After months of planning and judging and selecting and scheduling and designing and implementing, the big night has arrived at last. The first night of MidPoint 2009. You can almost smell the impending disaster in the air.
Well, perhaps disaster is a bit strong. It’s been a long time — well, a couple of years anyway — since MidPoint has been baptized by a significant rainfall, and right out of the chute last night’s precipitation claimed its first victim for me. As much as I wanted to see The Elms, I wasn’t prepared to walk up to Grammer’s in the pouring rain and then watch them while outside soaking wet. I hear the tent is nice and, as it turned out, I probably would have been better off to take the wet walk.
Other than an intermittent and often heavy rainfall and a cancelled show or five, Thursday was a very good opening night. The lessening rain upon arrival in downtown Friday night boded well for a drier and less drippy MidPoint experience, and so it was. For the most part.
Something (or a few things) unanticipated usually happens at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards show every year. After all, it's a night where hundreds of local musicians are put together in a room with loud music and multiple cash bars.
But the biggest unexpected element of last night’s CEAs at the Madison Theater in Covington was its runtime. Not only a first for the CEAs but perhaps a first in the history of all awards show, the briskly paced show was over early — in about 2 and a half hours, 30 minutes sooner than expected. Efficient stage management and a more streamlined run of show that kept the focus on live performances and the 19 award presentations (winners listed below) helped the event wrap up in record time.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally got to check out the muched-buzzed about band The Tillers, nominated for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award in the Folk/Americana category. Playing in the Southgate House's "lounge" room, the trio (playing stand-up bass, guitar, banjo and more) huddled around a single, vintage-looking, multi-directional mic and delivered their sweet, accomplished spin on traditional Folk, Country, Gospel and Blues.
The city of Cincinnati is prepared to formally recognize King Records’ place in the city’s cultural history with a historic marker, a partnership with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a King-oriented class or lecture series, a King Records Center on the campus of Xavier University and a prominent role in this year’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Music (CEAs). City Councilman John Cranley, Bootsy Collins and others announced the plans at a news conference this morning at the former King Records site in Evanston.
[See photos from this morning here.]
Cranley read from a motion he introduced to City Council that asks for up to $10,000 in city funds to install a historic marker on the former King Records office/studio in Evanston to be unveiled on Nov. 23, with the remaining funds used to book a former King recording artist to perform at that night’s CEAs. This year is the 65th anniversary of the founding of King Records in Cincinnati.
The Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland has agreed to construct, donate and maintain the historic marker, and if Cranley’s funding request is granted the Rock Hall president has agreed to attend the marker unveiling and the CEAs. The institution also will work to develop a class or lecture series on King Records at Cincinnati State.
Other newsworthy items from this morning:
• Xavier officials are looking into developing a King Records Center on campus, a history exhibition that also could be a working recording studio for use by students and the public.
• CityBeat Marketing and Promotions Manager Dan McCabe announced that the 12th annual CEAs for music will be the first event held at the reopened Emery Theater in Over-the-Rhine. The CEAs were the final public event at the Emery just before it closed in 1999.
Five Finger Death Punch is one of the most popular Metal bands in the world. The band has a catchy, melodic sound that resonates with its crowds and the band's songs have become arena anthems across the country. Five Finger continues to tour on its third studio album American Capitalist. Currently, the group is out headlining the Trespass America Festival with the bands Trivium, Pop Evil and Killswitch Engage.
CityBeat was able to spend some time with the band’s lead guitarist Jason Hook to discuss, among other things, the band’s feverish tour schedule and the effect it has on the band members' relationships, as well as what makes the music so addictive. The Trespass America Festival comes to the PNC Pavilion at Riverbend tomorrow (Wednesday) night.
CityBeat: What has been the highlight of Trespass Festival so far?
Jason Hook: Well, the first show was awesome. We opened the show on Friday the 13th just outside of Denver. The place was almost sold out, packed. We had all of our friends, family, record label, managers and agents with us. It was a massive party (and) it was day one. It was awesome, really awesome.
