The wholly unexpected announcement of a pair of reunion shows by one of Cincinnati’s greatest bands, Ass Ponys, inspired a sense of excitement within me that was matched only by the birth of my two children, the legal end of my first marriage and meeting the woman who convinced me to sign up for a 33-year-and-counting second hitch.
You might think that's overstating a case, and I might think so as well, but the fact remains that I was beside myself at the thought of seeing Ass Ponys in action after a decade-long hiatus. And the reason was quite simple — I had never seen the Ass Ponys during their 17-year run.
As Ass Ponys frontman Chuck Cleaver has said many times since the reunion was trumpeted, the band was never nearly as popular here in Cincinnati as they were out in the wider, smarter world. That fact had nothing to do with the reality that I had never seen them play. I loved them before they'd recorded a single note of music.
My first exposure to Ass Ponys was their one-song appearance on WVXU's tribute to The Who in the summer of 1989, simulcast live from the station’s studios and appropriately dubbed “Who Cares.” Ass Ponys were among a stellar local lineup that included The Afghan Whigs, The Speed Hickeys, The Thangs, Human Zoo, Bucking Strap, SS0-20, Warsaw Falcons and many others. Each contributed a single song to the proceedings. Ass Ponys, accompanied by local guitar legend Bill Weber, roared through a Who rarity, "Glow Girl," an outtake that appeared on the 1974 collection, Odds & Sods. Having heard about them but never actually having heard them, the band’s R.E.M.-esque take on "Glow Girl" sold me in half a heartbeat. I taped all of the musical performances from “Who Cares” on that July evening (oddly enough the 20th anniversary of the moon landing — insert inadvertent Keith Moon reference here) and I cherish that cassette. Ass Ponys' rendition of the Who's archive gem remains a personal highlight.
Four months later, I took a job with a design/marketing firm and almost immediately began clocking serious overtime. Just over a year after that, I revived my freelance writing career as an adjunct to my full-time position, and hours that might have been used to see local shows dissipated like cigarette smoke in a cyclone. As much as I wanted to see Ass Ponys, the planet alignment of my ability to slink out into a night coinciding with one of their local appearances never occurred.
But I avidly followed the band’s recording endeavors. I bought Mr. Superlove and Grim upon release in the early ’90s, and my freelance writing activity earned me a contact at A&M Records, which resulted in Electric Rock Music and The Known Universe showing up in my post office box. I raged at the cosmos when Ass Ponys was dropped from the label's roster and exulted when they chimed with typical Cleaver "fuck it" bravado and re-blazed their independent trail with Lohio and Some Stupid with a Flare Gun.
Ass Ponys' catalog took on the gravitas of scripture for me, stone musical tablets engraved by the flaming finger of God and sent forth into the world to instruct the unwashed and convert the unconverted. They sang about loss and death and dysfunction and insanity with a cheerily twisted conviction that was infectious and transcendent, and I drank their bitter Kool-Aid with a smile on my face and their songs in my heart.
Obviously, just as the Ass Ponys blipped off area radar screens in 2005, Cleaver’s musical collaboration with Lisa Walker was blossoming, laying the foundation for a decade of Wussy brilliance (which continues next March with the release of Forever Sounds). Yet even as Wussy's star ascended, and the band's permanence was asserted, questions lingered about Ass Ponys' status. They had never regretted to inform their fans of their demise, never bid the faithful a teary farewell at the finale of a blaze-of-glory last show. Ass Ponys simply ceased to be, its members scattering to new situations and directions.
Maybe that's why the announcement of Ass Ponys' reunion shows at Over-the-Rhine’s Woodward Theater Nov. 6 and 7 was met with such an exuberant reception. As inauspiciously as the band retreated into the shadows, Ass Ponys planned their return with an equal lack of fanfare. But the loyal had little interest in allowing the band to shuffle quietly back into the spotlight. It was quickly apparent by way of social media posts that fans from around the country were already planning their Cincinnati pilgrimages to crowd the front of an Ass Ponys stage one more time.
