

To that end, the Malls downtown will play host for InCuya, and Nixon thinks it will make for a tremendous performance space: “You’ve got the skyline, sweeping views of the lake, the Rock Hall.”

In true Cleveland fashion, good food and beer are an integral part of the festival as well. Platform Beer Co. has brewed a special pilsner in honor of InCuya, and chef Jonathon Sawyer (whom Nixon describes as “a little punk rock”), alongside other acclaimed local chefs, will be providing food for hungry concertgoers.

Some have said that given the landscape of already established Ohio music festivals—Bunbury in Cincinnati and Rock on the Range in Columbus being the most prominent examples—that it’s too late for Cleveland to get in on the game. Nixon is unfazed.

“I think that as a city, we’re shaking off that defeatist attitude,” she says. “We’re never going to try and be what Bunbury is… [but] I think there’s enough room to party.” What InCuya will be instead, she says, is “uniquely Cleveland.”

“The energy is here,” she says. “In my mind, it’s ours for the taking.”

Billy Hallal
Billy Hallal

About the Author: Billy Hallal

Billy Hallal works as a freelance writer and an adult literacy advocate at Seeds of Literacy. You can find his writing on Northeast Ohio dining and culture at Thrillist and Cleveland Scene.