CB: Who leaves the biggest mess backstage at Trespass?
JH: The biggest mess? As far as what, a hot mess or just messy?
CB: It could be either.
JH: I’ll give both to Ivan (Moody, Five Finger's frontman).
CB: OK, I wouldn’t picture that.
JH: Well you don’t know him as well as I do.
CB: Is it true that he still throws up before he performs?
JH: I haven’t seen that lately but it might be because I tend to steer clear of him a little bit more than usual because of that. But he does do that. That is not an urban legend.
CB: You consistently are having these hits with huge sports and military following. What is really the formula for creating a modern day Rock anthem?
JH: I think that you have to keep things simple. People like a really consistent beat, something that has a good thump to it. Obviously, an easy to follow storyline or a relatable storyline and as many hooks as you can get into each section of the song for example the intro, the verse, the pre-chorus, the chorus, the bridge, the solo — all those are sections — and if they get too long or drawn out or too complicated or the resolution set too high for the listener, they just miss out and it will go over their head. A big part of having an anthem is having something that is simple enough that many people can grab it easily like “Rock & Roll all night and party every day.”
CB: Does the band ever write songs for a specific audience?
JH: Not really. Most of us in the band have a background where we grew up listening to heavy bands but bands that were also on the radio. That reflects in the music we make. None of it is really contrived. We just do what we like. Fortunate for us, it catches with a lot more people. Once you try to do something that is not honest, it is really hard to repeat it. You are always chasing or guessing what to do. It is better to know what you like to do and just do it.
You always have the crazy crowd surfing at the shows, the biggest Rock on the Range crowd surfing in history. Do you ever worry about fan safety?
JH: All the time. All the time. It freaks us out. I see people getting beat up pretty good out there, especially the people in the very front row because people crowd surf up from behind them, they can’t see that these 220 pound guys are being launched forward and the people in the front row are the last people that these heavy people land on their heads on the way into the pit. You get a lot of people getting smashed, and they have no idea it is happening until it happens.
I keep saying, “Is there something we should do to discourage this? Should we say that we want people to be careful and keep your eyes open?” I do see a lot of people getting hammered, and it freaks me out. We are always thinking about it.
CB: How do you stay friends living in such close quarters and being on the road almost all year?
JH: How do we stay friends? We stay away from each other. The only way to control how we all get along is to make sure there is a good amount of separation. You need a little bit of on and a little off.
For example, we get hotel rooms. The band gets hotel rooms. We get them every other day. The hotel rooms are essential and it doesn’t matter what it costs to have everybody be able go and have their own private space to go make phone calls, answer e-mails, relax, watch the TV program they want to watch, whatever. The off is just as important as the on because if you get too much together time all the time, then you are likely to have the engine run a little hot, you know what I am saying?
CB: Who in the band is more likely to get into a fight backstage and who is more likely to get laid?
JH: I don’t really want to focus on the fighting, but as far as the sex part of it, I would say, all the girls like Ivan. The rest of us are just sort of swinging the bat. They all seem to want to get to Ivan. So I would say answer "A"—my final answer — Ivan.
The thing is, to chase girls around, which is also to chase the party or stay up, all these people show up and they want to hang out with the band. This is their big night out. The problem is, if we participated in everybody’s big night out, then we end up having 42 or 55 nights in a row, and it is physically too hard. Imagine having 45 New Years Eves in a row. What kind of shape would you be in after that?
CB: Yeah, bands now are a lot more, I don’t want to say mellow, but you can’t sustain (that type of partying) for long periods of time if this is what you are going to do.
JH: God knows we have tried it. We don’t want to hurt the band. We don’t want to hurt the tour. We have a responsibility to not only talk to people during the day but to play in front of these large audiences, and I don’t want to go up there hung over and feel like crap and be fuzzy and making mistakes. It’s very hard. It’s OK when you are a club band — nobody cares; “Get me another beer.” Everyone is drunk anyway, but now we are talking about playing in front of 15,000 people at 9 o’clock at night and it is a business now. It is for real.