With the Friday night show, after weeks of fairly intense rehearsals, the waiting came to an end and Ass Ponys steeled themselves to the task of presenting material that was, in some cases, close to a quarter-century old. Cleaver reported just prior to the show that he was likely the least nervous member of the band, revealing that bassist Randy Cheek had been up all the previous night thinking about their first show in over 10 years; presumably, guitarist John Erhardt (who plays with Cleaver in Wussy) and drummer Dave Morrison expressed similar signs of anxiety. But Cleaver also noted that the Woodward shows would be populated by the friendliest audiences Ass Ponys had ever attracted.
Friday's show began with a terrific set from Swim Team, which rocked a vibe that was part '60s-Pop melodicism, part Blondie-tinted New Wave edge and part Slits avant Art Rock eclecticism. Frontwoman Lillian Currens veered from a sweet Pop croon to a visceral Rock wail while the rest of the band provided an appropriately dynamic soundscape for her gymnastic vocals to pinwheel around in, creating a Riot Grrrl/Lana Del Ray mixtape. The quartet's brash and jittery opening set was the perfect introduction to what would prove to be an incredible moment in Cincinnati's musical history.
Given that I was an Ass Ponys stage virgin until Friday's glorious deflowering, I can offer no comparisons, no yardstick of performances past by which to measure the band's transfiguration into a contemporary unit. What I do know is that the four members of Ass Ponys have spent the last 10 years playing in some of the best and brawniest and most creative bands in recent memory, and that expansive breadth of experience couldn't help but elevate Ass Ponys' performance to an incredible new level in the modern context. Cleaver had noted during an interview on Class X Radio with Eddy Mullet and I the Monday before the shows that the band had discussed how to approach their material, with everyone agreeing it was best to relearn and rearrange the songs with their current expertise, rather than to recreate them note for note for the sake of some manufactured nostalgia.
The wisdom of that decision was proven with indelible and muscular versions of some of the best selections from Ass Ponys' powerful songbook. They went effortlessly from strength to strength, spitting and kicking and tearing through early classics ("I Love Bob," "Azalea"), A&M-era standouts ("Earth to Grandma," "Shoe Money," "Under Cedars and Stars") and late period wonders ("Butterfly," "Pretty as You Please," "Astronaut"), all with a renewed vigor and the hyper-electric jolt of pissing on an electric fence.
As usual, Cleaver was an engaging ringmaster. Three songs in, he noted in classic style, "Some things never change. I still sweat like a whore in church." He then recounted an observation made by a woman he overheard at an Ass Ponys show years ago: "I've never seen a man sweat that much without passing out." Throughout the night, people would call out unrehearsed requests which Cleaver fielded with a definitive "Nope." Cleaver explained the origins of songs ("This one's about a monkey …”) and kept up his standard patter-on-wry, but mostly he thanked the multitude for its dedication and passion, noting how humbling it was to see how many people drove and flew in from all over the country (rumor had it someone was coming from England) with the sole objective of witnessing the Ass Ponys' fresh splendor.
At the end, Cleaver announced — sarcastically and yet somehow lovingly — "This is the one that bought us our luxurious lifestyle," and the group launched into its MTV/college radio hit, "Little Bastard," the last in a long string of sing-along moments. If the show had gone on for another two hours, it would have seemed too short, but with the fading strains of "Little Bastard" ringing in my ears, I felt that my first and likely last live exposure to Ass Ponys was an overwhelming success and quite possibly an ecstatic religious experience.
As Wussy bassist Mark Messerly noted before the show started, the atmosphere at the Woodward was like a high school reunion "where you like everyone and you want to be there." 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott recounted how he had grown up down the street from Cleaver and had graduated with his daughter, ultimately crediting the Ass Ponys with sparking his interest in picking up a guitar and making his own music.
A lot of Friday's attendees had a direct connection to Ass Ponys' past and present. Vacation/Tweens drummer Jerri Queen (who would be opening Saturday's show with Vacation) helped produce and engineer the new Wussy album (as did Swim Team guitarist John Hoffman). The Ready Stance guitarist/vocalist Wes Pence, now bandmates with Cheek, was a contemporary of Ass Ponys with his ’90s outfit Middlemarch. Afghan Whigs bassist John Curley produced or engineered the first four Ass Ponys releases. Tigerlilies guitarist/vocalist Pat Hennessey was fronting The Thangs back in ’80s and ’90s, and was in a Fairmount Girls lineup with Cheek. Jim and Darren Blase helped maintain the Ass Ponys' flame by releasing the 2005 two-disc retrospective, The Okra Years, on their Shake It Records imprint.
