I hate festivals. I hate that they’re always at the peak of a heat wave or in the middle of a tornado warning. I hate that 90 percent of festival goers don’t understand the concept of deodorant. I hate the rushing around to multiple stages and the trying to decide who you like best when two awesome bands are both playing at 6 p.m I hate that my friends hate festivals, too, and always refuse to go with me. And I really hate the lack of cold beverages.
And yet Saturday afternoon found me in the middle of the crowd at Bunbury falling hopelessly in love with some band called “Imagine Dragons.”
It began during the second song I heard after arriving late to the Bud Light Stage. The lead singer, Dan Reynolds, bounced from one end of the stage to the other. The crowd around me sang along to songs I’d only heard once before, throwing their hands above their heads, voices to the sky and adoration at the stage. They practically worshiped a guy I’d only seen once in a small picture on Wikipedia. My love deepened when Reynolds spoke with absolute sincerity about how much it meant to see so many people singing along to their songs. Imagine Dragons hadn’t even performed in Cincinnati until their stop at Bunbury.
Then, as it often does, my heart melted at the sound of motorcycle boots and a palm on the chest as they thumped out a beat. Finally, my mug o’ love filled with melt-y heart goo, overflowed when the drummer, Daniel Platzman, flung himself off the stage after their set and bequeathed drumsticks to his adoring fans. These guys were perfect. Their music was made for screaming and dancing and the band members seemed so genuine.Nothing gets to me faster than a shaggy-haired dude saying a heartfelt “thank you” to his fans.
Thirty minutes into my time at Bunbury and I was madly in love.
It happens all the time, my falling in love at festivals In 1998, it was Hanson at a radio station festival in Miami. In 2001, it was a boy named Justin at the Buzz Bake Sale. Last year, it was The David Mayfield Parade at Appalachian Uprising and Avett Brothers at Memphis in May. This year I fell in love with Ben Howard at Bonnaroo and Imagine Dragons at Bunbury.
That feeling you get when you realize you’ve happened upon something amazing is pretty rare. Festivals, though, are like breeding grounds for that sensation. I’m certain that while music fans think festivals exist so they can see all their favorite bands at once, their organizers think festivals exist only for the purpose of making people gain new favorite bands.
Study any festival schedule and you’ll see what I mean. At some point during the day there will be about an hour of time where there will be three bands playing and you won’t have heard of any of them. You’ll call that, “dinner time.” However, as you wander along, looking for the perfect supper, you’ll also shuffle past three stages of random music. Almost inevitably the sound from of those stages will catch your attention and pull you across the grass to the barricade. Forty-five minutes later, you’re buying the band’s EP and mass texting your friends to tell them to check out this new band you just heard.
On Saturday I saw, among others, Manchester Orchestra, Gaslight Anthem and Weezer. (Weezer!) They were awesome, just as I’d expected. I flew from stage to stage, trying to catch as much of everything as possible. But the show that held my attention for the longest time was on the smaller stage and it lured me in while I was looking around for something to drink other than beer. The performance I’ll remember years from now won’t be Weezer, whom I’ve waited so long to see. It will be Imagine Dragons and it will be a memory of yet another time I fell in love.
In the words of James Hetfield (Metallica, y’all), “Nothing else matters.”
However, I’m supposed to report on the entire festival. So, here’s how the rest of my evening went something like this: I had Taco Azul for dinner and they were yummy beyond belief. I left for a bit to make my first ever walk across the Purple People Bridge to score photos of the fest from afar and I don’t regret that decision.
I spent a very long time wandering from one end of the park to the other in search of cold soda/pop, found none and I spent a hot second hoping that my poor editor thought to bring his Diet Pepsi from home. So, I bought a warm beer and immediately regretted that decision. I refused to use the porta-potties. I wandered by a DJed stage and considered how much better that section would be if it were more like Bonnaroo’s Silent Disco where everyone listened to music through headphones instead. Also, I briefly questioned the logic of scheduling the festival on the same weekend as a Reds game and the World Choir Games.
It was an awesome day. Fell in love, lost five pounds from sweating so much, and saw (here it comes, again) Weezer! And you know what else? I still don’t smell like a hobo.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's 20th anniversary edition of Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park was once again a live, breathing, three-day mixtape featuring star artists (Coldplay, Eminem, Foo Fighters), established performers, cult heroes and up-and-comers. Local writer Leyla Shokoohe attended her very first Lollapalooza this past weekend and agreed to write about the experience for CityBeat. Below is her report on Day 1 as well as video from some of the performances mentioned, mostly from Lollapalooza's YouTube page. Keep an eye on this space for Day 2 and 3 dispatches soon.