I hate when hard working people get ripped off. These kind of injustices can range from phishing scams to pickpockets, insurance companies' denying claims by any means necessary to bank CEO’s using bailout cash for beer money. It’s heart breaking to hear the stories of identity theft leaving people broke and in perpetual debt, or stock- and 401K-holders losing their future to corporate malfeasance.
Not that it is by any means “worse,” but I get a special bug up my ass (I’ve named him “Tony”) when I hear about artists and musicians getting ripped off. Having written about music for 18 years and played music for over 20, I’ve seen all kinds of scams designed to make cash off of the creative endeavors of others. From “battle of the bands” contests with exorbitant, unnecessary “entry” fees to club owners deciding at the end of the night that a band’s performance fee suddenly didn’t fit his budget to record labels putting no money into a project only to blame the band for not selling more albums (and coming at them to “recoup” costs), not paying or actually taking money from artists is its own little cottage industry within the music industry.
We caught up with Ohio native, Eric Singer aka “CATMAN”, drummer for the infamous band, to discuss local sports and the show on Friday.CB: First question, how do you feel about Lebron leaving?
CB: Did you see the owner’s reaction?
Eric: Oh yes, I did. I am a huge NBA fan. I am on NBA.com everyday. I am actually a huge Lakers fan and even though we were on tour in Europe I did not miss any of the playoff games. The games would start at 3 am and I would watch every other day. My body clock was so out of whack. I would stay up all night watching. Everyone on the tour would ask why I looked to so tired and it was because I stayed up until 7 am watching basketball.
Eric: You are in Cincinnati. I saw that you just signed Terrell Owens.
CB: Yes we did, what do you think about that?
Eric: I think it is a great thing. Obviously, I am a Cleveland Browns fan being from Cleveland.
CB: We won’t hold that against you.
Eric: No, I have always rooted for the Bengals. My Dad had season tickets to the Browns in the 60’s and he would take me to all the games. My Dad was also a musician and he knew Paul Brown personally. I think Paul Brown coached at Ohio State so we also loved the Buckeyes so Ohio State Buckeyes are always my college team of choice.
My Dad was always a huge Bengals fan because he loved Paul Brown. Basically I root for all the AFC teams except the Ravens for obvious reasons. I cannot stand the Ravens like most Cleveland fans. I always root for the Bengals. Overall I think it was a good pickup. T.O. is a personality but at the end of the day he is a great talent and is a great receiver. The Bengals may make some noise this year. I don’t look for much from the Browns this year to do any damage. I just want them to improve over last year. They have had so many changes with management and quarterbacks. I think that it would be nice to give the people of Cleveland something to look forward to versus focusing on the Lebron situation.
CB: The sentiment here in Ohio doesn’t seem
as bad as I thought it would be about Lebron based on what I had heard
in the media.
Eric: Of course, they showed the same 2 guys on TV burning their Lebron jersey in the streets over and over. It was a slow news day. At the end of the day, it is just a game. I think it becomes an obsession with some people. I am a huge Laker fan. I stay home every night during the season and watch every game. I get upset when they lose but at the end of the day, it is just a game and they are not curing cancer. I play drums in a band and it is important to me because it is my livelihood, but at the same time I keep a reality check about what I do.
CB: It is not solving world hunger.
Eric: Exactly. Some people get too serious about it in my mind. Some people hate their 9-5 job and they have passion about a sports team or a band and that is what they look forward to doing. I understand their passion, but you have to keep it in perspective.
CB: I have talked to a lot of drummers this week. I have kind of had a week of drummers, culminating with you.
Eric: That sounds like it could have a double entendre. “I just had a week of drummers.” You gotta watch how you say that. (Laughing)
CB: What is the longest you have gone without playing the drums?
