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Music: MidPoint From The Inside

MidPoint Music Festival co-founder Sean Rhiney reflects on the fest's fifth year

By Sean Rhiney · September 27th, 2006 · Music
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  Sean Rhiney (right, pictured with MidPoint co-founder Bill Donabedian) hits the pavement to make sure the MidPoint Music Festival runs smoothly.
Matt Borgerding

Sean Rhiney (right, pictured with MidPoint co-founder Bill Donabedian) hits the pavement to make sure the MidPoint Music Festival runs smoothly.



Thursday, Sept. 21
Everyone is buzzing at the Contemporary Arts Center (early Thursday), the MidPoint Music Festival's official headquarters for registration and our two-day conference. Volunteers are stuffing goody bags for attendees between scarfing down slices of pizza. Bill (Donabedian, Rhiney's partner in the fest) and Tara O'Donnell, who's made her annual trek from her new home in Los Angeles to run our operations, are seated side by side at their computers. Panelists are arriving, old friends like Michael Creamer from Boston, and many bands are checking in at registration. Last minute cancellations are being dealt with for showcasing artists. Thursday always tends to be the night most likely for cancellations and this year is no exception. I count six artists canceling at the last minute. We're able to fill each of those spots with a new standby list, allowing artists already playing the festival a chance at a second slot.

Bill takes a call from an Internet radio station based out of London who wants to interview him live about the festival. I'm amazed at MPMF's reach sometimes.

Later Bill and I will have a quick dinner with our industry keynote, CD Baby founder, Derek Sivers. Derek is candid and fun, eager to get out and see some shows even though he just flew in from Portland and has to leave after his Friday keynote.

In the past, I've compared the actual start of MPMF to a big snowball rolling down a hill, watching it gain more momentum and moving faster and faster. There's nothing you can do to stop it at this point, for better or worse. The planning and promotion is done and it's somewhat of a relief for it to finally be here.

Friday, Sept. 22
The conference kicks off at 10 a.m., early by Rock & Roll standards, but we pull a sizeable crowd for the first session. Personal highlights of the day include Sivers' casual industry keynote. I've been after Derek since our first year to join us, and I'm glad he accepted the invite. Many of the artists that attend MPMF are

  Sean Rhiney (right, pictured with MidPoint co-founder Bill Donabedian) hits the pavement to make sure the MidPoint Music Festival runs smoothly.
Matt Borgerding

Sean Rhiney (right, pictured with MidPoint co-founder Bill Donabedian) hits the pavement to make sure the MidPoint Music Festival runs smoothly.



Thursday, Sept. 21
Everyone is buzzing at the Contemporary Arts Center (early Thursday), the MidPoint Music Festival's official headquarters for registration and our two-day conference. Volunteers are stuffing goody bags for attendees between scarfing down slices of pizza. Bill (Donabedian, Rhiney's partner in the fest) and Tara O'Donnell, who's made her annual trek from her new home in Los Angeles to run our operations, are seated side by side at their computers.

Panelists are arriving, old friends like Michael Creamer from Boston, and many bands are checking in at registration. Last minute cancellations are being dealt with for showcasing artists. Thursday always tends to be the night most likely for cancellations and this year is no exception. I count six artists canceling at the last minute. We're able to fill each of those spots with a new standby list, allowing artists already playing the festival a chance at a second slot.

Bill takes a call from an Internet radio station based out of London who wants to interview him live about the festival. I'm amazed at MPMF's reach sometimes.

Later Bill and I will have a quick dinner with our industry keynote, CD Baby founder, Derek Sivers. Derek is candid and fun, eager to get out and see some shows even though he just flew in from Portland and has to leave after his Friday keynote.

In the past, I've compared the actual start of MPMF to a big snowball rolling down a hill, watching it gain more momentum and moving faster and faster. There's nothing you can do to stop it at this point, for better or worse. The planning and promotion is done and it's somewhat of a relief for it to finally be here.

Friday, Sept. 22
The conference kicks off at 10 a.m., early by Rock & Roll standards, but we pull a sizeable crowd for the first session. Personal highlights of the day include Sivers' casual industry keynote. I've been after Derek since our first year to join us, and I'm glad he accepted the invite. Many of the artists that attend MPMF are CDBaby.com regulars, and Derek is a bit of a folk hero. He couldn't be more unassuming and genuine, and that always plays well with our crowd.

I have to introduce our artist keynote Bootsy Collins, and I'm at a loss as to what to say. We all tend to take Bootsy for granted -- he's fairly ubiquitous around here and very generous with his time, thus I'm not surprised when the out-of-town conference attendees outnumber the locals and pack the CAC's black box theatre to hear his keynote conversation with festival friend and former Enquirer music editor, Larry Nager. I say something geeky and earnest about how no one in the room can probably claim to have defined a genre of popular music or influenced a lifetime of artists with their playing style, and let Bootsy take over. It's probably the most entertaining hour of the conference, only interrupted when Bootsy has to return to Paul Brown Stadium for a Bengals' video shoot. I'll never drive through Amberley Village the same way again (you had to be there). Bootsy, thanks for the tip.