Blase, freshly relocated back to Cincinnati after several years in Cambridge, Mass. (stop into Shake It’s shop and welcome him home), rightly noted that while Ass Ponys' influence is far-reaching and pervasive, no one, from the time of their first rehearsal in 1989 to the Woodward show we were anxiously awaiting, sounds quite like they do, a sound Blase likened to "an Americana Pere Ubu." No truer words.
The two Woodward appearances could well be the last we ever see these members on stage together. There are still plans afoot to reissue the band's long out-of-print catalog, and several people noted that both shows were being recorded, suggesting a live record could be in the works. And since Cleaver never says never, he answered the point blank question from a fan after the show — “Will you guys ever record again?” — with a nebulous yet hopeful, "Who knows?"
Whatever happens, however it shakes out, my first Ass Ponys show was a blast. If more crop up going forward, I'll be there, as well. But you never forget your first.
In the fall of 1946, sibling Country (or “Hillbilly,” as it was dubbed) singing duo The Delmore Brothers came to downtown Cincinnati to record a session at E. T. Herzog’s studios (where famed sides by Hank Williams, Patti Page, Ernest Tubbs, Flatt and Scruggs and numerous other legends also recorded) on Race Street. Beginning their career in the ’30s, the Alabama-bred brothers had become well known for their stunning harmonies, incorporating Gospel, Blues and Folk traditions into their Country stylings.
In the mid-to-late-’40s, Rabon and Alton Delmore’s sound began to shift towards something more innovative and modern. The duo was recording for King Records, the legendary Cincinnati institution that made (and, many say, changed) music history when it began releasing R&B records alongside its Country ones. The Delmores were a part of the bridge to this open blending of styles, something that ultimately helped lay the groundwork for the creation of Rock & Roll.
Many consider The Delmore Brothers’ indispensable contributions to the genre dubbed “Hillbilly Boogie,” which blended bluesy rhythms and chord structures into the Country aesthetic, a crucial building block that helped pave the way for Rockabilly and Rock & Roll.
Former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Jim Henke is quoted as saying, “‘Hillbilly Boogie’ by the Delmore Brothers directly anticipated the development of Rockabilly and, later, Rock & Roll. With their close-knit harmonies and their guitar playing, the Delmores influenced the Everly Brothers and countless other Country, Rockabilly and Rock & Roll artists.”
During the Cincinnati sessions at Herzog, the Delmores cut tracks like “Boogie Woogie Baby” and the seminal “Freight Train Boogie,” one of the most distinct precursors to Rockabilly (some even call it the first Rock & Roll record).
This Saturday at 7 p.m., several area musicians will gather at the site of those early recordings (811 Race St., second floor, now the downtown headquarters of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation) to celebrate their 69th anniversary and the Delmore’s huge contributions to music. The local musicians who will gather for "Delmore Day" to talk about and perform songs by The Delmore Brothers include Edwin P. Vardiman with Kelly Thomas, J. Dorsey, Big Bob Burns with Jeff Wilson, Margaret Darling, Joe Mitchell, Joe Prewitt and Don Miller, Elliott Ruther, Tim Combs, Mark Dunbar, Travis Frazier, David Rhodes Brown with Jared Schaedle and Ally Hurt.
The event is open to the public (fans of all ages are welcome) and free. Here is the Facebook event page for more info.
After a tumultuous period that included personnel change, a career lull, an identity shift and finally an unexpected and unfortunate dissolution, the members of Pomegranates clearly thought their time had come and gone. But now, in a story twist that is equally unexpected and exultantly hailed by even the most casual fan, the Cincinnati band is taking two final bows on stage at Newport’s Southgate House Revival this Saturday, and one final stab at studio redemption with the release of its fifth album, Healing Power.
Two years ago, Pomegranates played what they intended to be their last show. The quartet had toured relentlessly behind its fourth album, 2012's Heaven, and when the band finally dropped anchor, the members began work on what should have been their fifth album.
"We thought we were going to make a noisier Rock record and instead, overall, it seems pretty low key and way more chilled out," drummer Jacob Merritt says. "And it's pretty long, also, with more songs — I don't know if ‘sprawling’ is the right word."
When Pomegranates started shopping their new tunes around, they were more than a little dismayed at the lukewarm reception they received. The departure of multi-instrumentalist Curt Kiser and the arrival of the similarly-talented Pierce Geary infused the band with a fresh perspective, but the indifference to Healing Power flooded them with self-doubt. And with members Isaac Karns and Joey Cook thinking about solo projects, the quartet began to reconsider everything.
"We were a nominally successful, mid-level band and we had been for a few years," Merritt says. "We gave (Healing Power) to a bunch of labels and managers and no one seemed to care. There was this weird stigma, where people were like, 'You guys have been around so long (the band formed way back in the mid-’00s), and you get on all these great tours. Why aren't you more successful?' And no one wanted to take the jump to help us become more successful. Nothing seemed to happen, and the guys were getting tired of the slow, steady growth and the grind of being away for weeks at a time, so we were very disappointed. The lineup had changed with Pierce, and it didn't make sense to release the album as it was, and we were second-guessing ourselves because no new people in the industry seemed to be interested and we were like, ‘Maybe this isn't good.’ ”
Thinking that perhaps they needed to shake things up, with a personnel change representing a good time to implement just such a jostle, Pomegranates dropped their name and adopted the title of the new album as their new moniker.
"We wanted to call the album Healing Power but at that point, we were like, 'Let's turn a new leaf and just be Healing Power,’ ” Merritt says. "It seemed to confuse a lot of people, because we weren't doing anything differently. We were still Pomegranates, playing the same set, but there were people who were like, 'I don't know about Healing Power, I like Pomegranates.’ That was perhaps a mistake, if you want to call it that.”
Healing Power lasted for close to a year before the quartet decided to pack it in. The band's official last show came almost exactly a year ago at the request of one of its biggest fans in Virginia, who messaged the group through Facebook and asked if it would consider getting back together to play a wedding. They thought it was a nice way to go out.
"Our last show was a wedding in a bike shop," Merritt says. "We were like, 'Why not?' We just felt like it."
The reclamation of the Healing Power album began with Merritt's friend Ben Wittkugel, who had become interested in the music industry while a student at Indiana University. Knowing Pomegranates were sitting on an unreleased album, Wittkugel proposed an interesting idea.
"He wanted to start a cassette tape label to go hand-in-hand with a concert promotion company he was trying to get started," Merritt says. “He wanted to put this thing out and we were like, 'Sure. Whatever.’ ”
Wittkugel will release somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 first-edition cassette copies of Healing Power through his Winspear label, and the band has pressed up about 100 CDs — there's also a four-song vinyl EP of re-recorded tracks and one song that was dropped from the album ("I don't know why we were so adamant about not having it on the album because it may be one of the better songs …") — which will all be available at the Southgate House shows. The album and EP will then be available digitally when the limited pressings are sold out.
"Unless something that happens to people in the movies happens to us," Merritt clarifies with a laugh.
Merritt's description of Healing Power as sprawling is appropriate; the album has several propulsive moments, including the staggering, stuttering majesty of the seven minute "Hand of Death" and the tribal electric blast of "House of My Mortal Father." There is also a fairly diverse dynamic across Healing Power's 13 cuts, which careen from those spurts of high energy to atmospheric and moody Pop confections, like the gentle and aptly titled "Taking It Easy" and the melancholic reverie of "Morning Light," with the strolling bounce of the title track finding the middle ground between those stylistic ends of the spectrum. Logically, Healing Power stands as a natural progression from Heaven, which the band also thought would be louder and less constrained, and it also reveals Pomegranates' impending solo directions, as the majority of the album consists of songs that Karns and Cook brought to the band in more or less completed form.
"In the past, it was 80% Pomegranates, 20% their songs, and this time it's probably 40% Pomegranates and 60% their songs," Merritt says. “It's hard to know, because you perceive it differently than other people perceive it, because you're so close to it. In my mind, (Healing Power) seems less reverb-y and more introspective. Not that there's not a few moments that are a little more up-tempo."
