The excitement in the once ghost town-ish districts in Cincinnati’s central core wasn’t because of baseball, but because of the thousands of music fans (from Greater Cincinnati and well beyond) and 175-plus performances by musical acts from all over the world.
Things kicked off Sept. 26 on what is typically MidPoint’s “slow day”: Thursday. While it’s true that things weren’t quite as hopping as they would be Friday and Saturday, it was still a pretty exciting opening night. Progressive Soul cult hero Shuggie Otis headlined the Washington Park stage, preceded by CityBeat cover star Cody ChesnuTT, providing a solid one-two punch of classic/modern R&B/Funk/Soul. The crowd may have been smaller than usual, but they were way more passionate and undeniably entertained.
The revitalized Washington Park had one of MPMF 2013’s main stages again this year, after a successful debut in 2012. The actual stage was shifted from directly in front of Music Hall to the built-in stage on the main lawn. Some commented that attendance seemed down from last year, when the park featured, among others, Andrew Bird and a band that released an album the week of its MidPoint appearance that debuted in the Top 10 of Billboard’s album charts, Grizzly Bear.
While the WP crowds did seem smaller at times, The Head and the Heart (THatH), the clear “big draw” of the fest, attracted one of the (if not the) biggest audiences in MPMF history. The Indie Folk band did not disappoint, with a soulful set that touched on its forthcoming Sub Pop release, Let’s Be Still. After witnessing the response THatH received at MidPoint, it would not be surprising if that album, due Oct. 15, also debuted in the Top 10. It would be more shocking if it didn’t.
We here at CityBeat (which owns and operates the festival) and others associated with the fest did a lot of campaigning to get people into the smaller venues to check out some of the lesser-known acts and MPMF-goers did better than in any previous year showing love for artists who had yet to infiltrate their personal music collections.
The MidPoint Midway, a closed-off-to-traffic strip along 12th Street in Over-the-Rhine, served as the heart of MPMF again this year and had more “side attractions” than ever before. Some people appeared to have just strolled onto the Midway, perhaps downtown for the aforementioned Reds’ series, because it was free and open to the public. More than a few were charmed enough to purchase MPMF passes and explore the rest of what the fest had to offer.
The Midway had some great local vendors and was exploding with art. Cars were being artfully painted, you could “pull” your own concert poster (or purchase one from various other concerts thanks to the annual “poster expo”) and ArtWorks’ always entertaining “Box Truck Carnival” greatly enhanced the Midway merriment. Locals “repurposed” standard “box trucks” (think a U-Haul moving truck) and created various little experiences for fest-goers. This year, trucks included one for hula hooping, one to create poetry, one to create small art postcards and a “comedy club” truck.
A new feature for MPMF this year was the introduction of “KidPoint,” and many parents (and/or grandmas, aunts, uncles, etc.) brought kids of all ages to the Midway on Saturday afternoon. It appeared that a lot of the kids really enjoyed the various games and crafts, as well as performances by the Cincinnati Ballet, local Reggae band The Cliftones and a band that featured young students from the School of Rock Mason, who showed that the future of Rock in Cincinnati is in very good hands. The only downside came from the comedy box truck Saturday afternoon, as a few area comedians decided they weren’t going to alter their 10 minutes with “family-friendly” material. Some parents, understandably, weren’t happy to hear vagina jokes as they walked by with their little ones.
Also new this year was the addition of the Ballroom at the Taft Theatre, which, along with downtown’s Mainstay Rock Bar, were the furthest venues on the southern border of the MPMF grounds. The Ballroom had three excellent shows, including Thursday’s surprisingly not-packed show headlined by The Thermals and Saturday’s unsurprisingly packed concert headlined by Daughter.
It was heartening to see a lot of people on bikes during MidPoint, as the fest (with assists from the city and Cincinnati Bike Center) promoted its increased bike-ability this year. Making the approximately 10-block hike to Grammer’s (on Liberty Street) to Mainstay is especially difficult when you’re trying to rush to see the next act on your itinerary, but MPMF-goers seemed to adapt nicely, either biking it or just camping out at one or two venues near each other. Come on, Cincinnati Streetcar! That will hopefully make shuttling around even easier in the coming years.
A good way to relive the festival (or “live,” if you didn’t make it) is through MPMF’s Twitter account (@MidPointMusic), which featured live updates and retweets at a furious pace all week long (many also viewable on screens throughout the festival). The fest and attendees seemed to embrace the use of social media this year more than ever.
The event really does seem to have established itself to the point where the “brand” alone is strong enough to bring music lovers in, regardless of the lineup. Will MPMF be back next year? You bet. Mark your calendars for Sept. 25-27.
“It’s all just theory until opening night, but these artists delivered. Cincinnati and the region showed up,” MPMF Artistic Director Dan McCabe says. “MPMF is even stronger going into 2014. This is going to be fun.” ©
MidPoint Music Festival 2013 Photo Galleries: