What better represents Cincinnati: the Bengals on Monday Night Football or the MidPoint Music Festival?
Luckily for us Cincinnati is a big enough city that this isn't an either/or question. We can have both, even on the same weekend, and both can be successful.
But which event puts Cincinnati in a better light? Which tells you more about the kind of city Cincinnati is and hopes to be?
Sure, the downtown area and the riverfront looked great on ESPN during the Bengals game. The exposure, in terms of what it would cost to broadcast a national TV commercial about Cincinnati, was priceless.
Over the weekend, thousands of MidPoint fans walked the streets of downtown and Over-the-Rhine checking out a couple hundred bands and singers at various clubs. The exposure, in terms of pumping up Cincinnati's incredible music scene, was also priceless.
But if I had to choose one event or the other -- and I'm making myself do just that -- Midpoint is what Cincinnati's all about.
There are 30 teams in the National Football League, all run by millionaires in a legal monopoly that guarantees them more and more revenue every year. The monopoly allows NFL teams, including the Bengals, to force cities and citizens to build new stadiums that generate even more revenue for team owners.
Local corporations support the Bengals by buying stadium advertising and VIP suites, which allows their executives and employees access to the cache of attending NFL games. When it's all said and done, Paul Brown Stadium hosts 10 Bengals games a season -- sometimes more if the home team makes the playoffs.
Meanwhile, few American cities can boast a local music scene as vibrant and talented as Greater Cincinnati's. There certainly aren't 29 others.
MidPoint was co-founded and still is run by two guys who play in local bands. As they've grown the festival over the past six years on a volunteer basis, their own professional lives have expanded and gotten more complicated -- but they remain dedicated to MidPoint.
They've also remained dedicated to the Main Street area in Over-the-Rhine, even when others -- bar owners and bar patrons alike -- left for greener pastures.
They've had to single-handedly reopen bars for the MidPoint weekend just to provide enough performance stages.
Local corporations rarely support the MidPoint Music Festival. The event's presenting sponsors this year were local Scion car dealers, CityBeat and Greg Hardman, the local brewer who markets Christian Moerlein and Hudy Delight -- none of whom have deep pockets.
When it's all said and done, the bands and solo musicians who performed at MidPoint represent a larger music community that plays out in Cincinnati area bars and clubs 52 weekends a year. They entertain us on Tuesdays in a snowstorm and on church festival stages in the blazing sun.
The Bengals are connected to the corporate culture that runs Cincinnati and just about every other American city. MidPoint springs from the "creative class" group of young people with whom corporate America supposedly craves connection.
Amazing efforts have been made over the past few years in Greater Cincinnati to reach young people, particularly "young professionals," and get them involved in progressive concepts here. Every arts organization, social service organization, business networking organization and political organization seems to have a YP subgroup. Mayor Mark Mallory even has his own YP "kitchen cabinet."
But often these groups appear to be little more than a veiled effort by corporate America or its surrogates to sell a product or service to young professionals. Or little more than corporations giving their executives and employees access to YPs, much as they grant access to Bengals stadium suites.
I think young professionals have made a huge impact in Cincinnati. When I consider many of the city's biggest events -- MidPoint, the Fringe Festival, Scribble Jam, the Blues Fest, the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards and various food and ethnic festivals -- YPs are the driving force behind them.
In addition to starting events, creative class members start companies here, start arts organizations, run for elective office, push ballot issues and everything in between. They're doing the behind-the-scenes work that any successful city needs done.
And yet there's still a disconnect from the very corporate and government forces that claim to want to be connected to this creative class. Young people want to help change Cincinnati for the better, but I get the feeling that Official Cincinnati still sees them as little more than potential customers.
I revisited the first CityBeat article about the creative class concept, written in June 2002 when Richard Florida spoke in Cincinnati about his then-new book, The Rise of the Creative Class. Here's what writer Doug Trapp said about Florida's remarks:
"Creative people choose places for a few key reasons. People move to have access for a range of jobs, not one job. They don't care about sports stadiums. They do care about living near streets full of activity and life. Even heterosexual people care about how gay-tolerant a city is, because that sends a signal the place is open to new ideas and people.
"And here's the kicker -- there isn't a density of high-tech workers in a place without a thriving music scene."
Five years later, after we're all sick and tired of the marketing of "creative class" and "young professionals," no one argues that cool cities like Austin, San Diego and Portland, Ore. share these common characteristics: multiple jobs, less sports craziness, lively streets, gay-friendliness and a good music scene.
In many ways, an event like the MidPoint Music Festival accomplishes all five of those goals for Cincinnati. In many ways, a Bengals game on Monday Night Football accomplishes none of them.
No one in their right mind would argue that Cincinnati shouldn't make the most of a Monday Night Football appearance. Nor would Cincinnati be a better place to live if the Bengals left town.
I simply don't understand why local government officials and departments, corporate leaders and the mainstream media -- all of whom claim to want to better connect with Cincinnati's young people -- always miss the MidPoint boat.
Those of us who enjoy MidPoint every year would love to see you down there. We promise not to bite ... hard.
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