Although Pomegranates splintered at the end, there's no hard feelings among the band members; they continue to work and hang together ("We've been in each other's weddings …"). Cook and Geary are working on Cook's solo project, Merritt runs the Sabbath Recording — where Karns also works, including on a recent project with Aaron Collins — and he keeps a busy schedule recording local bands like Dark Colour and The Yugos, as well as bands outside of the area.
Pomegranates' live return has generated a huge buzz, with the Southgate show selling out so quickly that the band added a second, earlier show to the slate (both of which will be opened by Keeps). That response begs the question of any possible consideration for maintaining Pomegranates as a side project going forward.
"I would say, ‘We'll see,’ ” Merritt says, diplomatically. "Obviously, we aren't opposed to things happening if and when the time arises to play a show here or there. Beyond that, I'm not really sure."
The band's two shows will be structured the same, with older catalog material comprising the first half of the set and songs from Healing Power populating the second half, which will also be distinguished by an appearance from Kiser, who will join the lineup to play the new songs.
Given the fact that these two shows could represent the last time Pomegranates play together for the foreseeable future, though they also seem to be keeping their options open, there is both very little and potentially quite a lot at stake with the release of Healing Power. Still, the band members are happy to just live in the moment and cherish the memory of the impact they've had to this point.
"I know how difficult it is for a band to find their audience and to play music for people," Merritt says, philosophically. "To know that our music has meant enough to people that, if even 30 people showed up for one show, it's like, 'Cool, you guys still care.' But when you hear stories about people who were suicidal and they heard your music and it changed their lives and they credit you as a piece of why they're still alive — those sorts of things are really awesome. There's people coming from Chicago and Virginia and Michigan and North Carolina (for the Southgate shows). It's cool. We found people that our music really resonated with."
Over the past year or so, Northern Kentucky’s SofaBurn Records has risen to become one of the more notable independent record labels in the region. The imprint has helped draw national attention to locally-produced gems like singer/songwriter Jeremy Pinnell’s amazing OH/KY album, and it has also released various singles featuring area artists like Buffalo Killers and R. Ring (featuring Kelley Deal and Northern Kentucky’s Mike Montgomery). Tomorrow (Oct. 9), the label is putting out the latest from former SubPop recording artist and Kentucky native Daniel Martin Moore; you can listen to Moore’s Golden Age (produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James) now via the Wall Street Journal’s website.
Another great local band that is part of the SofaBurn roster is Alone at 3AM, the soulful and melodic Roots Rock crew fronted by singer/songwriter Max Fender that has been kicking ass for the past decade and a half-plus with consistently excellent releases showcasing Fender’s compelling songwriting abilities.
Alone at 3AM’s fantastic new album, Show the Blood, was released by SofaBurn last month and it has already scored some glowing reviews, including one from Roots Rock/AltCountry bible No Depression, which called the LP “a superb album from the first to the last track.”
This Saturday, Alone at 3AM is playing a free show at Northside’s Comet to support the new release. The 10 p.m. show also includes sets from Northern Kentucky’s A City on Fire and Joliet, Ill.’s Death and Memphis.
Ahead of the show, the band has unveiled a new music video for Show the Blood track “I’m Dying,” a Heartland Rock ear-worm that Springsteen/Petty fans should instantly fall in love with. (The track was premiered on Guitar World’s website back in July.)
The “I’m Dying” video is a no-nonsense clip shot in Northern Kentucky. "This video is just a little window into what life is like in Dayton, Ky., where I wrote the album,” Fender says. “(We) had lots of fun shooting it with Sarah (Davis, Alone at 3AM harmony singer and keyboardist).”
After the show at The Comet, Fender is setting off on a European solo tour with labelmate Pinnell. Click here to keep tabs on the latest Alone at 3AM happenings.
Casino Warrior is a name that many local music fans aren’t aware of. So far, the quartet (bassist Kevin McNair, vocalist and guitarist Miguel Richards, guitarist Billy Buzek and drummer Chad Wolary) has only played two real shows, one of which was its recent EP release party. But rest assured, based on the strength of the band’s live performance and its new, riff-laden, five-track release, the name will become much more recognizable quickly.