One of the more popular features at this year's MidPoint Music Festival isn't a band or singer/songwriter — it's a truck. The "Rolling Record Store" used by (and stocked with releases from) Jack White's Third Man Records will be at MPMF Sept. 28 and 29, between visits to the Muddy Roots Festival and New York City's CMJ conference/fest.
An extension of White's tiny Third Man record store in Nashville (connected to his label's HQ), the record truck stocks all kinds of Third Man releases, including limited edition vinyl, as well as various Third Man merch. There is also reportedly a DJ station so visitors can spin tunes and a sound system was installed so that bands/musicians can plug in and play. White himself has performed a few times along the Rolling Store's travels (but it's not a guarantee).
The Third Man Records Rolling Record store — which debuted last year at South By Southwest in Austin, Tex. — will make a great addition to the growing MidPoint Midway, the outdoor area featuring vendors, a side-stage, poster exhibitions and other cool "pop up" projects. The bright-yellow truck even has local ties — it was built by Erlanger, Ky.'s C. Cook Enterprises, a car restoration and metal fabrication shop.
I visited White's Third Man headquarters in Nashville a few weeks ago and got to check out the cool merchandise on sale in that closet-sized shop. The Rolling Record Store was parked in the parking lot. I didn't get a tour, but even from the outside, it's a pretty striking vehicle (and I took a few photos, like the one above). Can't wait to see inside at the end of next month!
Here's White playing a "B show" (side gigs on his current solo tour) next to the truck during the recent Outside Lands Festival.
This year the weather was beautiful and the bands did not disappoint. Dust storms formed in mosh pits as fans enjoyed the show.
Leading up to the show we sat down with Jacoby Shaddix, the lead singer from Papa Roach, to discuss the festival, their new record, and how to keep a marriage strong.
An impressive and eclectic roster of local bands will transform an otherwise stark Loveland VFW hall into an artsy, flashy, sorta hippy-ish Rock ‘n’ Roll venue for this year’s third annual Adjust Your Eyes Music and Arts Festival, June 26 and 27. The two-day, two-stage, multimedia extravaganza, which is the brainchild of Grasshopper Juice labelmeister and Wonky Tonk/Chick Pimp band member Nick Mitchell, will feature not only upwards of 28 bands but also art by Jacklyn Howard and CincyStar Glass and stage lights and visualizations by Bunk News.
It’s no secret that Chicago is a great place for music. Pretty much any touring band of note — and no doubt many a musical outfit that need not be noted — is sure to include a Chicago stop, and the city’s local scene remains rich and diverse, aided by a host of nurturing venues and an eager, uncommonly discerning base of listeners. That it’s only a five-hour drive from Cincinnati makes it an enticing destination for those of us who yearn to catch shows that skip the Queen City.
Chicago’s embarrassment of musical riches has only grown in recent years with the addition of two high-profile three-day summer festivals: Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. The former needs little introduction — Perry Farrell’s unexpectedly fruitful brainchild is, almost undeniably, the inspiration for the explosion of summer fests over the last two decades, a trend that has grown even more robust since the turn of the century. Every weekend each summer now features at least one festival worthy of audiences’ ears. The trend has even reached Cincinnati, where Bunbury just finished its second successful year — and shared a headliner with Pitchfork. (Whether outdoor settings, marked by often difficult weather conditions and bright sunlight, is the best way to experience the type of music offered at such festivals is a different question.)
Lollapalooza is, alongside behemoths Coachella and Boonaroo, one of America’s biggest and best-attended summer fests, boasting more than 130 artists and an audience in excess of 150,000. Pitchfork, meanwhile, has quickly established itself as a singular presence on the summer circuit, a discerningly curated endeavor that’s an extension of the influential, taste-making webzine that runs it. (Chicago-based Pitchfork.com took over the business side of the fest in 2006 after curating 2005’s initial gathering, which was then called the Intonation Festival). Set in Union Park — a modest city-block space just west of downtown Chicago — Pitchfork now features nearly 50 artists, many of which are still unfamiliar to all but the most plugged-in Indie music connoisseurs. (Ironically, as a champion of cutting-edge acts on the way up, Pitchfork also serves as an early snapshot of future Lollapalooza lineups.)