Eric: Oh I have gone awhile. Probably a few months. I am 52 years old. I have been touring every year for 26 years straight and been drumming for 42 years since I was 10. It is like a car. I have a lot of drumming miles on my body. I find that when you go away from something, it renews your interest and enjoyment in it. You enjoy it more when you come back. My whole life can’t be about drums and KISS. I am not one dimensional. You have to have other interests. As much as I know that you have to have focus because that is important if you want to have success along with hard work, sometimes you need to step away from it. It makes it feel fresh when you get away and then come back. Even though I have played some of these songs a hundred times, after I get away from it for awhile it feels fresh and lets my body heal.
CB: It is an extreme sport.
Eric: It is very much like athletics. Rock and roll drumming is different than playing in a lounge band. It is hitting hard objects and absorbing all that shock. As I have gotten older I have had to learn different ways to approach it. I have massages all the time to take care of my body and keep my body stretched out and loose because it is a necessity at this point.
CB: Do you do any weight lifting or activities to condition for it?
Eric: Sometimes. Lately to be honest I have been lazy. Usually when we are off tour, I will go to the gym and try to condition with cardio and keep my stamina up at least a few times a week. That makes it not such a shock to your body when you go back to hitting things after you have been away for awhile.
CB: Have you ever been star struck?
Eric: No, not really. When I first moved to LA in 1983, I used to go to the Beverly Hills Diner after rehearsals. This is when I first realized that I lived in LA and when you go to a Denny’s or a diner that you will see musicians and actors. The first time I was sitting there and Lionel Richie came in with Irene Cara, who had a big hit at the time. He said hello just like you were a normal person. That kind of set a precedence for me with a guy who was a huge star at the time on MTV and making hits and he is just a regular guy who comes in here and says hi to me. I always remembered that whatever you do may be special or unique, but it does not make you better than someone else. I remember him and think it was a good attitude.
CB: That is a good attitude.
Eric: I am a big fan of many bands and I met Jimmy Page this year in London. That was kind of cool because I had never met anyone from Zeppelin, but I am around these guys all the time. I have played in some big bands KISS and with Queen. I played a Nelson Mandela benefit with Bono and Annie Lennox a few years ago. I have gotten to play with people and meet them this way. I met Dwyane Wade the other night on Jay Leno and that was cool because I am such a big NBA fan. I like to meet people that I have a lot of respect for and admire what they do. I don’t get star struck because I have been doing this a long time and realize at the end of the day they are just people.
CB: They go home and put their pants on one leg at a time.
Eric: Exactly, one thing I have learned that once you really get to know people you find that there is a common thread that runs through all of us.
CB: I interview people and have found that the big
bands like yourself are the most down to earth and normal. Many of the
newer bands that are just starting out seem so arrogant at times and it
bothers me and I always think that won’t work and they are not going to
make it like that.
Eric: You are right and that is a great observation. That is what I find as well. Usually people who are doing it at a bigger level, they don’t act like that. I don’t know if it is a confidence or mindset but they don’t need to do that. I live in LA and there a lot of people who are posers. They go to clubs and dress the part and think they are important. They go out every night and dress up and locals think they are in the band, but they are big fish in a small pond and they are not the real players. You are right, the people that have more fame act normal and don’t need to pretend to be anything and they are usually more cool.
CB: What can we expect from the show on Friday?
Eric: “The Hottest Show on Earth” is great. The one thing I always admire about our band is that we are always trying to improve and make it bigger and better. We are always trying to make a bigger visual spectacle. That is what we are known for and putting on a big show. I always say it is like Rock-n-Roll meets the circus. It is about being entertainers and being entertained. Anyone who saw the tour last year, we have changed the songs around and changed some of the visual things in the show. It is probably the biggest show that we have ever done with visual and screens and pyro. It is a big undertaking to take this tour around the country. There are 15 or 17 trucks that move this stuff around. A few of them have our faces on the side with the new Dr. Pepper adds, so you may see 5 or 6 of them rolling down the road in Ohio this week so you will know it is KISS on tour. I am not saying this because I am biased and in the band, but everyone must see a KISS show in their life.
Eric: We are playing Riverbend on Friday right?
Eric: I remember Riverbend. We have played there before and I actually went to a concert there before. I was on a tour in 1987 with Gary Moore and we saw Huey Lewis in the News there. They were huge at the time.
