So, with the end of each calendar year follows the inevitable afterbirth of “Best Of…” lists that populate social media and magazines well into the new year. These remembrances remind us of what was good, what was bad, and what was downright ugly. I like to concentrate on the positive energy so no “Worst of 2016” assassinations will escape from this dojo.

I saw 78 different acts in 2016; it appears that this December is a slow month for concerts. I only have three coming up in the next thirty days so I’ll look back over the last eleven months and give you a listing of what shows I thought stood out to me, a grizzled concert-goer who loves to hear any genre of music.

10.) Prophets of Rage RNC “Pop Up” Concert

This little get together, timed for the start of the Republican National Convention, was thrown together in a vacant lot on East 54th Street off of Superior Avenue. Tom Morello, Chuck D., and B. Real headlined a show meant to fight the power…both Republican and Democrat alike. The music was raw. The energy palpable. And the crowd angry at the lack of justice being served to the Too-Big-To-Fail Banks, the lawlessness of today’s political parties, and the racial inequities being displayed all over this country. During a week that showed off Cleveland to the world, it was a bit of honesty in a spin-controlled environment.

9.) Tears for Fears (Hard Rock Live)

Originally scheduled for June and then postponed until September due to “family issues,” this gig was worth the extra wait. Seeing co-frontmen Roland Orzibal and Curt Smith break out into the hits that helped to define the mid-‘80s pop scene was a damn good time. Their voices haven’t aged; I’d say they sound just as good now as they did when “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” first broke in 1985.

8.) Lyle Lovett (Hard Rock Live)

Lovett’s voice, demeanor, and wit all make for a fantastic show. Add a local gospel choir to the mix and you’ve got one amazing night of entertainment. If you’ve never seen him live, make sure to catch him the next time he comes to the 216.

7.) Tom Jones (Hard Rock Live)

For a man well into his seventies, he puts on a hell of a show. Most singers his age have retired or lost their voice due to, well, being old. Not Jones; he’s a powerhouse of a vocalist. Most of the crowd there grew up (and, yes, old) to his music; you really haven’t experienced a concert until you see a septuagenarian toss her granny panties at the stage.

6.) The “Rock Hall Three For All” Tour (First Niagara Pavilion)

It’s sad that the tour dubbed “Rock Hall Three For All” couldn’t even hit the town where these artists were recently enshrined. I had to sojourn to Pittsburgh to catch 2015 inductee Joan Jett, Heart, and this year’s newest inductee Cheap Trick. A greatest hits show, for certain, saw each band play about eight of their best songs. The highlight of the night had to be Heart’s rendition of Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” That moment alone was worth the two-hour drive to the Steel City.

5.) Tommy Lipuma’s 80th Birthday Bash

Cleveland-born and bred (and former barber) mega-producer Tommy Lipuma celebrated his 80th birthday with a few of his closest friends and a theater chock-full of concert-going strangers. Four of Lipuma’s associates: Diana Krall, Al Jarreau, Dr. John, and the late Leon Russell paid tribute to Lipuma in song and word. The whole evening was capped with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” being sung to the guest of honor as a massive birthday cake was cut on the stage.



4.) Dolly Parton (Hard Rock Live)

What a performer! Dolly Parton graced the stage at the Rocksino with a show full of grace, warmth and a voice that rises to the heavens. She played all her hits and told anecdotes about being raised dirt poor in the Smoky Mountains. It was truly a pleasure to see this consummate performer doing what she does best.

3.) Paul McCartney (Quicken Loans Arena)

It’s MACCA; need I say more? 33 songs, three hours and a former Beatle. Heaven.

2.) Tie:

Chris Botti (Hard Rock Live)

LaureLive Festival (Laurel School Athletic Campus)

I love jazz. I love the jazz trumpet even more. Miles Davis. Chet Baker. Wynton Marsalis. Dizzy Gillespie. Louie Armstrong. Chris Botti channels all of them and adds his own steam. This was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. His mastery of the trumpet is a master class in what music is to the soul.

LaureLive’s first attempt at a music festival was a smash. Bringing in artists that cater to the tastes of the young women who attend that school was brilliant. Outside of the Tri-C Jazz Fest, it’s Northeast Ohio’s only music festival. The inaugural edition of the fest took two days in June and showcased such talent as Elle King, OAR, Grace Potter and Michael Franti & Spearhead. Several side stages offered up local, homegrown talent like Diana Chittester. We’ll see a second edition of the fest this summer; look for an announcement of the 2017 lineup within the next few weeks.

1.) Kathy Mattea (Tangier)

Take away the glitter. Remove the lighting package. When an artist can stand on a stage and play her guitar, sans any ancillary spectacle, then you have something so pure, exquisite and rare that it has to be the best show of the year. Mattea and her accompanist Bill Cooley lit up the sparse room at Akron’s Tangier with a concert that I would rate as absolute perfection.

Copping to losing her voice several years ago, Mattea thought she may be at the end of the road. She hired a vocal coach and started to fine-tune her voice. Listening to her sing about a dozen songs proved that she made the right choice; she’s never sounded better.

Stacked against big name acts like AC/DC, KISS, Alice Cooper, Styx, etc., and all the pomp and circumstance that they brought to the stage it was a hard decision to narrow down the “best” of 2016. But hearing Mattea’s golden voice made it easy: in an era of spectacle and sensory overload, this little show in October really reinforced what music is all about.