Ten years ago, after the first MidPoint Music Festival — that’s when you can trace back the origins of Cincinnati’s upcoming three-day live music extravaganza, the Bunbury Music Festival.
After launching a festival that continues to grow (today under the guidance of CityBeat’s events department, which took over five years ago) and shine a light on up-and-coming and on-the-verge acts, MPMF co-founder Bill Donabedian thought, “What if we could do something like this for established acts?”
This summer, he will.
While Cincinnati has a great variety of music fests of all shapes and sizes, it has been a while since the city’s waterfront park has hosted a festival with such a large potential draw and featuring as many top-tier headliners and buzzing mid-level acts as Bunbury, which debuts this year at Sawyer Point park along the riverfront July 13-15.
In the mid-’00s, Tall Stacks brought Wilco and similar acts to the park for a blow-out fest, with an unfulfilled promise to return, while the one-and-done Desdemona Music Festival drew fairly large crowds with Indie acts like The Walkmen.
The Cincy Blues Fest, which celebrates 20 years this year, has put Sawyer Point to such great use as a music venue for so long, it acts as an annual reminder of the park’s potential. In May, the inaugural MadLove Music Festival brought thousands of Hip Hop, EDM and DJ fans to Sawyer Point to dance the night away.
Donabedian had his eyes set on Sawyer Point’s ample space from the start. As years moved on with MidPoint, he also began to understand the nuts and bolts of building a festival better — he became increasingly fluent on matters of bookings, sponsorships, branding, permits and other sometimes overlooked matters that can cause a fest to stumble, then disappear.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing with events, there are so many small costs that can come up and bury you,” Donabedian says over coffee in Over-the-Rhine. “I have a budget of 200 (often overlooked) line items, just from working so many events.”
Working with Nederlander, Donabedian put together a list of artists he’d like to see at Bunbury and the longtime promoter set about booking the event, landing several “wish list” artists, though a few (The Afghan Whigs, The National, Keane) didn’t pan out.
Donabedian is thrilled with his three main stage headliners — Jane’s Addiction, Weezer and Death Cab for Cutie — and what they represent, personally, historically and demographically.
“When I was in college,” he says, “Jane’s was the first Alternative Rock band that kind of went mainstream. And then Weezer was the next band, for me listening to music in the mid-’90s — I loved them. And they were carrying that on — that Alternative band that kind of got into the mainstream. And then there’s Death Cab, which is kind of the third version.
“There’s a thread there and it’s showing in the tickets sales,” Donabedian adds, noting the unusually high range of the ages of ticket buyers.
Donabedian’s job working for 3CDC to manage events at Fountain Square was further education, but it also provided a bump on the road to Bunbury.
He says that while he was initially going to be able to do both jobs — running events at the Square and Bunbury on the side — his bosses eventually expressed concern, so he resigned his position.
Donabedian eventually began mingling with the tech world, another experience that has had an influence on Bunbury. After leaving Fountain Square, he and iRhine’s Ran Mullins founded the tech start-up Globili, a language translation service that will be showcased at this summer’s World Choir Games. Along with the Inkerton T-shirt and poster area, food vendors and other local-centric contributions (young but dominant Cincy promo group Self Diploma curates the fest’s DJ stage), Bunbury will include the Tech Pavilion, a large tent that will engage tech heads and the curious with the latest technological products.
Donabedian’s education in the realm of festival building has taught him so well that, while bad weather would put a damper on the event’s blockbuster potential, it won’t bury its founder.
“I have rain and other types of insurance,” he says assuredly.
Donabedian is in this for the long haul, though, and already thinking of future plans, including working an artistic visual aesthetic into the setting and adding a stage … in the river on a barge.
When asked if he plans to put on the event indefinitely, he replies offhandedly yet eloquently, “I wouldn’t expend this much energy if it wasn’t an ongoing concern.”
BUNBURY MUSIC FESTIVAL runs July 13-15 at Sawyer Point. Tickets and details: bunburyfestival.com.
HOT 5: MORE REGIONAL SUMMER MUSIC FESTS
Where: RiverScape MetroPark, Dayton
When: June 29-July 1
What: A truly multicultural event featuring the various strains of American Folk and Roots music, as well as the “Folk” music of cultures from around the world.
Who: Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Luca Ciarla Quartet, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Stooges Brass Band, Shoefly, Bonsoir Catin and more. (cityfolk.org)
Where: Waterfront Park, Louisville
When: July 13-15
What: The Forecastle festival spotlights, as its tagline suggests, music, art and activism, giving various organizations a chance to pitch their causes to the music lovers who have flocked to Louisville for the last 10 years to catch some of the more thrilling names in Indie music. For its 10th anniversary, My Morning Jacket worked with organizers to co-curate the lineup.
Who: My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Bassnectar, Atmosphere, Neko Case, Clutch, Girl Talk and more. (forecastlefest.com)
Macy’s Music Festival
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Downtown Cincy
When: July 27-28
What: Originally dubbed the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival, the Macy’s Fest has been around in some form since 1962 and it remains a must-attend event on the calendars of countless locals and out-of-towners, with a lineup chock full of R&B veterans, as well as some more contemporary standard-bearers of the genre.
Who: Frankie Beverly & Maze, Charlie Wilson, KEM, Ledisi, Eric Benet, The O’Jays, Jaheim, Midnight Star and more.
Cincy Blues Fest
Where: Sawyer Point along the riverfront, Cincy
When: Aug. 10-11
What: For the past two decades, the Cincy Blues Society has brought some of the best names in Blues to town to perform with an impressive array of area Blues artists. The event is always super “user-friendly” and the themed stages continually offer up something new for Blues lovers.
Who: Webb Wilder, Duke Robillard, Sista Monica, Trampled Under Foot, Super Chickan, Noah Wotherspoon Band and more.
The Whispering Beard Folk Festival
Where: Friendship, Ind. (First Street and Friendship Road)
When: Aug. 24-26
What: Now five years in, the D.I.Y. Whispering Beard fest is a celebration of Americana music that has featured some of the biggest names in Roots music, as well as most of the best practitioners from our region.
Who: Justin Townes Earle, Langhorne Slim, Caitlin Rose, Pokey LaFarge and the South City 3, The Tillers, Charlie Parr and more.