Brace yourself for Cleveland’s biggest music-oriented summer picnic: The APMAs are coming.
Alternative Press magazine’s inaugural Music Awards attracted thousands to the North Coast last July. It could draw tens of thousands this time.
Held in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s backyard at Voinovich Park, last year’s midsummer blowout featured some of today’s hottest young acts (Motionless in White, Fall Out Boy), a few punk and alt-rock pioneers (The Misfits, Billy Corgan), and a handful of bona fide industry legends (Joe Perry, Joan Jett, Slash). Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 did a knockdown job hosting, and ex-WWE wrestler C.M. Punk interviewed luminaries like Ice-T and Miss May I on the Rock Hall’s red carpet.
Up-and-coming bands saluted—and in some cases performed with—their childhood heroes. Statuettes were received and speeches given as dusk fell and the Erie winds kicked up. Music’s most influential players—as voted by AP readers—were honored, as were their fans, who danced the night away.
So overwhelmingly successful was the APMAs that publisher Mike Shea and producer Josh Bernstein were already hashing out preliminary details for a follow-up concert before the first event ended.
They took notes, made improvements, and thought big.
This year’s APMAs—booked for July 22 at Quicken Loans Arena—aligns with the magazine’s 30th anniversary, and will be hosted by All Time Low members Alex Gaskarth and Jack Barakat. Weezer, Panic! at the Disco, Simple Plan, New Found Glory, Halestorm, Echosmith, and Black Veil Brides are already scheduled to appear—with more presenters and performers to be announced.
Like last year—and decidedly unlike the Rock Hall inductions—fans will decide which bands are honored at The Q by casting their votes online (link below). APMA categories include Breakthrough Band, Best Underground Band, Best International Band, Album (and Song) of the Year, Most Dedicated Fans, and Best Music Video.
This year’s feature sponsors are Journeys and Monster Energy Drink.
Shea launched the Cleveland-based punk ‘zine back in high school, and hasn’t looked back since (notwithstanding the AP back issues framed on his office wall).
Bernstein—AP Director of Sales and former marketing director at NewBay Media (Guitar World, Revolver, Keyboard)—got practice planning big events as executive producer of heavy metal’s Golden Gods Award Show. He’s contributed to such periodicals as Maxim, Parade, and The Wall Street Journal, and enjoyed creative partnerships with VH-1, X-Box LIVE, and MTV-2. Berstein’s also the behind AXS TV’s Rock & Roll Roast comedy series.
We spoke with Shea and Bernstein early this month in separate phone interviews to get the low-down on AP’s sequel powwow at The Q. Not all the logistics have been resolved yet, but both men sounded excited to be at the epicenter of what promises to be a boon for AP—and the City of Cleveland.
Our chat with Bernstein appears below; our interview with Shea will follow later.
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: The APMAs were huge last year. What kind of changes can fans expect this time out?
JOSH BERNSTEIN: One of the biggest changes this year, and it won’t affect the fans as much in person, is we’re going to be shooting it live globally. That was an element we didn’t have the ability to do last year. To kind of show fans that this is kind of a global phenomenon, not just an American phenomenon. So that’s exciting. It’s going to look and sound a lot better. Last year we had a show starting in the daylight and ending in the darkness, so we had to adjust as time went on. I think in general is, we’re convincing people to come to something to that didn’t really exist before. So now we’ve got that first time under our belt, and we can get these bands and legends and icons from throughout history, and it should be a little easier now. Because the word is on the streets that this is kind of a cool place to be! So I would say to expect bigger, better names, but also whoever you see announced, that’s only half of what you’re going to see! There will be some surprises. They only announce half the things that are happening, and we’re going to let those performances be surprises onstage. So expect the unexpected!
EXAMINER: That’ll be AXS TV, right?
JOSH BERNSTEIN: Yes, AXS TV. This year they’re returning again, and they’re a wonderful partner. And we’ll be taking that broadcast and sharing it globally. In the US, AXS will have exclusive rights. Globally it’ll be Twitch. So there’s no reason—if you’re a fan—that you can’t watch the show, and do it for free, so that’s a wonderful thing. The things that prevented that from happening last year have been fixed, so it’ll be good!
EXAMINER: Looking back, what are your overall thoughts on the first APMAs?
JOSH BERNSTEIN: Last year was wonderful. Of course I can sit back now and say, “Oh, we planned it that way the entire time!” But it was a lot of work. I’ve worked a lot of heavy metal awards shows before, but you spend months and months in a dark room somewhere, begging people to show up, making calls, going to concerts and hoping you get two minutes of someone’s time backstage in hopes you’ll get them there. But all these things get blurred on that day, when you’re like, “Oh, it’s Joe Perry! Hey, it’s Slash!” So it even caught us by surprise sometime. But really it’s a bunch of email for months and months. And when the reality hits, it’s very cool. I’m a New York guy, so my perception was, “Oh, Chuck Berry will be hanging out at the gift shop” or “Fats Domino is down by catering,” and that there are rock stars there all the time, which isn’t necessarily true. So it was great seeing everyone in Cleveland so excited. When you’re in the Midwest in a great city like that, where people aren’t jaded—like these New York and L.A. people who have their arms folded and have seen it all—it’s great seeing everyone excited like that. It becomes infectious. It made us want to continue, and to keep this thing here—and keep it here for many years!
