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Over the past few years the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day festival, which this year takes place all-day today at the Cleveland institution, has become the venue’s largest-attended event averaging between 8,000 and 10,000 people coming through its doors.

“The only thing that compares is the Rock Hall inductions, where you have everyone here and the house is jumping and the energy in the room is high and everyone is grooving to the music,” said Todd Mesek, Rock Hall marketing and communications vice president. “Martin Luther King Jr. Day is definitely high-energy. The excitement in the building is unlike anything else.

“Maybe a lot of people don’t see the connection between rock ‘n’ roll and a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, but we’re saying that this is a man who was a pioneer in challenging the status quo, standing up for people who otherwise might not have been heard and calling attention to injustice. So that is squarely in the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. So this is an opportunity for us to do some programming to talk about the broader footprint of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not just drums and guitars. It’s blues, hip-hop, folk, country, gospel. All the sounds that came before rock ‘n’ roll and came from it are in our purview.”

This year’s is the ninth annual festival, which features an array of musical talent from noon to 4 p.m. with local outfits the Green Sisters and the Adult Ensemble of the Antioch Baptist Church performing alongside gospel legend headlining act The Mighty Clouds of Joy.

The latter outfit, which is considered the forefathers of modern Gospel, R&B, rock and pop, has been together nearly 50 years and boasts 39 albums with three Grammy Awards to its credit.

“They are the really preeminent gospel group and some say the founding fathers of gospel,” Mesek said.

“Not only in terms of their showmanship but the fact they took a traditional quartet, they added some funk into it and brought in some bass and keyboards and kind of made gospel a little bit more mainstream. That wasn’t an easy thing for them to do. I’m sure a lot of purists were saying that’s not gospel, but they went into the disco era, they played with The (Rolling) Stones and Paul Simon and they kind of brought gospel to the attention of large audiences.”

Considering the tough economic times, the fact the festival attracts such a significant crowd seems like a perfect opportunity for the Rock Hall to make a financial gain and charge admission.

“Well, there’s a place for that,” Mesek said. “We bring in $100 million in economic impact for the city, but we also know that this concept of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t work if we’re not a part of the community and engage the community, reach out into the community and welcome them in and make everybody feel like this is their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So this is kind of a perfect intersection of community involvement, being a good neighbor and celebrating a legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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