Centaur EP follows in the same vein as other Rock/Metal hybrids that are currently dominating many a longhairs’ playlist. If the likes of Red Fang, Black Tusk, Orange Goblin or old The Sword cause your skull and brain to repeatedly high five, then the Centaur EP is right up your alley. Richards and Buzek’s guitar leads show considerable chops; there are enough riffs in these five songs to warrant several back-to-back play-throughs just to unravel the heavy layers. Guitar nerds will be overjoyed; the rest of us will just bang our heads until we get a nosebleed.
Of course, riffs are great, but unless the floor tremors and eardrums pop, the Metal equation is only halfway completed. That’s where McNair and Wolary come in. McNair’s low-end rumbles through the mix and sets up shop in your chest. Playing this record at a high volume (as if there was any other allowable setting) is liable to shake things off the wall. Beware of any loose china or pictures of grandma that you may have sitting around your sound system. Wolary’s skin work rounds out the quartet and he brings the thunder; at times, it sounds like Zildjian gave the Incredible Hulk a gear sponsorship. And Hulk definitely smashes.
Richards’ vocals walk a fine line between ’70s Rock clean singing and the current-day growls. Each chorus and verse is delivered with a ferocity that makes the lyrics even more hilarious. I cannot wait for more people to get their hands on the album, learn the words, and yell “Horse balls!” when Casino Warrior performs “Centaur” at its next gig. In fact, each song on the EP is as ridiculous as the last. When your subject matter involves chupacabras, pterodactyls and the aforementioned centaurs, things are bound to get a little weird.
Of particular note is the song that Casino Warrior closed its EP release show with — “Pig Roast.” The track starts with a tribal rhythm from Wolary that’s worthy of accompanying a Fury Road war party, along with a bassline gut-punch courtesy of McNair. Shortly thereafter, Richards and Buzek join in with an earworm of a riff and Richards’ beefiest vocal delivery on the record. His ode to our great city demands attention before the band transitions to an extended outro that allows Richards and Buzek to show off their soloing abilities. And, what do you know — they’re amazing at more than just riffing.
As a whole, “Pig Roast” exemplifies what Casino Warrior is capable of. The band has a rhythm section that lays a rock solid foundation of groove upon which the guitars build a temple to the Riff Lords of old. The songs are more than the sum of their parts — and their parts already have quite a few big numbers involved. The guys have created a rare release that is musically serious, but still fun; heavy, but still accessible.
If you’re a Cincinnati Rock and/or Metal fan, do yourself a favor and jump on the Casino Warrior bandwagon now — it’s about to get much more crowded.
With the summer music-festival season winding down and Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival just two weeks away (did you pick up this week’s CityBeat for official guide, right? If not, you can find info here), you might think there’d be a music-fest lull this week. But two (very different) festivals northeast of Cincinnati are keeping the vibe alive this weekend — the Foxfire Freedom Festival in Morrow, Ohio, and the Longstone Street Festival in Milford, Ohio.
The Foxfire fest, dubbed a “music and sustainability festival,” takes place Friday and Saturday at Morgan’s Riverside Campground & Cabins in Morrow, along the Little Miami River (you can even go canoeing if you’re up for it!). The $45 two-day ticket, available at the gate, covers camping Friday and Saturday night (one-day, non-camping tickets are $15). Foxfire will feature vendors and information related to being an environmentally-friendly citizen (the “sustainability” mention), with live music from several area Roots/Americana/Bluegrass performers, as well as acts that play other genres (or a fusion of several).
Friday’s Foxfire lineup kicks off at 6 p.m. and features Dead Man String Band, Easy Tom Eby, Jared Schaedle, Joe Wolf, Heather Hamlet and Richard Cisneros. On Saturday, music begins at noo. The Saturday lineup features Common Center, Baoku Moses And The Image Afro-Beat Band, Lawson Family Reunion, Simply Dan String Band, Aaron Hendrick Trio, Black Mountain Throwdown, Adam Singer, Little Miami String Band, Allen Talbott, Blue Caboose and a songwriters-in-the-round session with Greg Mahan, Wolfcryer and Achilles Tenderloin.
Click here for links to more info on all of the artists.
