Debra Kate Schafer

The Rock & Royal Treatment – AQ Goes to Cleveland for the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

What does one get when throwing together last minute airline tickets, a plethora of red roses, the 30th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind, the movie 8 Mile, and the soundtrack to Broadway’s hit musical Beautiful?

Just the beginning of The Aquarian‘s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2021 induction experience.

Whether or not you’re a fan of or interested in the concept of ‘royalty’ or the ‘royal family,’ someone having the title of ‘King’ or ‘Princess’ being bestowed upon them is still eye-catching and noteworthy. The same goes for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A handful of musicians and music lovers alike have questioned the validity of the Hall for decades, but. nevertheless, the title of being a ‘Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted’ artist or band is, and always will be, pretty damn cool.

Having your work recognized in any sort of prestigious setting is rewarding to some extent, so have that happen in a way that puts you in association with the likes of The Beatles, Dick Clark, Stevie Nicks (both in and out of Fleetwood Mac), David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, and The Aquarian Weekly? One cannot be totally unhappy about that.

(Yes, we are, in fact, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted publication. In 2012, a then 43-year-old Aquarian was accepted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives due to our dedication to music and entertainment reporting on both a local and national scale. Therefore, we are on the same level of prestige as Aretha Franklin and have had the same kind of impact on pop culture as David Bowie… sort of.)

This year, our current Managing Editor was in attendance for the Class of 2021 induction, celebrating the new group of honored artists, representing AQ, and spreading the knowledge that after 52 years in business, we are, as fellow inductee Elton John likes to stay, “still standing.” The induction was held at the Rocket Mortgage Arena, just a few blocks from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame museum itself, in Downtown Cleveland.

Don’t get us wrong, we adore our native New York City, but Cleveland was bursting at the seams when we touched down in the Lake Eerie-lined Ohio hub. Anticipation and excitement crowded the crisp fall air, leaving little room for tourists and locals alike to complain about the impending rain that would assuminingly put a literal and figurative damper on the weekend’s happenings – and there were quite a few, so thankfully the overcast weather ended up being minimal.

On top of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, the museum itself had week of activities lined-up, including live music, book signings (Hi, Go-Gos!), local eats, presentations, unveilings, and much more. Cleveland’s cherished home football team, the Browns, were facing their lifelong rivals, Pittsburgh’s revered Steelers, on their own turf. Local legend and well-known headline-maker Machine Gun Kelly was holding a private gallery in his downtown coffee shop in partnership with SPIN Magazine and two non-profits to raise awareness for mental health and addiction recovery. (The gallery is now open for the public, including iconic SPIN covers such as Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse – artists who passed away at 27, which ties directly into the name of the restaurant: The 27 Club.)

Photo by Debra Kate Schafer

Not only that, but Foo Fighters were holding a semi-secret and very much sold-out club show to lead up to their Class of 2021 induction right in the heart of downtown just two days before the official ceremony. Oh, and none other than multi-faceted writer and acclaimed personality Bevy Smith hosted the red carpet leading up to the Rock Hall induction, which added just another level of liveliness to the already stacked few days.

We should mention it was also Halloweekend. (Halloween weekend, if you couldn’t tell.)

Clearly the addition of celebs being in town, media personnel (That’s us!), tourists, football fans, activists, coffee drinkers, music lovers, and costumed folk only amped up the energy that filled every crack and crevice of the beautiful Ohio architecture. However, we are not ones to complain! If there was ever a time to be visiting The Land, it was now. Where else would we be handed free long-stemmed red roses, stopped on the street by local newscasters to be interviewed for TV, and invited into the House of Blues to see none other than the Foo Fighters tearing up the stage for no more than 500 people – within only the first few hours of touching down in Cleveland?

Sure, maybe The Aquarian had R&RHOF inductee luck their side, but that is still quite the impressive way to start a weekend-long business trip. The real story here is (of course) the induction itself, which airs in just a handful of days on both HBO and HBOMax. How the producers of the event are going to cut down a four plus hour ceremony without taking away the true magic that filled the room is a mystery for now, but the following are our Top 10 favorite moments from the induction itself, as well as the special memories that came with it, many of which we hope are available to be seen by masses. Why? Because face it, having the title of Hall of Famer for anything is pretty damn close to the act of being knighted when it comes to Western pop culture.

