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A Decade with No Decay

In 2002, the MidPoint Music Festival legacy began

By Mike Breen · September 20th, 2011 · Music
music1_buckra_ckBuckra - Cameron Knight
My memories of the very first MidPoint Music Festival in 2002 are pretty vague. I remember bits and pieces from that inaugural fest, when the vast majority of performers were local. I recall being in the car way too much for such a fest — I caught bands at the Madison Theater in Covington, the Barrelhouse and Jefferson Hall in Over-the-Rhine and the Southgate House and Newport on the Levee in Newport. 

The showcases have gradually come closer together over the years, culminating in this week’s MPMF, which is the most “walkable” (or “bikeable”) yet, with venues situated in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown. The southernmost and northernmost venues (Grammer’s and Arnold’s, respectively) are under a mile apart.

Those sorts of adjustments have been crucial to MidPoint’s development and evolution. It’s not hyperbole to say that MPMF genuinely gets better each year. 

To jog my memory about MPMF 2002, I pulled out the CityBeat from Sept. 26 of that year. The cover of the MPMF guide in CityBeat boasts “150 Bands. 13 Stages. 12 Venues. 4 Days. 3 Cities. 1 Reason.” 

The cover story was an interview piece with local Art Rock faves Readymaid, who were forced to play an abbreviated set during that first MidPoint. (The Chocolate Horse, Readymaid frontman Jason Snell’s current band, is one of the more beloved local Indie groups on this year’s MidPoint bill.)

We also singled out a handful of the regional/national bands performing that year — Indianapolis’ Roots Rock crew The Citizen’s Band, Cleveland AltRock band Ethernet and a Metal group from Iowa called Slitheryn, whose members were around 15. Local artists on the premiere MPMF roster included The Ass Ponys, Promenade, Pike 27, The Stapletons, Saving Ray, Deceiving Ralph and Dophesus — none of which exist anymore.

But still-active local artists that performed that year include The Fairmount Girls, Culture Queer, Buckra and Jason Ludwig. And all of them are playing MPMF.11. 

Each one of the Northern Kentucky venues participating in MPMF.02 still exists and still has the same name; conversely, none of the Cincinnati venues are the same. But a few of those clubs are MPMF.11 venues — just under different names. Jefferson Hall’s old Main Street space houses The Drinkery now, while The Cavern is Below Zero Lounge. Other Cincy venues that first year included the Barrelhouse (now the Art Academy), The Overflow, The Lab, Rhythm & Blues Café and Plush. 

It’s no shock that those Cincinnati venues have transformed. The entire “Main Street Entertainment District” (as it was officially known then) was hurt by the bad press and vibes caused by the 2001 “riots,” which occurred following the police shooting of an unarmed black man in Over-the-Rhine. It’s been 10 years since those dark days and, though it has been an up and down journey, the Main Street strip (and other parts of OTR) appears to be as healthy as ever, in terms of fun seekers who don’t let a couple of incidents scare them away from enjoying all our city has to offer in the area. 

It’s not just that the names have changed — Cincinnati has transformed since 2002. There have continually been efforts to make the city’s urban core a more appealing destination for residents — from condo developments to new businesses opening to the arts district that has formed around the new School for Creative and Performing Arts. The city’s backwards, conservative reputation has also dwindled, something that can be attributed to the lessening power of groups like the Citizens for Community Values, as a new generation of more enlightened and tolerant citizens have grown up and taken their city back. 

But credit for Cincinnati’s growth as a more welcoming and vital metropolitan area also has to go to the success of arts groups and events like the Fringe Festival, MusicNOW and, yes, the MidPoint Music Festival. 

MidPoint’s founders, local musicians Bill Donabedian and Sean Rhiney, were also featured in CityBeat’s first MidPoint issue. It shouldn’t be too surprising to find out that, after turning the MPMF reins over to CityBeat a couple of years ago, both Bill and Sean have continued to work to make Cincinnati a more vibrant place to live and visit.

As much as Cincinnati and MidPoint have changed since 2002, there are still some core principles that remain intact. 

In that Sept. 26, 2002, issue of CityBeat, Rhiney talked about what he called “the most important and realistic aspect” of MidPoint — “to draw national and local attention to this fantastic, vibrant music scene that we’re lucky to be a part of.” 

That’s still a core goal of MPMF. MidPoint continues to draw that attention, attracting more and more fans from all over the city, region and beyond each year. And the Cincinnati music scene is currently as fantastic and vibrant as it has ever been. 

We are, indeed, lucky to be a part of it.

MIDPOINT MUSIC FESTIVAL 2011 runs Thursday-Sunday at various venues throughout Downtown and Over-the-Rhine. For the full performer roster and all the details, visit mpmf.com.



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