CB: I actually saw them this past weekend at HullabaLOU in Louisville.
Eric: Really, one of my good friends is their guitar player, how were they?
CB: They were amazing actually and sounded the
same. It was surreal to see bands ranging from Bon Jovi to Al Green all
in one place.
Eric: Did you see Al Green?
CB: Yes I did and he was FANTASTIC! He made me smile!
Eric: I went to see him a few years ago with Gene after we played a show in a casino on a night off. Al Green sings amazing. Gene is a huge 50’s doo wop fan and so we went to the show.
CB: He was spot on and blew my mind.
Eric: Did all the ladies come up and give him flowers?
CB: No he had bundles of roses he was passing out.
Eric: A lot of the older women still love him. He is old school and a real swooner, but he sings his ass off.
CB: I have had a phenomenal week of music and I am hoping to top it off with KISS on Friday.
Eric: You are right it is like a Cherry on Top after all that great music this week. It is great music on top of a great show. You must go see it and be converted and see it in the flesh. You will be converted to Kisstianity. There is no band like KISS and it is a dream come true to be in the band since I was a huge fan from the beginning. I was a fan from day 1 and saw them in Cleveland in 1974 when they opened up for the New York Dolls.
CB: It is like a religion.
Eric: The kind of drummer that I always want to be was to be a visual and show type drummer and I can do it all in KISS. I couldn’t be in a more perfect band.
CB: I hope to get religion on Friday.
Eric: You have to.
CB: Before we wrap up, tell me about the Wounded Warrior Care project that you are supporting.
Eric: It is the Wounded Warrior CARE project. We have gone to visit the soldiers in their facility. A dollar from every ticket sold goes to this project. Those people have gone and sacrificed their life. Regardless of people’s political views, these people go and do this on a volunteer basis to protect our rights. They have given their life so we have to make sure that there are people when they get home to help them get their life back and that is what this project is all about. You may disapprove of war, but you need to respect these people regardless of your views. You are able to say whatever you want in this country because these people go out and fight for your rights. We want to help them be able to get their lives back.
Eric: I also need to say KISS is a great family value this summer. Kids under 14 get in free on the lawn with the purchase of an adult lawn ticket. Up to four children per valid adult (21 and over) lawn ticket. Valid for Live Nation amphitheatres with lawns only. These also must be purchased on the day of the show and are subject to availability.
We know that times are tough for some people economically and we know there is no better way to get their mind off their troubles than to go and see a band like KISS. It is our way of trying to give something back to those who have supported us over the years. Everyone needs to see KISS at some point in their life.
CB: You may as well start early as a kid right?
Younger local musicians and the music fans who love them might find it hard to fathom, but once upon a time, Cincinnati’s corporate Rock radio juggernaut WEBN was one of local music’s biggest allies, a wild, wooly and eclectic FM outlet as open-ended and freeform as any internet radio station or podcast. In the ’70s and ’80s, before inflexible, homogenized playlists made it impossible for even major label Cincy bands like The Afghan Whigs to get spins, the annual WEBN Album Project compilations gave major exposure to local and regional artists. Saturday at the Madison Theater, the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show flashes back to that era. In this week’s CityBeat, Brian Baker caught up with one of Cincinnati’s most popular bands ever (and an early Album Project participant), The Raisins, whose seminal lineup is reuniting for Saturday’s event, joining several other AP alumni. Brian also caught up with some of the other participating musicians to discuss the Album Project’s legacy. Below are their thoughts, as well as some vintage video clips from the era.
The city of Cincinnati memorialized a fallen local musician Friday by unveiling Michael Bany Way in Over-the-Rhine. Formerly called Jail Alley, it runs off of Main Street, where Bany was killed in 1995 following a performance.
Bany's brother Mark has worked tirelessly to recognize his brother's accomplishments and to help the local music community via the Michael W. Bany Music Scholarship Fund. At Friday's event Mark presented this year's scholarship to Jalessa Andrews, who will attend Bethune-Cookman College to pursue a degree in music education.