The Longstone Street Festival takes place Saturday along Main Street in Milford’s historic downtown district. The annual free event celebrates Milford with various food and arts and crafts vendors, plus a stage featuring a variety of musical acts all day long. This year, the music starts at noon with My Brother’s Keeper (featuring Andrew Hibbard). Other Longstone performers include Seabird, Harbour, Along the Shore, Taylor Shannon, Shiny and the Spoon, Daniel in Stereo, Static Wonder and a band featuring students from the School of Rock Mason.
For full details (including info on vendors, kids’ activities and more), visit longstonestreetfestival.com. The times the various performers are playing the Longstone Street Festival can be found at the event’s Facebook page, which also includes music and video samples of several of the artists.
The Foxfire Freedom Festival and the Longstone Street Festival are both open to all ages and are family friendly.
I tried to watch last night's Video Music Awards on MTV, but it was such an awkward and confusing clusterfuck, I couldn’t take much of it, flipping through for a few moments before moving on out of embarrassment for the people on the screen. I usually like when awards shows are a little chaotic (and the VMAs are known for their often-desperate attempts to be “not your mama’s awards show”). And I actually have always enjoyed the pop-culture pageantry of awards shows in general. But on last night’s VMAs, the annoyance factor was so high, I couldn’t even watch it on a “so bad you can’t look away” level. It made me anxious and uncomfortable, like watching someone fumbling over their words and breaking down while giving a speech in public (kind of like Kanye on last night's show).
It wasn’t really even the performances that made it so unwatchable (most were pretty solid for what they were). It was all of the in-between absurdity that made it so cringe-worthy.
Speaking of performances, some Cincinnati artists did well on the big stage. Walk the Moon has become so experienced with these kinds of high-profile appearances that it wasn’t surprising the band’s umpteenth performance of “Shut Up and Dance” was flawless. Airing during the opening of the pre-show “rainbow carpet” portion, I found myself thinking (as I do whenever I hear the hit on the radio), “You know, they have other songs, including a new single?” “Shut Up” was considered a “song of the summer” contender, though it’s been on the radio for like 15 years (OK, it was released as a single in September of 2014, but still). Then the band played the new single, “Different Colors”! And MTV promptly cut them off. (Even “Shut Up” was interrupted mid-song so the pre-show hosts could introduce the program, the clumsiness of which ended up being indicative of the overall mess the VMAs turned out to be.)
The weirder Cincinnati-related appearance came during Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ performance of their new single, “Downtown.” I was not aware of the guest artists on the song (OK, I was not aware they had a new song), so I turned it on just as Hip Hop legends Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz were rapping while walking down the street, thinking it was some cool old-school tribute the awards show was presenting. Then Macklemore came on and I reached for the remote, still unable to figure out what was going on. Then Eric Nally from late Cincinnati greats Foxy Shazam joined in, singing the chorus and doing some of his trademark stage moves and I officially thought I was just having a dream.
Nally did a great job and he caused a lot of buzz online, mostly of the “Who was that guy?” variety (when the single was released last week, a bunch of idiots rehashed the “Eric Nally is racist” stories from back in 2013 when Foxy Shazam released the single, “I Like It.”)
It’s weird mash-up of a song, parts of which I like, while other parts I find tremendously aggravating. Which is kind of what the VMAs were. Is this the present state of popular youth culture? Throw a bunch of unrelated stuff together, put it in a blender and then just stare at the blender, not caring or knowing what the end result is?
MTV/Viacom had something called the O Music Awards for a few years recently, honoring things like “Favorite Fuck Yeah Tumblr,” “Favorite Animated Gif,” “Best Tweet” and “Best Artist With A Cameraphone.” The O Awards ceremony seemed unscripted and filmed without any director whatsoever. It doesn’t appear the O awards are still a thing; perhaps last night’s VMAs were a sign that the network is turning its long-running awards program into the Os?
The VMAs were largely just a big WTF moment that people would talk about/complain about/make fun of online. Which is probably exactly what MTV was going for and, scarily, perhaps the shape of youth-oriented entertainment to come.
Old, new, weird or blue – I can’t get enough.