This year’s Pitchfork, which ran July 19-21, offered one of its most curious lineups to date, especially as it pertains to the headliners, which included Bjork, Belle and Sebastian and, somewhat controversially, R. Kelly. Sure, there were several typically lesser-known acts on the bill, but almost all of them graced the Blue Stage, the smallest of the fest’s three stages. Whether this year’s more accessible bill might have been a reaction to last year’s fest, which gave relatively high-profile slots to such interesting but largely faceless artists as AraabMuzik, Purity Ring, The Field, Big K.R.I.T., Hot Chip and Chavez, among others, is anyone’s guess, but a realignment of sorts from Pitchfork’s powers that be seems plausible.
More proof of a possible shift in booking philosophy: There were more veteran acts than ever this year. Beyond the headliners, each of which has been making music for more than two decades, there was Wire, The Breeders, Swans, … And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Low and Yo La Tengo. The only comparable 2012 act in terms of longevity — admittedly not the best gauge when it comes to creative vitality, but we’re talking audience-drawers here — was Godspeed You Black Emperor, which headlined along with Feist and Vampire Weekend. All are solid acts, but none of them are likely to perk the senses of those looking for a little “star power.” Enter Kelly, one of the era’s preeminent hit-makers (more on that later).
As usual, many of Pitchfork 2013’s most interesting artists emanated from the Blue Stage, which is the most intimate of the fest’s three stages — the larger Green and Red stages (note the refreshing lack of corporate branding, another sign of Pitchfork’s discerning nature), which are but 50 yards (or so) apart, alternate acts at the north end of Union Park, while Blue’s lineup overlaps with the other two. Tucked into a tree-laden area of the park’s southwest corner, the Blue Stage is something of a festival unto itself, its cozy confines offering a break from the spacious, open-air spots where the Green and Red reside.
Multiple Blue Stage artists delivered strong sets, including Frankie Rose, a former Dum Dum Girl whose latest album, Interstellar, is a Synth Pop gem that wouldn’t sound out place alongside Beach House; Mikal Cronin, a little ragamuffin of a guy whose latest album, MCII, is a Power Pop keeper; Angel Olsen, whose Americana-flavored songs and swoon-worthy voice and visage compelled much of the audience during her late-afternoon slot; Metz, a Canadian trio coming to Cincy for this year's MidPoint Music Festival in late September, whose terse songs roared even more righteously in a live setting (think Nirvana on fast-forward); Minnesota mainstays Low, who seemed oddly out of place but still effective in the early evening light; and Trash Talk, a Hardcore crew from Sacramento, Calif., whose long-haired frontman delivered the funniest line of the fest after noticing a number of “old people” in the relatively sparse Friday-afternoon crowd: “I like old people. Old people make the world go around. They fucking had us and shit.”
Best of all — or at least the biggest surprise — was Brooklyn-based Post Punk quartet Parquet Courts, whose playful, twisty tunes recall everyone from early Pavement to the Minutemen to a far less trashed Guided by Voices. Frontman Andrew Savage’s voice is thin but endearing, and his dynamic guitar interplay with fellow frontguy Austin Brown had more than one rapt audience member shaking their ass in the Saturday-afternoon sun.
One got the sense that the Parquet Courts dudes would have been just as happy performing on the street corner just beyond the fence behind them. The fact that they had a much bigger platform to deliver their slanted gospel is just one example of what has made Pitchfork so vital for those looking to experience something rawer and less polished than the acts that dominate other festivals. (Go get Parquet Court’s recent full-length, Light Up Gold, as soon as possible.)
Even the Blue Stage’s less successful performances were compelling in one way or another: while Julia Holter, Ryan Hemsworth, Andy Stott and Evian Christ — the latter three DJs who essentially stand behind a table — have issues in the area of crowd interaction and sometimes suffered from spotty sound mixes, each was able to convey its mood-altering music in ways that, at the very least, provided sonic respites from the relatively more conventional acts at the bigger stages, whose roar often bled into the Blue’s.
On to the two main stages, which drew large, unusually enthusiastic crowds all weekend. Long a champion of adventurous Hip Hop, Pitchfork again featured some intriguing purveyors of the form, most notably Sunday sets by Killer Mike and El-P. The pair released two of the best albums of 2012, and their stellar recent collaboration, dubbed Run the Jewels, dropped as a free download in June. After a sweaty set in which Mike ran through songs from his R.A.P. Music — including strong versions of the title track and the politically cutting “Reagan” — he joined his buddy El-P for a batch of Run the Jewels cuts that mixed verbal dexterity with a healthy dose of levity. Their record, simply titled Run the Jewels, is something of a break from the duo’s doomsday aesthetic as solo artists — Jewels is an exuberant, sonically diverse fun-ride that makes light of Hip Hop’s silly preoccupation with bling (the two performed with fake gold chains around their necks), among other Pop-culture oddities. (El-P later tweeted, “I’ll just go ahead and say @pitchforkfest is the most chill, fun ass festival around right now.)