1) First things first – Taylor Swift opened the induction, singing a Carole King song to not just the audience, but King herself who was there for her second acceptance into the Hall of Fame. Taylor Swift may be everywhere you look this week with the release of Red (Taylor’s Version), her “All Too Well” short film, and Saturday Night Live appearance all occurring at once, but King has been shaping culture in the same way for decades longer. The pair are a match made in singer-songwriter heaven, so the performance, induction speech by Swift, and acceptance from King left many in tears. It was an induction opening that oozed with girl power, big vocals, empathy, feminism, emotion, and truth, which set the tone for the night (even more so after a marvelous performance from King and special guest Jennifer Hudson). Every minute of Carole King’s induction segment was poignant, gorgeous, and inspiring; much like the three superstars that took the stage during it.

2) LL Cool J. Say what you want about hip-hop artists and non-traditional rockstars being admitted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but nobody put it better than LL Cool J’s own acceptance speech and Dr. Dre’s introduction of him. This segment opened up a conversation that is not new, but is finally getting the light it deserves. This apropos discussion from both acclaimed artists on the Rocket Mortgage stage explained wholeheartedly why people like them and musicians in the same vein of them deserve their place in the Hall. Rock and roll’s origins have always been, and always will be, in blues and soul of the 1950s and earlier. The vat majority of those genres, especially at that time, were of African American descent. It is the Black community and their progressive approach to and slick style of art that shaped the rockstars many look to as the forefathers of the genre: Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, The Beatles. (The white latter two are known for citing the work of BIPOC as inspirations and sources of influence.) Those blues, R&B, soul, and even jazz artists that opened up a platform for music to be more experimental, challenging, and simply entertaining are the ones who put the “roll” in “rock and roll.” LL Cool J was a genre-bender from day one, a friend to all sights and sounds in pop culture, a homegrown artist just like everyone else (“This is for you, mom,” he closed his set with.) and a determined songwriter decade after decade. LL Cool J, alongside fellow rapper and 2021 inductee Jay-Z, as well as guest performers Eminem and Jennifer Lopez, effortlessly put the roll in this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction. No questions asked.

3) Where would the world be today without Drew Barrymore? The actress, mogul, designer, mother, talk show host, and global icon inducted The Go-Gos – a band of equally as many talents and just as strong of a fanbase. Who is leading that fanbase for the ‘most successful female band of all time’? None other than Barrymore herself, whose many minutes long speech for the punk rock band featured throwback photos to the 1980s, laughter, album cover reenactments, more laughter, and a genuine feeling of love. The E.T. and Charlie’s Angels actress couldn’t have been a better person chosen to induct the “Our Lips Are Sealed” singers, of whom were the most spot-on and fun-loving performers of the night. It might be a bit too cliché, but the pop rock five-piece truly haven’t missed a “beat,” even with their well-documented ups and downs.

4) Jay-Z’s segment of the show was stellar, including the speech given by friend and comedian Dave Chapelle, but what probably wasn’t picked up by the microphones and camera crew were the fans and audience members bummed out about the lack of Beyoncé. If you wanted a glimpse of Queen B at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, you had to settle like the rest of us for a pre-recorded package that featured her among many, many other friends and family of one Jay-Z. As the wife, but also megastar, mother to four, and idol to many, Beyoncé’s absence was felt. (It didn’t quite steal the show from the inductee himself, though, whose contributions as a producer, label exec, and more are hefty.)

5) Christina Aguilera covering Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” Vocally and theatrically, that should speak for itself. This performance followed up one by Mickey Guyton and another by Keith Urban and H.E.R…. a showstopping set of acts perfectly up to par with the sadly not-present showstopper that is Tina Turner. (Pandemics are awful for many reasons, and we’re learning that firsthand, but Tina Turner missing her own induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because she lives miles and miles away in Switzerland? Just a little heartbreaking, if we are being honest.)

