One of my favorite things about the Happy Dog is that you can experiment with the menu and always come away with a different experience. Sure, there are days I like sticking with my usual black truffle honey mustard, sliced gouda cheese and garlicky escarole, but lately I’ve been working through the toppings list in an attempt to branch out. From experimenting with baby bok choy coca cola stir fry, marcella’s grape jelly and chile sauce, saffron aioli, or french brie, I’ve discovered a new slate of favorites.
Likewise the Happy Dog – known for its typical mix of indie rock, country and polka shows – has been finding local and national success by experimenting with its musical offerings. A lot of places don’t like to mess with a formula that works, and the results of Cleveland Scene’s recent poll (best neighborhood bar and best place for new music among many other accolades) have proven the Happy Dog definitely knows what they’re doing.
However, not to rest on their laurels, Sean Watterson and the rest of the Happy Dog team continue to find unique ways to reach different audiences – the Orchestral Manouvres at the Dog is yet another example of this.
This past June, the Happy Dog partnered with the Cleveland Orchestra’s principal flutist Joshua Smith to bring classical chamber music to a local bar. With the success of the first installment, members from the Orchestra returned last Wednesday to play another no-cover, three-set show.
Last week’s show featured Smith along with assistant principal cellist Charles Bernard, principal oboist Frank Rosenwein, associate concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee, violist Joanna Pattersonand, and Christina Dahl, an associate professor of piano at New York’s Stony Brook University. This was the first time Orchestral Manouvres had a pianist accompany the other musicians and they had to move a baby grand into the bar so that Dahl could play.
The outcome of this experiment was not your typical night out at the orchestra. While Severance Hall provides a beautiful place for reflecting on and paying reverence to the music, the concert at the Happy Dog was about experiencing the music up close and in your face. It was more of a rock show where the crowd’s raised lighters and cheering became as much a part of the entertainment as the performers themselves.
And while you may not have been able to hear all of the nuances of the pieces, the music intermingled with the sounds of a raucous bar to create a cacophony that was different than what you would hear in a traditional setting, but just as melodious. The concert also continued the trend of bridging contrasting perspectives together – uniting a bustling bar with the quiet awe of classical, and connecting residents of the east and west sides in a way they may not usually interact.
Similar to events like IngenuityFest, SparxCityHop and Fridays at 7, Orchestral Manouvres at the Dog is another way that local organizations are trying to encourage the community to get out there and experiment with what Cleveland offers. And by designing unique events that are free or discounted, they’re trying to build a level of engagement across all types of audiences. If Wednesday’s at-capacity Happy Dog or the NYTimes coverage of the event was any indication, it’s definitely working.
As a side note — although the musicians were the main draw last Wednesday, I earned a new level of respect for the Happy Dog staff. I’ve been there before when it’s packed; however, nothing compared to Wednesday’s crowd once 8 o’clock rolled around. While it was impossible for latecomers to get a seat and everyone was sharing tables and standing room, you could still get food and drinks. The bartenders were quick and accurate in their orders and even though I would’ve cut them slack for getting something wrong, I personally ran into no issues. A commendable feat for sure – and definitely important if you’re going to continue bringing in the crowd like the Happy Dog has been.