I haven't done LSD in at least a decade, but Thursday's MidPoint Music Festival sure felt like a psychedelic flashback. My long-ish, strange-ish trip began at 9 a.m., as I drove into downtown and found Central Parkway colorfully dressed up as if an army of elderly women had sneaked in overnight and turned the strip into a Dr. Seussian wonderland. The colorful crocheting that hugged the trees, lampposts and practically everything else sticking out of the ground was actually the work of The BombShells' Yarn, who've dropped similar "yard bombs" on statues downtown (like the William Henry Harrison one in Garfield Park).
Regardless of whence it came, it set the trippy tone for my first day at MPMF.11. And things only got trippier. I'm a big fan of the surreal and bizarre, so it wasn't a bad trip, by any means. And the soundtrack was pretty kick-ass.
The only act I caught all night that didn't totally blow me away was the U.K.'s Joy Formidable (headlining the Grammer's tent at around 9:30 p.m.), though that's more a testament to the strength of the festival's opening night than a knock against the tight, rockin' trio. All in all, it was a pretty amazing start. And, given Thursday's tradition of being the "slow night," that's a good omen for the rest of MPMF.
Here were some of my highlights from MidPoint Thursday.
Best Worlds Within a World
The Box Truck Carnival along the new MidPoint Midway (overall, a big hit) was a great supplement to the musical adventures in the clubs and venues. Several "box trucks" (moving trucks, like the ones you'd get from U-Haul) were transformed by local artists and organizations into their own little worlds. Fest goers could visit an art gallery (and check out the concert-poster work of various design companies and artists), watch some films, see a play presented by Know Theater, play Putt Putt (two holes, one with a hilarious tiny sand-trap and water hazard) or play carnival games. The mini-skatepark was especially popular, as skaters lined up to scale the ramps on the side of one of the trucks (which was loaded with custom boards inside).
Best Listening Room
Though there was an almost sleepy, high-school recital vibe to Kaki King's show at SCPA's Mayerson Theater, fans were able to hear every note played and sung crystal clear. The Mayerson is smaller than the Corbett Theater, but the sound is just as good, if not better. The charming singer/songwriter/guitarist wasn't flashy, but her performance was completely dazzling and bewitching. The great acoustics only enhanced that.
Best Local Musician Cameo
Like every year, when I was compiling the MPMF guide for CityBeat (and writing or editing previews of all 180-plus artists) earlier this month, one of the main reasons it ended up taking so long to complete was that I was again pleasantly distracted by several exceptionally good bands I hadn't heard before. It happened more than ever this year and one of those bands — Athens' animated, orchestral Indie/Americana crew The Ridges — worked their way up my "must-see" list as MPMF approached and I continued to listen to their endearing, ear-grabbing tunes (think a rootsier, catchier Arcade Fire). I was not disappointed by the group's enchanting performance at the Cincinnati Club Thursday night, where the eight-piece crew (with accordion, a string section and a crazy, seemingly hand-crafted stand-up bass) had an enthusiastic batch of about 50 or so MPMFers bopping along to their jubilant sound and grinning ear-to-ear. Local singer Molly Sullivan (formerly of Cincy's No No Knots and currently re-igniting her solo career) demurely added her spine-tingly vocal harmonies to the group's captivating finale.
Speaking of spine-tingly vocals — Kim Taylor. The consistently spellbinding singer/songwriter gave MPMF another highlight set this year at SCPA, just prior to Kaki King's. You know how that Inside the Actor's Studio guy always asks his guests what they'd like to hear God say to them as they enter the pearly gates? I would ask God if she wouldn't mind keeping her trap shut for a few minutes and put on a Kim Taylor song instead.
Best Potential for Literal Venue Destruction
Banderas is always a slam-dunk MPMF highlight, but I didn't get to see the Cincinnati rockers presumably blistering set at the tiny Courtyard Cafe last night, basically because I couldn't squeeze my fat ass through the door, so full was the restaurant/bar. Well, maybe I could have, but given the small stage and tight-quartered cafe/bar set-up, I feared Courtyard Cafe would crumble to the ground. (As of press time, there have been no reports of any building collapses downtown, so no need to change your itinerary if it includes Courtyard shows tonight or tomorrow.) Banderas always seems to be crammed into a too-small venue for MidPoint, yet they always manage to play like they're onstage at Madison Square Garden. I have no reason to believe last night was any different.
Best Bootsy Moment
I bumped into CityBeat co-founder John Fox towards the end of the night and he relayed a great scene at the MPMF pre-party presented by the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation in their headquarters on Race St. (in CityBeat's building). According to Mr. Fox (as he insists we call him), as soon as the Foundation's most famous board members — Bootsy Collins and his lovely wife, Patti — walked through the doors, the inconspicuous office space transformed into a sweaty, 1970s Disco. When the DJ put on some Bootsy and Parliament/Funakadelic grooves, the place went nuts and a swarm of dancers surrounded the groovin' Collinses. When a couple of young, sweaty dancers took a break and sat down next to Mr. Fox, he said to them, "MidPoint hasn't even started yet and here you are, drenched in sweat and dancing with Bootsy Collins to Bootsy Collins' music." Another good omen.
Best Giant Inflatable Cat Heads
Having assured myself that MPMF.11 was just kinda psychedelic this year and that I wasn't, in fact, having acid flashbacks, I made my way down to the much-buzzed-about Joy Formidable set under the big-top at Grammer's. Just to make clear — Joy Formidable put on a great set, I just wasn't quite as "wowed" as I was with pretty much every other set I saw Thursday. And I only caught the band's last three songs, so maybe I didn't experience enough to be "wowed." During the last song, the trio — who reminded me a little of a noisier Foo Fighters (with a female Brit on the mic) — went into the standard "noise-out" Rock & Roll closing and something happened that made me wonder if I hadn't been dosed. Inexplicably, two gigantic, inflatable black-cat heads began sprouting at the back of the stage. I left the tent a little dazed and had to verify that it really happened. It did. But I'm still going to watch my drink a bit more closely tonight, lest some merry prankster decides I need a little mind-expansion. For MPMF.11's opening night, it turns out I didn't need any chemical assistance. It was strange enough sober. Now — did anyone else see all those people dressed up like old-time cigarette gals ’n guys walking around with trays of free donuts, or was it just me?
Check out more photos from MPMF.11's opening night here.