6) “Lionel Richie needs to host more events,” was a real sentence spoken by me mid-way through the night. While there was some slight bias to that statement as a fan of the “Hello” singer, his fatherly cadence, experience-based wisdom, and genuine love for being in front of a crowd has given him much more than a knack for textured storytelling. Richie’s warmth and whimsy played a vital hand in how he inducted the foul-mouthed liaison, music mogul, and friend to the stars, Mr. Clarence Avant. The almost 91-year-old entrepreneur was, and is, a character. Watching him tear-up at the podium to give his acceptance speech for the Ahmet Ertegun Award, seeing Richie hand him his handkerchief, and then proceed to crack himself and the audience up is a rollercoaster of emotions that make you question whether or not you want to have Lionel Richie as your charming wingman or Clarence Avant as your fearless grandfather. The air in the room shifted at this point, turning the excitement of fun-loving musicality and celebration into one of diligence, utmost respect, and unadulterated confidence.

7) The only artist in the Performer Category of this year’s induction who personally chose to not be present was Todd Rundgren. Still, the innovative talent was inducted by Patti Smith with an in-depth and educational video on the satire, skill, solitude, and strengths of one underrated musician and notorious Rock Hall disapprover.

8) Known as The Cute One in The Beatles, Paul McCartney trotting onto the massive Cleveland stage had just about every single person within a mile radius swooning. Talking about impactful and influential, Sir Paul simply needs to glance over to his left-handed bass to spark change in the course of music history and inspire yet another generation of rockstars. Although he was only making a speech to induct an actual Class of 2021 band in (Imagine if Macca was only getting into the R&RHOF now? That would be some controversy!), he shook everyone in the arena to their core. To be in the presence of a Beatle is an experience not everyone gets, let alone while also sitting in the same room as stars ranging from Carole King to Angela Basset (who inducted Tina Turner). McCartney comes out and the room erupts in hollers, cheers, and tears – yet all he did was speak for no more than four minutes about the correlations between Nirvana turning into Foo Fighters for Dave Grohl and The Beatles turning into Wings for himself. You have to see it, and hear it, to believe it, because the connection is there and Sir Paul knows how to explain it – while in turn celebrating his own history in the industry and his ‘ol pal Dave Grohl’s.

9) Few artists are as ingrained in rock and roll culture and music history as Dave Grohl. With not one, but two genuinely legendary bands to his name, you’d think that would enough, but just being described as legendary isn’t enough. Grohl now has the title of being a two-time inductee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because of his impressive work in both Nirvana and Foo Fighters. While the Kurt Cobain-fronted outfit was only around for about five years and truly notable for three, the Foos are heading into their 27th year as one of the most beloved and revered modern rock bands of all time. Grohl isn’t the sole reason for that, but his presence, talent, and dedication run through the core of the group that he started wholly on his own in the mid-nineties. (Red carpet host Smith and our Managing Editor bonded before the induction kicked off over their mutual love for the band and their agreement that nobody is more lovable at this year’s ceremony – or in the modern rock world as a whole – than Grohl.) With him at the helm and the tightest, wildest band flanked to his right and left, Foo Fighters showed just why they are impactful to this day. They are grateful for each other, as seen in each of their speeches, and they are grateful for the music community, as seen in their camaraderie with just about every person they interact with. Taylor Hawkins, the tone-setting drummer and equally as comedic BFF of Grohl, made sure to thank said community in his very own speech. His referenced his friends, peers, idols, and admirers that are just as deserving to be on that stage and in the Hall alongside his band and the 300+ already inducted – campaigning specifically for Soundgarden and George Michael’s nomination and inclusion. We agree – where can we sign the petition to get these legends in?

10) The return of the infamous Rock & Roll Hall of Fame All-Star Jam Session! Over the years inductees, speakers, guests, and more have taken the stage all at once to close out the long night of talking, singing, praising, and applauding. One of the most thrilling moments of the induction year-after-year is slowly, but surely coming back to the annual event after a small break for 2020, with this year’s being just one long song between two of the night’s biggest, boldest stars. Yes, Sir Paul McCartney and Foo Fighters brought the Class of 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony to a close with a joint take on The Beatles’ “Get Back,” which had more energy and quirks than can be imagined. Dancing, jamming, singing, and loving filled the room – even well after midnight on a cold October evening. This is what those in and around Cleveland were waiting for – this moment was what rounded out the goosebump-raising and toe-tapping excitement of the whole entire weekend.

Photo by Debra Kate Schafer