When it rains it pours. Whoever made up that saying deserves to be cow-punched.

Mother Nature showed her evil side on Friday. We have a love/hate relationship with outside stages. Neon's Courtyard has been the scene of some of MidPoint's greatest sets, like Kim Taylor's crowd-hushing show in 2004 or MOTH's pummeling, booze-drenched closer last year. Bands love playing to the 300 or so fans that gather in the Courtyard for the evening and this year's lineup is chock-full of several popular bands. Fortunately, we've been rain-free since the first year and both stages have fully- or partially-covered areas for artists and fans. That said, production and sound teams know that an outdoor stage is always one moment away from a natural disaster.

At 9 p.m., the skies opened up full force and it rained so hard it hurt. Rightfully, the decision was made to shut down the stages after only a couple of songs. Across the way at Red Cheetah, Exit 31, a great Pop Punk band from the Netherlands, tried to stick it out, but sideways rain invaded the covered stage. Unfortunately, it didn't let up the rest of the night, forcing the cancellation of the stages for the evening. We're able to reschedule several artists like the Payola Reserve and two additional bands from the Netherlands for Saturday night, but others, like the Sundayrunners, were only in town for one night and missed out. What would have been Andrew Geonetta's last show with Bulletproof Charm also fell victim to the weather. Andrew has been a great supporter of the festival, hosting the acoustic stage at Kaldi's for a number a years, so this was a big disappointment for us as well.

Oddly, the driving rain seemed to keep the bars full, and when I dove into several places, the crowds were strong and, apparently, settled in for the evening. MPMF staffers rarely get to see more than a few minutes of music. It's like working at your own wedding. That's really the only downside, missing a band I want to see, like Duwende, whom I hear absolutely killed at Club Dream. I've been living with all of these artists' sounds since April and know 280 of them at least by their MP3s, but it was great to meet many of them on the street as we were all running about in the rain.

Saturday, Sept. 23
Bill, Doug Staab and I had made a decision to convene the production team at 9 a.m. at the CAC. More storms were predicted for Saturday evening, and we couldn't chance another night like Friday. Much has been made of Main Street's loss of venues this year, and no one knows that more than us, as we ably reconstructed the entire block for the weekend. What that didn't allow for though, was any viable back-up venues or locations within the district. We had to choose between contacting the artists and canceling the showcases or coming up with an alternate plan. Since many had already arrived, canceling wasn't an option, so a call was placed to InkTank's founder, Jeff Syroney. Jeff graciously agreed to let us use his Main Street storefront location and within six hours, the venue was set up and staged for the evening. Signs and posters were made notifying patrons of the changes and a series of e-mail blasts alerted MPMF attendees and subscribers. MPMF sponsor Greg Hartmann from Christian Moerlein made cases of beer magically appear at the venue for performing artists. Later, Dan Dell, who's running J-Hall this weekend and also serves as MPMF's venue coordinator, sends down trash cans and ice for the evening. It proves more than anything that it takes lots of individual efforts to make MPMF happen.

While the stage turned out great, giving off an underground garage, private-party vibe, not everyone could be accommodated -- The Terrors and Holy Crap didn't get to play, two bands that would've been highlights of the night. Apologies are given, and guaranteed invitations to next year's MPMF (under cover) are offered. No one likes to tell someone they won't be playing and it's easily the most disappointing moment of the weekend for all of us.

The headsets MPMF staffers wear are an important addition, one I've slowly adapted to mostly out of a fear of technology and simple vanity. Looking like Garth Brooks has never been one of my goals, but they prove invaluable, particularly on Friday night when everyone's cell phones acted up due to the monsoon that swept in.

Unfortunately, the first message I got over the headset on Saturday was from Jim Danehy, who serves as lead stage manager for the entire festival. Apparently there'd been a murder in an apartment building next door to Crush, one of the festival's venues. Jim calmly told me that SWAT teams were converging, police tape marking the scene running right up to Crush. Of course, my first selfish thought was "Oh no, not an MPMF artist or panelist, please," which thankfully it was not. But my second thought was "Really, when is this gonna stop?" But that's a discussion for a later day.

Surprisingly, there were only four cancellations for Saturday night, one of which was a no-show -- as in no check in, no call, no write, no show up until the last minute. We give artists the benefit of the doubt. Stage managers have been in constant contact with artists to avoid just such a problem. And while most cancellations are legitimate, many artists have babies, schedule major surgery the day of, or declare their van "unstable for the trip" the night of their showcase. But, thankfully, there were plenty of artists ready to fill slots, and a newly created standby list I carried around helped us fill in cancelled artists for these slots.

In a few weeks, we'll converge at some bar and debrief, figure out what we can do better, how we'll improve and still continue to grow. Attendance was undoubtedly down due to the weather and continued perceptions of downtown, but the quality keeps getting better and better, and it's truly all about the music.

No need to answer the question on everyone's lips: We'll be back. ©

 
 
 
 

 

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