There are a lot of people who have, through music, worked hard to make the Cincinnati area a better place to live, from the musicians and fans to the music stores, club owners and beyond. A huge key to any city’s success — in terms of becoming/remaining a thriving metropolis that retains its young movers-and-shakers and encourages outsiders to relocate there — is a healthy music and arts scene. With Cincinnati, when looking at the past five to 10 years of growth, it’s hard not to give a lot of credit to the artists and musicians who’ve consistently created intriguing art for the citizens, as well as the fans and leaders who support and assist them.
The “booking agent” is one of the most crucial elements of any local music scene. And Greater Cincinnati has seen scores of great bookers over the years that have helped put the area in the minds of touring acts. Without some of stellar, instinctive bookers in the city, who’ve laid the groundwork for resurgence by continually bringing to town up-and-coming acts, Cincinnati would probably still be a total afterthought on most tour itineraries.
In the ’60s and ’70s, people like Jim Tarbell and the folks behind the Ludlow Garage went out of their way to personally book the cool artists of the era, bringing everyone from The Allman Brothers to Santana to Ravi Shankar to Cincinnati, often for their first shows. In the ’80s and ’90s, Bill Leist and Peter Aaron were the reason you could see club shows by The Ramones, Killing Joke, Black Flag, The Flaming Lips, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and many similar acts locally — in many cases just before those artists blew up internationally.
In the late ’80s and ’90s, the place to see the next wave of big “Alternative” acts (or just unique acts that may not have continued on to bigger success) was Sudsy Malone’s near the University of Cincinnati. And the person to thank for presenting shows by The Jesus Lizard, Beck, Jeff Buckley, The Afghan Whigs and scores of other bubbling-up-from-the-underground performers is Dan McCabe.
McCabe — who has booked the MidPoint Music Festival since CityBeat acquired it in 2008 — says he kind of just fell into the biz, never intending for it to become (along with continually making music with various bands) a lifelong endeavor.
“Somebody needed to step in at Sudsy’s and I raised my hand,” he says of his fateful first booking gig.
McCabe went on to book shows at the Southgate House in Newport, Ky., before opening his own spot in Over-the-Rhine, MOTR Pub, just a few years ago, where he’s assisted by another great and important local booking mind, Chris Schadler.
Besides MOTR and booking MidPoint, McCabe and his crew are also fixing up the Woodward Theater, an old building across from MOTR on Main Street that will host touring acts too big for MOTR but not yet quite big enough for some of the larger venues in town.
McCabe knows how to sell a show/festival with the language he uses (he is almost poetic in his to-the-point descriptions of the events he puts on), so CityBeat recently conducted a Q&A with McCabe about MidPoint Music Festival’s 12th year.
CityBeat: So how did you approach booking MidPoint this year vs. previous years? Were there different challenges this year?
Dan McCabe: We have something really strong now; the brand does most of the talking. The biggest challenge was the ongoing uncertainty over the Emery Theatre (the historic Over-the-Rhine venue that hosted acts like The Dirty Projectors at last year’s MPMF, but is currently embroiled in a management dispute). Where last year’s challenge was getting it up and running, this year (we) had to keep the Emery an option deep into the buying season only to find out it wouldn’t be available to us.
CB: I was really blown away by the quality of some of the lesser-known, unsigned artists — the “undercard” this year is on par with the headliners in most cases. Did it seem like there was an especially strong crop of submissions this year compared to previous ones?
DM: The “undercard” is what MidPoint is about. Definitely a fantastic crop of submitting artists this year. That’s the brand doing the talking again. I’m also in year-round conversation with booking agencies and artist management while working MOTR. That has helped get the word out about our festival.
CB: Like every year, there have been a handful of cancellations, including the last-minute Foxygen pull-out recently due to the frontman’s injuries. After booking for so long, how do you deal with that — do you get pissed, just a little heartbroken or do you pretty much expect that it’s going to happen and let it go?
DM: Nah, there’s no getting pissed. Whatever the artist is putting me through, in most cases I’m not dealing with them directly. I maintain my relationship with artist management.
My experience years ago was cancellation due to drug overdoses; now it’s broken bones. There’s a reflection on society in that somewhere.
CB: The festival has spread back into Downtown a little more with the Taft and Mainstay added. It seems like last year there was a lot of focus on trumpeting the re-emergence of Over-the-Rhine. Do you think the fest will continue to grow its OTR-centric approach or would you like to see its perimeter continue to expand?
DM: It should dip into Downtown. And with the surge in bike users, OTR/Downtown residency, grassroots efforts to make Cincinnati a bikeable city, MPMF bike rentals on the Midway — it makes sense that we expand the footprint and put those nice Downtown stages to work.
CB: So what’s your best pitch for MPMF 2013, to anyone who might be on the fence about attending?
DM: Music can be looked at as the final frontier. And it’s an easily accessible frontier. No need for a space suit. Come as you are in the spirit of exploration. There’s nothing like the thrill of discovering something on your own, being the first on your block, and that relationship between fan and artist it fosters.
CB: What is the status of the Woodward Theater? Do you anticipate it being a part of future MPMFs?
DM: Hell yes, The Woodward will be available to MPMF. Main Street Cincinnati is going to have a fun 2014.
CB: Assuming everything goes off as planned and MidPoint returns next year, how would you like to see the festival grow in its 13th year?
DM: I like that you phrase it as an unknown. That’s exactly what this event business is, a leap of faith. It requires people in an increasingly passive world to actively participate.
And they do in Cincinnati. We are an event-loving, music-making city. This being the first year of a new, behind-the-scenes operating structure (this year, McCabe solely focused on booking, leaving managerial duties to others), I’m finding it possible to again better imagine how the next level MidPoint will look like.
It will always be about discovery. What we now have is the new music industry participating in greater numbers. We can do more to embrace this, to help MPMF artists launch or further their music careers from here in Cincinnati. ©