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Bunbury, Isle of White

By Kathy Y. Wilson · July 18th, 2012 · Kathy Y. Wilson
It must be comforting and indeed relaxing to come from near and far and land at Sawyer Point for three days, look around and see throngs and gaggles of folks just like yourself everywhere you look.

Aaaah, whiteness.

Take a deep breath. Smell it.

Sweaty, like-minded and identically dressed and tatted-up white folks, in various stages of burgeoning and aging hipsterdom, all gathered together to rock out to self-serious, ironically named bands responsible for the white noise of their fans’ lives.

It’s the cult of personality for $93.00 plus tax.

Seeing clips of and reading band line-ups for the Bunbury Music Festival reminded me of what a large-scale white boys’ club Cincinnati is when it comes to live music.

A real shame in a city that’s given the world funk, jazz, hip hop and gospel, all indie music because none of it’s country or crossover rap.

Believe me, I do understand the economics of segregation, unintentional or otherwise. But well-intended segregation does not make it any less glaring or annoying.

You’d think music — that so-called “universal language” — could be the adhesive every once in awhile to bind us.
Oh, that’s right, The World Choir Games. But I digress.

Bunbury founder and organizer Bill Donabedian is in fact a great idea man. I wrote a short profile of him a few years back when he was the managing director of the 3CDC-controlled Fountain Square and he programmed and booked events for the city’s living room, wrestling control from all the freaks and bigots who’d only had to get a temporary permit to spout vitriol or erect a cross.

And the square did come alive under Donabedian’s management.

But Bunbury is Donabedian’s bigger, wetter dream of bringing to Cincinnati “its own Lollapalooza” as he put it, an idea so derivative and regressive, Donabedian paid homage to Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell by paying him and his band Jane’s Addiction to headline Bunbury’s opening night.

How incestuously 1990s of him.

Tried as I might, I couldn’t find one band among the jam-packed line-ups that even vaguely interested me and, unlike others who claim to love “all kinds of music,” I actually do.

I am often among a number of blacks — and women — so scant at some music shows in Cincinnati, you can count us on one or two hands.

When’s the last time a white music fan in this city has had that weird distinction?

And if you have, good for you. Keep it up. Bring your friends next time.

In my aggravation, I thought back, or, in this case forward, to the MidPoint Music Festival, which Donabedian co-founded and is now run by Dan McCabe, another go-getter and musically inclined idea man.

Although this is not A Tale of Two of Festivals, it’s interesting to sit back and watch two white guys go after audiences, sponsorship and bands in pursuit of mounting big events and all the headaches and anxieties that go along with them. One key way the festivals differ is that McCabe refuses to book DJs, an art form he eschews; conversely, Donabedian had a DJ stage at Bunbury. And of the 17 DJs, three are of color. I know it may be a little more difficult beating the bushes for indie rock bands headed by women or comprising different races — gone are the days of The Family Stone and The Revolution — but three black DJs?

It’s like the NBA with its pockets turned inside out.

Some of this I lay at the feet of Donabedian and all the self-satisfied folks who praise him and the self-congratulatory folks who aided him. Some, though, must be laid squarely with the record companies, promoters, radio stations (yes, they do still exist) and the music publications and online sites that continually group music together in bite-sized white morsels and the fans who swallow that shit whole. Sure, you can like what you like and buy what you want, but while you’re doing that, just imagine what it must feel like to not be you and yours.

Imagine what it’s like to get one stale-ass Macy’s Music Festival each summer with some Rubik’s Cube version of the same late-ass line-up that was here exactly one year ago headlined by Frankie Beverly and Maze — the middle-aged black version of the Grateful Dead — who haven’t released an album since I had a perm.

That’s our one shot at a Bunbury or a MidPoint.

And if you’re cringing or recoiling at the comparison and you want black folks in this city or this nation to quit complaining (you gave us a black president, after all) about entrepreneurial opportunities, and you’re saying to yourselves we should anoint us our own musical boot-strapping Booker T. Washington a la Donabedian or McCabe, then you are absolutely right. That means that hiring practices at places like CityBeat, where McCabe promotes events, and at 3CDC, where Donabedian undoubtedly made key corporate contacts, and navigations through city procedures like permits, liquor licenses and sanitation, need to be blackened and browned up from the ground up.

Let some other types of folks in on your secrets via internships, mentorships or recruitment. Tens of thousands of look-alikes do not converge on a city to see and hear the same kinds of music through osmosis or telepathy or because white people are inherently evil.

It happens because people are largely comfortable among and comforted by those who look like them and like what they like.

It’s called group think.

And I, for one, would like black musical group think in this city not to involve rayon, matching short sets, weaves, Charlie Wilson or the The Temptations.

So this is as much a gauntlet for Donabedian and McCabe as it is for any black folks out there with dreams of putting together and promoting a music festival.

Put some different colors and genders and sounds in a blender and mix it up. If you mix it, I will come.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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