EXAMINER: One gets the sense that the annual APMAs will become a major attraction in Cleveland. It’ll bring the stars—and major revenue—into the city, much like the Rock Hall inductions or one of our recent Hollywood film productions. It’ll be an all-around plus for everyone involved.
JOSH BERNSTEIN: Well, Cleveland to me is one those towns with great fans. Like when a band hits big, you can say , “I liked them back when they were nobody.” Cleveland has fans like that, and now it’s a city like that, and it’s a cool place to say it’s where you’re starting up a company. It’s become a destination city. It’s a craft beer city. It’s a dining city. And to answer your first question, we’re trying to expand this so it becomes a several-day affair. Now it’s an important thing, like SXSW or CMJ or Comic Con, or these other pop culture events. Why not start our own little club here? Cleveland’s such a wonderful little city. And using the Gay Games as sort of a jumping-off point, you can really activate these venues and business. And we’re a local business, too—an independent local business. You bring up the Rock Hall thing, and it’s hard to make the parallels with who they’re inducting this year. They’re inducting Green Day and Joan Jett, and they’re more “alternative” than, say, The Rolling Stones. And last time it was Nirvana. Not that we need any kind of legitimization, but it’s nice to have our day in the sun! It’s great that these things are happening around the same time. It’s cool that the light is shining on some of that music, and the artists behind it.
EXAMINER: It’s nice that there’s a cross-generational appeal to the APMAs. I’m an older guy now, so I’m not familiar with a lot of the younger bands. It helps to see some of the old guard—like Misfits and Joan Jett and Weezer.
JOSH BERNSTEIN: Last year at the Rock Hall somebody made a great comment, which is that “underground alternative music” is a relative term. The Beatles were alternative to Elvis, and the Stones were alternative to The Beatles. It’s sort of a rite of passage, what happens there. The magazine turns thirty this year. And we’ll be celebrating that at the awards show. For an independent magazine, to survive all the bigger players—outlasted SPIN, outlasted Blender—it’s still out there, and that’s an impressive thing.
EXAMINER: What’s your personal connection to both the magazine, and to the music?
JOSH BERNSTEIN: For me, I came up…I’m the age where I was in the 10th grade or something when Nirvana’s Nevermind came out. So alternative music was my music, and Alternative Press was my magazine growing up. So to get to work with these people is incredible. Last year, being around that stage and seeing Joan Jett and the Misfits and Smashing Pumpkins, wow. Those are my favorite bands! The challenge is bringing on a lot of the legacy artists, and contemporary artists, and getting them to play in the same sandbox together. It’s not as easy as whatever you see onstage. Sometimes that one perfect moment on stage takes months and months of planning and preparing. That’s a challenge. And then there are personal challenges, too, in Mike and I trying to outdo ourselves. The bar has been set by year one, so now it’s year two…what next? So we can’t rest on our laurels, and keep this as interesting and exciting as it can be. Getting these bookings and guests, it’s the best feeling in the world for us!
EXAMINER: Hey, that reminds me—you were one of the key speakers at the heavy metal seminar in Dayton last year, right?
JOSH BERNSTEIN: In Dayton, I was one of the keynote speakers at the university. The professors down there did a wonderful job. It was this great three-day symposium. We talked about the elements of heavy metal, and its effects on culture and religion, society and race, everything. It was an honor to be a final speaker there, a really rewarding experience. I hope we do more of those.
EXAMINER: Lisa Claus did a great job setting that whole thing up, and with keeping things running at the APMAs last year.
JOSH BERNSTEIN: She set that up and brought me into that, and she brought me into the AP awards as well. It was a great experience. I went down there to do that, then I drove up to Cleveland to the Rock Hall the next day, then over to Quicken Loans Arena , and then we were on the ground setting up this year’s show.
EXAMINER: I understand you’re a comic book buff, and that you got your start as a kid interning at Marvel. How’d you pull that off?
JOSH BERNSTEIN: My mom told me to go get a job, so I went to Manhattan and went to the comic publisher and asked for a job! They said, “You can intern here…and take home as many comic books as you can carry!” And I was like, “Ha! You have no idea how many comic books I can carry!” So I was off and running, and I extended the internship even longer than I should have. I worked in every department there. At the time, there was Stan Lee, and all the legends in the business. It was a great experience. It’s funny, because later on in rock and metal, these bands would come up to visit Marvel while they were on their tours. So I met White Zombie and Green Jello and Alice Cooper. All those people would come over to the offices. So yeah, that’s the best job I ever had!
EXAMINER: You were an old-school job hunter. I don’t get the sense that a lot of young people pound the pavement anymore; they just poke around online.
JOSH BERNSTEIN: Yeah, you just want a chance. Nowadays you can Google these things. But back then I spent the whole day walking up and down the street knocking on doors. I don’t think I had a resume. If I was 16, I must have looked 12! So it was nice of them to give me a shot. I think my first paycheck was $112.00. I was like, “I am rich!”
The 2nd annual APMAs (feat. Weezer, Panic! At the Disco, Halestorm, Sum 41, All Time Low, Echosmith, and more). Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Tickets, $59.99-$199.99, are on sale now at the links below.