On the first day of the three-day Heights Music Hop Festival, Madeline Finn performed poetic songs at Mac’s Backs-Books. Mac’s Backs, a three-story Coventry institution since 1984, feels more like a living room than a concert venue with wood panels and pictures of Cleveland literary legends covering the walls.
Finn’s stripped-down Americana tracks and witty banter fit the intimate venue perfectly. Finn imbued the hour with the relaxed vibe of a talented guitarist playing her songs at a house party.
“A good song transports you, and that’s what I try to do,” said Finn.
Finn is a native of Cleveland Heights but spends much of her time in Nashville working on her craft. Her main writing partner, fellow Clevelander Jason White, wrote for country stars Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw. She said that the Nashville spirit shined through in the songs she wrote in the country music capital, with an upbeat tone and commercial polish, compared to some of her other pieces.
“In Nashville there’s a certain way things are done. It’s a formula,” said Finn. “[When] working with a producer, you have to be open to them changing things up.”
“It’s very difficult ‘cause you fall in love with your songs they way they are,” she added.
Finn’s performance was just one of the more than 70 performances at Coventry, Cedar-Fairmount and Cedar-Lee venues during the three day festival.
Another artist that performed during the festival was AJ and the Woods, who played a set of classic roots rock. The four-piece band brought great energy, and their covers showed an array of influences, from the classic Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues” to an unexpected version of the Bob Marley classic “Three Little Birds.”
In addition to the traditional musical performances, there was a group of teenage spoken word performers from Lake Erie Ink, a nonprofit headquartered in the Coventry School. The subject matter of the performances varied from issues facing our current culture such as racism and sexism in a piece titled “White Guilt” to appreciation for our bodies in another piece titled “Open Thank-You Letter to My Feet.”
New Genesis, a brother-sister duo and one of the featured performers of Lake Erie Ink, brought a political angle to the evening with “S.O.S.,” a Hip-Hop/spoken word interpretation of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in September 2017. The modern trap-inspired instrumental is meant to make the song’s strong message more relatable to young people and inspire them to mobilize.
“This is something that we felt we had to do as Puerto Ricans,” the duo said via online message. “Even though we don’t live on the island we have an obligation to our people who are still there.”
The brother-sister duo opened their performance with impactful audio recordings of news reporters discussing the devastation after the hurricane struck the island. They kept their heads down and stood silently to demonstrate their sadness and respect. The duo further amplified the devastation by using audio of news reports multiple times throughout their performance.
“It’s so disgusting seeing the nonexistent governmental response to the natural disaster and how people are willingly turning a blind eye because they think we’re not American,” said New Genesis.
“No matter who gets angry or feels offended by our words, we had to say something and show that we are still living, breathing people who need as much help as possible.”
Madeline Finn Quotes:
“She’s from Cleveland heights”
“I’m there (Nashville) a couple weeks out of every month I write and record with a songwriter (Jason White) from cleveland. He wrote for Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw”
“In nashville there’s a certain way things are done its a formula working with a producer you have to be open to them changing things up. This is my first experience with a producer who isn’t me so I’m letting go and just being like “ok I’m going to let it happen”
It’s very difficult cause you fall in love with your songs they way they are. And then they’re like what if we did all of these things different and your like “ok its fine” but it’s part of the process.
“I try to be ambiguous and poetic with my music”
“Calm and cozy” theme of the bookstore as described by Madeline in between performances
Being in NYC made her value the Cleveland music scene a lot more; she mentions the $20 minimums when arriving at a location to watch a performance; the Cleveland music scene is unique and creates a special community
Lake Erie was another performance featured in the Hop
16-19 year olds performing spoken word poetry; feature of Hip Hop poetry with the subject matter of Hurricane Maria and its effects on the people of Puerto Rico; the performers used clips of news audio to introduce the song and placed other audio like this throughout the performance, amplifying the devastation felt by those affected
Other performances included “Open Thank-You Letter to My Feet” and “White Guilt”