Mother-daughter getaway: Finding MGK, music and magic in Cleveland

By: Kristin Finan
January, 2022

It wasn’t the sort of mother-daughter getaway we ever anticipated.

But to be honest, falling in love with the same band as your 13-year-old can be a disconcerting experience regardless. 

On one hand, music is a beautiful, intergenerational gift with the power to bond people together regardless of their backgrounds, locations or ages. 

On the other hand, to be a striped-sweater and comfy-sneakers-clad 41-year-old mom of six amid a gaggle of ripped-jeans and crop-top-wearing teens can feel a bit like showing up to the Oscars in a Snuggie. You stand out. 

Still, there was something about Machine Gun Kelly that my daughter, KoKo, and I both loved. 

Machine Gun Kelly during his annual holiday show in his hometown of Cleveland in December 2022. Kristin Finan photo

To me, his radio hits harkened back to the beloved pop-punk groups of my JNCO-and flannel-robed ‘90s youth, such as Yellowcard, New Found Glory and Blink-182. When I found out that Machine Gun Kelly was a close friend of and collaborator with Travis Barker, former Blink-182 drummer, I loved him even more. 

For KoKo, MGK’s music offered the perfect blend of angst and introspection –– and catchy lyrics. Plus, between his tattoos, nail-polish line and famous inner circle (his girlfriend Megan Fox appears on his latest album, as does his friend Pete Davidson), the guy is just cool. 

After seeing him perform twice at the Austin City Limits Festival and trekking to Dallas to see him there, we were all in on Machine Gun Kelly. We pored over his 2020 album, “Tickets to My Downfall,” finding new favorite songs with each listen. We went down the internet rabbit hole to find out more about his personal life and learned, among many other things, that he has a 12-year-old daughter. We bought overpriced merchandise on his website. 

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Then KoKo proposed a new idea: As an early Christmas present to ourselves, we should travel to Cleveland, MGK’s hometown, in December to see his last show of the tour. 

The pandemic was hard on music lovers. Not being able to see live shows was stifling, and hardly any new music came out, either. During a dreary year flooded in gray and dotted with anxiety, exhaustion and anger that we feared would never dissipate, MGK had danced into our lives with a giant splash of his signature Pepto Bismol pink and reminded us that, for better or worse, the music would go on. I bought the tickets. 

Kona Badgley-Finan and Kristin Finan at the Machine Gun Kelly concert in Cleveland in December 2022. Kristin Finan photo

It was 30 degrees and the sky was spitting rain that felt like ice pellets as we landed in Cleveland, a city we had never visited and that I knew little about. Our first stop was Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the site of that night’s concert, to get the lay of the land. We planned to grab an early dinner and spend time at the hotel before joining the general admission queue, but as we approached the venue at 3 p.m., we spied a line already forming outside in the rain. Instantly, we knew. If we wanted good spots, we needed to get in line. 

We would end up queuing outside for an hour and inside for three more, during which time we would experience overwhelming goodwill from our fellow fans, who supplied us with hand-warmers and rain slickers, offered us a variety of alcoholic beverages (we declined) and saved our spots in line so we could go to the bathroom. KoKo recognized actor Gunner Burkhardt of the Netflix show “Alexa and Katie” in line and he immediately offered to take a selfie with her, sparing her the mortification of having to ask. 

When we were finally allowed into the arena to secure our spots on the floor, we race-walked toward the stage, reaching it in time to be front row, where the goodwill would continue. We bonded with a fellow mom-daughter pair and took turns getting concessions. We chatted with a solo concert goer who vowed to protect us from any unruly fans. And when Machine Gun Kelly appeared on the stage at 10 p.m., emerging atop his signature riser decorated like a giant pill bottle, we all sang along to every word. 

Machine Gun Kelly during his Cleveland concert in December 2022. Kristin Finan photo

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We were so close we could see the rainbows that emanated off his glittered jumpsuit and convinced ourselves that, at certain times, he was singing directly to us. The set would last well past midnight and include everything from holiday songs to early rap hits to radio mainstays like “My Ex’s Best Friend.” All the while, MGK would remind the sold-out crowd of 20,000 that this was the night that he had dreamed of ever since he set a goal of selling out the arena in 2008. 

Maybe it was Cleveland. Maybe it was the MGK crowd that subscribes to his mantra “EST 19XX,” which stands for “everyone stand together,” with the “19XX” meant to represent any age of his fan base. Or maybe it was the understood appreciation of finally being together again, shoulder to shoulder, singing shared lyrics with strangers with your eyes closed. The night was magic. 

Actually, the trip was magic, and time and time again we experienced little gifts of kindness from everyone we met. People in airports offered their seats to us. A fellow 40-something fan in a homemade holiday-themed MGK t-shirt bought our drinks at Starbucks. Our hotel receptionist – who was also attending the concert – welcomed us excitedly and immediately gave us free breakfast because it was our first time in Cleveland. 

Magic could also be found in the little moments that filled the spaces in between the bigger ones. Like discovering that the pizza shop around the corner from the hotel, Guys Pizza Co., was still open as we walked home from the concert and sharing the most delicious post-midnight fries. Or requesting a late check out the next morning simply so we could keep re-watching the videos we had taken at the show. 

Machine Gun Kelly’s 27 Club Coffee Co. is an Instagrammer’s paradise. Kristin Finan photo

Although our visit was primarily concert-focused, we were able to take in a few other Cleveland attractions, including 27 Club Coffee Co., a pink-drenched coffee shop and restaurant owned by – you guessed it – Machine Gun Kelly. Decked out in pink and silver upside-down Christmas trees and ornaments for the holidays and featuring a mural that urges “Enjoy where you are right now,” the space is an Instagrammer’s dream and an MGK fan’s must-see, as menu items, merch and even the shop’s name are all derived from the singer’s songs. 

Even the cinnamon rolls at Machine Gun Kelly’s 27 Club Coffee Co. come in pink. Kristin Finan photo

Before hitting the airport, we also made a stop into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where highlights included seeing the Left Shark costume from Katy Perry’s memorable Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2015, testing out instruments in The Garage and designing our own band names and logo stickers. We also checked for MGK memorabilia, naturally, but didn’t find any. 

Left Shark is among the artifacts at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Kristin Finan photo

I know there’s much more to Cleveland than we were able to take in during our 24-hour visit, and I’m excited to return, hopefully in December for MGK’s 2022 holiday show. But even if we don’t make it back, I’ll always remember this town for its hospitality, its generosity, and one of the best concerts of my life.

And, most importantly, I’ll cherish all the memories that Machine Gun Kelly offered to me and my daughter, EST 2021.

If You Go

Getting there:

Multiple airlines offer service from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Stay:

The Westin Cleveland Downtown is centrally located and well appointed and showcased some of the best customer service I’ve experienced. Special shout out to Kelvin for his assistance during our stay. https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/clewi-the-westin-cleveland-downtown/

Do:

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a can’t-miss Cleveland destination located on the shore of Lake Erie that features memorabilia, live music and interactive exhibits. https://www.rockhall.com/

Eat and drink:

Don’t miss 27 Club Coffee Co., which is owned by Machine Gun Kelly and offers a wide menu with plentiful vegan and gluten-free options. Check out the signature, Instagram-famous pink latte. https://27clubcoffee.com/

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