Run the Jewels was an interesting transition into a set from the ever-vital Yo La Tengo, which mixed choice cuts from its vast back-catalog (including sweet reworked versions of “Autumn Sweater,” “Tom Courtney” and “The Hour Grows Late”) with several tunes from the New Jersey trio’s latest record, Fade. As usual, they didn’t interact much with the crowd, though frontman Ira Kaplan, who dropped in several impressive guitar freak-outs, did joke that it was “good to be opening for R. Kelly again.”
The fest’s most curious social-media-stirring moment occurred Sunday evening as M.I.A., amid a garishly colorful backdrop of spinning wheels and neon lights, unveiled songs from her forthcoming album, Matangi. A sea of cell phones rose to record her entrance; many stayed aloft throughout. It was a departure in audience etiquette — somewhat unexpectedly, much of the festival was free of such ubiquitous use of technological interference.
Clad in a flashy gold top and orange short-shorts, M.I.A. stalked the stage, often with dancers at her side, as bass-heavy Dance-Rap arrangements thundered through the ample soundsystem with almost netherworldly force. The ceaseless sonic assault pretty much drowned out whatever she might have been trying to convey in her new songs — which, based on the spottiness of her previous record and the delayed release of Matangi, might be a good thing. Only when her set was interrupted by technical glitches did she seem spontaneous or even all that engaged. It was a weird, disjointed set, the kind of whiz-bang spectacle that rarely rears its head at Pitchfork.
In contrast, Savages Saturday afternoon appearance was a model of lacerating intensity. The buzzed-about British quartet — whose recent debut Silence Yourself is a satisfying blast of atmospheric Post Punk — was one of the most anticipated acts of fest. They didn’t disappoint, delivering blistering versions of “I Am Here,” “She Will” and “Fuckers,” a new song about not letting the “fuckers get you down.”
Jehnny Beth is a captivating frontlady, her no-bullshit stare and frequent high-pitched yelps lifting the music’s familiar elements — everyone from Gang of Four and Patti Smith to Siouxsie Sioux and PJ Harvey come immediately to mind — to uncharted heights. More unexpected was the band’s tendency to evoke ’80s-era U2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even more curious was Beth’s evocation of Ian Curtis, both in terms of her appearance (lean with close-cropped hair) and in some of her mannerisms (as if the music were transporting her somewhere beyond the stage).
Michael Gira, Swans’ longtime ringleader, was impressed,
asking the audience, “How about them lady Savages?” before clapping in
appreciation. Gira’s band immediately followed Savages, and it was an
apt pairing, like opposite sides of the same coin. His crew of gifted
Post Punk vets — which includes a hairy multi-instrumentalist named Thor
and a suave German slide-guitar player who looks as though he’d be
right a home in a David Lynch flick — conjured an unholy racket during a
truncated version of “The Seer” and offered an inspired take on
“Oxygen,” which featured Gira doing a spooky Indian-like dance
throughout. While it was odd to witness Swans’ menacing, ebb-and-flow
soundscapes in broad daylight, the outdoor setting still left those in
attendance vibrating long after the band’s final drone leaked from the
That brings us to the three headliners. The festival’s mission — it attempts to highlight the most adventurous, zeitgeist-channeling acts on the current landscape — makes choosing an anchor to each day’s events a challenging dilemma for Pitchfork organizers. Given the esoteric nature of many such music-makers, there are only so many high-profile acts that fit the typical “headliner” criteria. Past choices have included such Alt-Rock mainstays as Flaming Lips, Spoon and Sonic Youth to more contemporary entries in the canon like TV on the Radio, Animal Collective and LCD Soundsystem.
Pitchfork even had Yoko Ono headline one year, which makes the choice of R. Kelly as Sunday night’s festival-closer even odder one on multiple levels. First, there’s the fact that Kelly — no doubt one of the most important R&B artists of the era, and a Chicago native to boot — is the most mainstream artist the festival has ever booked. Second, and far more troubling for many, is Kelly’s reputation as a serial misogynist who never got the legal reprimand he deserved.
The most vociferous critic has been longtime music writer Jim DeRogatis, who broke the story of Kelly’s indiscretions while working at the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002. DeRogatis called Pitchfork’s decision to book Kelly and the subsequent excitement from “some (not all) paying customers” as being “fueled by irony.”
No doubt there are legitimate questions about how an artist’s personal issues should impact the way in which we experience their music, but, for better or worse, those knotty questions were not going to be answered during Kelly’s Pitchfork set.
