There are plenty of easy ways to explore what Cincinnati's local music scene has to offer. The best ways, of course, involve hitting the clubs and actually purchasing releases put out by local artists. Then there's the new-fangled modern route — thanks to the Net, you can find free streams and downloads of music by practically every artist in the world. But there's another way to discover your potential next favorite local musical act on the cheap, and all you need is a library card.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Cincinnati Public Library's Brian Powers, a reference librarian, the main branch downtown has become a superb resource for local music history — various displays in the past few years have drawn attention to Cincy music's past, from a King Records overview and panel discussion to a photo exhibit of work by local photographers who specialize in shooting musicians. The library has also become an occasional venue for local musicians; during this year's MidPoint Music Festival, it hosted bands in the afternoon and it also has the "Jazz of the Month" club, a monthly showcase featuring live, afternoon performances by local Jazz groups (the series picks up again in February).
But you can also do some exploring of local music's past, present and future between the stacks; the downtown library (and some of the other branches) is stocked with lots of CD releases by local artists. Search the extensive music department catalog and you can find a wide array of local music — everything from classic R&B and Blues (H-Bomb Ferguson, Albert Washington, The Charms, Bootsy Collins) and today's Jazz faves (Steve Schmidt, Phil DeGreg) to pioneering Indie/Alt (The Tigerlilies, The Wolverton Brothers) and current Cincy-affiliated acts doing big things on a national level (The Greenhornes, Heartless Bastards, The National). The library's online catalog allows you to check availability and place holds, so you can find your favorite discs here and have them ready for you when you arrive.
Most recently, Powers coordinated a special display spotlighting this year's Cincinnati Entertainment Awards' "Album of the Year" nominees. That means you can take home nominated albums by The Tillers, 500 Miles to Memphis, Magnolia Mountain, State Song, The Lions Rampant and Kim Taylor (the nominated releases by Eat Sugar and Enlou are digital-only, so you'll still have to buy 'em on iTunes or elsewhere), host a little pre-CEA listening party with your friends and place your bets on which record will take home the trophy when they're doled out Nov. 21 at Covington's Madison Theater. (You can grab your CEA tickets now at this link.)
While a public library isn't often described as "hip" or "cool," Cincinnati's main branch has to be one of the hippest, coolest in the country. Kudos to them for making sure that good local music is accessible to everyone.