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Cover Story: Now ... and Again

Unique music festival MusicNOW keeps getting bigger and better

By Mike Breen · April 2nd, 2008 · Cover Story
  Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell

This week, the MusicNOW festival returns to Memorial Hall for its third year, bringing with it national attention from Spin, Pitchfork and several blog outlets.

While the festival began in 2006 as a sort of Indie-meets-Classical/Chamber Music showcase, it's grown and evolved to include some of the Indie scene's top names. One of those names is organizer/founder/curator Bryce Dessner, guitarist for Cincinnati-born/Brooklyn-bred Indie faves The National, who will head out on tour with R.E.M. and Modest Mouse in late May.

Dessner is collaboratively involved with a lot of musicians in the Brooklyn scene, something that's helped him fill the festival with top-shelf, unique talent offering "one of a kind" performances.

Last year, he was able to book beloved Indie troubadour Sufjan Stevens (Dessner played guitar with Stevens on tour), who performed a set featuring pieces of his experimental Enjoy Your Rabbit album arranged for string quartet.

Booking a well-known headliner like Stevens (whose MusicNOW performance last year sold out) provided a captive audience for some of the more esoteric artists on the bills, which ranged from Icelandic string quartet Amiina to Flamenco guitarist Pedro Soler.

There's no one genre specifically highlighted at MusicNOW, but all of the artists tread toward the "Avant Garde" side of music.

Dessner told CityBeat last year that he wanted to bring the idiosyncratic festival to Cincinnati as a way to "give back" to his hometown, which has long had a strong arts and music scene. While such an event might be more likely to happen in New York or L.A., Dessner said he never even considered starting up the event anywhere else.

"I feel like we're going to do it in Cincinnati or we're not going to do it," Dessner said. "I've got to tell you, it's not always easy. There have been some struggles with it, and obviously tickets might not go as fast as they would in L.A. But ultimately I'm just psyched to be doing it at home."

The 2008 edition of MusicNOW is shaping up to be its biggest yet. This year's big name, Andrew Bird, has already had his Saturday night closing show with Grizzly Bear sell out, while Bill Frisell's performance marks a rare local date for the guitar legend.

MusicNOW's main purpose is about discovery and adventurousness, but music fans who love sounds that challenge shouldn't limit yourself to the big gigs. From Dirty Projectors (who did an experimental remake of a Black Flag album based solely on memory) to Chamber Rock ensemble Bang on a Can (with guests Dessner and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche) to Wednesday's multi-media opening night (featuring experimental films with live soundtracks played by an all-star crew), MusicNOW lays out the adventures. It's up to you to explore them.

For ticket info and event updates, go to www.musicnowfestival.org.

See interview with Bill Frisell

See interview with Andrew Bird

MusicNOW Lineup

Wednesday: 7 p.m.
Experimental films from the New York Filmmaker's Cooperative, accompanied by Richard Reed Parry, Nico Muhly, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Padma Newsome, Rachel Elliott and other guests

Thursday: 8 p.m.
"An Evening of American Guitar" with Benjamin Verdery and Bill Frisell's 858 Quartet

Friday: 8 p.m.
Dirty Projectors and Bang on a Can featuring Wilco's Glenn Kotche and The National's Bryce Dessner

Saturday: 8 p.m.
Andrew Bird and Grizzly Bear
(Note: This performance is sold out, as are weekend festival passes)

Tickets are $15 for remaining individual concerts.

All shows take place at Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine. See www.musicnowfestival.org for updates, tickets and more details.



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