In fact, based on the reaction of those in the massive crowd — probably the festival’s largest ever — irony was not as prevalent as DeRogatis wanted to profess. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance, which ranged from fortysomething African-American couples to teenage hipsters, seemed genuinely excited to be taking in Kelly’s sextastic jams. The performance itself, meanwhile, was largely standard-issue R&B stagecraft, as Kelly ran through much of his extensive songbook medley-style (38 songs!). Not even a steady drizzle of rain could dampen the mood, as many swayed and sang along straight through to a set-closing version of “I Believe I Can Fly,” which was accompanied by the release of dove-shaped balloons.
If Kelly’s presentation was fairly straightforward, Bjork’s closing set on Friday was anything but. Or so it seemed — unless one was within 75 yards of the stage, it was hard to see what was going on besides fleeting glimpses of Bjork’s elaborate headgear, which looked like a porcupine lit up from within. Worse, the two video boards that flanked the Green Stage were mounted too low, rendering them almost useless to those they should intend to aid.
No matter: Bjork’s expressive voice was just as fluid and otherworldly as one would expect on slightly reconfigured versions of “Hunter,” “Joga” “Pagan Poetry” and “Army of Me.” When rain and pending lightening and thunder prompted festival organizers to pull the plug after an hour, Bjork responded with this curio: “It’s calm. I don’t know. This wouldn’t be much in Iceland, I can tell you that much.”
It also rained on Belle and Sebastian Saturday night, but not enough to cut short what was the festival’s most overt nod to nostalgia. The Scottish crew ran through a career-spanning set that crested early with rousing versions of “I’m a Cuckoo” and “The Stars of Track and Field,” which had more than one thirtysomething couple embracing amid all the tuneful sweetness.
These artists will join previously announced MPMF.13 performers like The Breeders, The Head and The Heart, Warpaint, Shuggie Otis, Youth Lagoon, Cody ChesnuTT and many others. Visit MPMF.com and follow MPMF’s social media accounts for the latest artist additions and other MPMF news.
Tickets for 2013’s MidPoint Music
Festival are available now at mpmf.cincyticket.com, where you can
purchase three-day passes for only $69, the music fest bargain of the
The Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati falls on the same weekend as two other big regional music fests, one 100 miles to our south and the other about 300 miles northwest of the Queen City. Like Bunbury, the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago and the 10th annual Forecastle fest are happening July 13-15.
In theory, the proximity (geographically and time-wise) should lead to some crossover, as artists from one event might run their tour route to the other cities to score some of those big festival performance fees. (MidPoint's 2011 fest in Cincy, for example, shared some acts with the somewhat nearby Pygmalion Music Festival in Urbana-Champaign, Ill.) But so far that hasn't happened with Bunbury, which seems to be focusing on more mainstream "Alternative" artists, as opposed to Pitchfork's more esoteric lineup and Forecastle's endearing mishmash of styles.
Louisville's Forecastle previously announced that hometown heroes My Morning Jacket would be curating the event and performing. This morning organizers announced that joining them will be Dubstep superstar Bassnectar and Dad Rock champs Wilco, plus Andrew Bird, Girl Talk, Atmosphere, Neko Case, Sleigh Bells, A-Trak, Dean Wareham (playing Galaxie 500 songs), Galactic, Clutch, Flying Lotus, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Mike Doughty, Real Estate, Deer Tick, Charles Bradley, JEFF the Brotherhood and Cincinnati's Walk the Moon, among others. Click here for ticket info and the the full lineup so far.
Meanwhile, here is who Pitchfork announced yesterday for this year's event in Chicago's Union Park: Vampire Weekend, Feist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Hot Chip, AraabMUZIK, A$AP Rocky, The Field, Liturgy, Kendrick Lamar, Grimes, Cloud Nothings, Tim Hecker and Willis Earl Beal. Thirty more artists will be announced later.
Pitchfork tickets go on sale next Friday, March 9, at noon via the Pitchfork fest's site here.
So if you could go to any of the three festivals, based on the info available so far (and not counting travel costs and lodging arrangements) which one would you attend — Cincinnati's, Louisville's or Chicago's?
When it was announced that Cincinnati native Bryce Dessner would be one of the curators of the huge Big Ears festival in Knoxville, Tenn., at the end of March, some wondered if his annual hometown avant/Indie/Chamber MusicNOW festival would happen in 2010, considering the similarities in programming and timing. So it was good news to hear that MusicNOW is on schedule for March 30-April 1 at Memorial Hall (next to Music Hall), just after Big Ears and featuring some of the same artists.