“Thunder Clatter” – Wild Cub
This hand-clapping, shoe-tapping goodness is by far one of the best new jams I’ve came across, making it impossible to skip when it comes up in my track library. It’s upbeat, it’s joyful, and you’ll find yourself singing the final phrase, “I feel it all in the center of it all, you’re the love of my life — the love of my life” over and over again because it’s so damn catchy. (Not to mention, sweet as a peach.) Wild Club is an American Indie group that defines itself by the brand of '80s-inspired Electro-Pop, with “Thunder Clatter” becoming their most successful track. Listen for yourself and see why.
“My Wrecking Ball” – Ryan Adams
Hands down one of my favorite artists of this lifetime. I first discovered Mr. Adams when I got stranded in Arizona after Cincinnati got hit with the blizzard of the century, and I couldn’t find a flight home. (Not complaining.) I gratefully sat outside in the desert air reading Brain On Fire, in which the author talks about how her best-kept memory was hearing Ryan Adams play. And I soon learned for myself about this man — not only known as a beyond talented musician, but his approach on stage is ridiculously comedic, with a touch of thought and wisdom. “My Wrecking Ball” live at Carnegie Hall is one of my favorite tracks to play. It’s a stunning song filled with so much life, and at the very end he draws a laugh from the audience after dropping his hands onto the keyboard and saying, “I really can’t fucking play this thing at all.”
“Nocturne” – Wild Nothing
I’m starting to notice this bouncy, '80s theme in a lot of contemporary music lately, and this song is perfect example of that exact vibe. It’s a track that’s meant to fade in and out of style, with pops of a deep, deep echoing voice flowing after each verse. Not to mention, the guitar is incredible. Lead singer Jack Tatum’s unique voice and song structure creates a sound that can almost be heard in any setting. I choose Wild Nothing for drives to work, writing at my desk or even when I eat dinner on my couch. No matter what the setting, this song easily fits.
“Drag” – Day Wave
If the artist Day Wave had to go by one phrase, it would read: “I fucked up but I don’t really care.” It’s a quick beat with softly voiced lyrics, giving off the vibe where you want to dance along but also emotionally feed into what they’re saying. Day Wave’s latest track “Drag” is easily heavy on the sounds, and although the lyrics are quick, they’re so simple to catch on to. It’s repetitive without driving you crazy. And sure, it ends before you know it. But that’s all the more reason to play it over again and again and again.
“You Really Got A Hold On Me” – She & Him
Zooey Deschanel (She) and M Ward (Him) have seen individual success within their own careers, but together they turn out to be a surprisingly perfect duo. “You Really Got A Hold On Me” is one of the best examples of how these two artists compliment one another best as Ward’s voice echoes behind Deschanel’s elegant, classic sound so delicately. This song makes it easy to get swept away into a sway with someone you care for, and them swaying you right back. It’s meant to be her unhealthy yearning for him, and the lyrics go, “You treat me badly…I love you madly.” We’ve all been there…right?
With vocals as scratchy as sandpaper and an instrumental rock sound, Bootstraps are killing it with their soundtrack — their only soundtrack, to be exact.
Bootstraps are unique while maintaining a bit of what you’ve heard before. Lead singer Jordan Beckett’s voice is similar to Ray Lamontagne, while the overall sound resembles something along the lines of Coldplay. Explosions in the Sky’s strong yet delicate instrumentals play a part in the vibe this intimate band gives to their listeners.
Based in Los Angeles, Bootstraps’ admiration for California does not go unnoticed in their tracks. “OH CA” speaks for itself, while the rest of the jams have a majestic, passionate sound that carries you away to the oceans of Cali and the scenic roads that lead you there.
Personally, I’ve found Bootstraps to be a beautiful soundtrack for writing, reading and connecting deeply with your own emotions. (That’s right. ALL the feels.) My good friend Amanda with similar music taste commented on this newly discovered band and said, “I want to drink bourbon and sit and in a dark, rich, old bar while I listen to them.”
I couldn’t agree more.
My boyfriend pointed out that “their echo sounds like they are in the room next to you,” and although he wasn’t a fan of that, I absolutely was. If a band can prove to the listener that they sound that good in a live setting, then they are one hell of an artist, filled with the kind of talent that lacks a heavy amount tweaking.
Bootstraps made their mark in my book. Even though their songs remain at a mostly slow pace, I still find myself turning them on even at my happiest moments.
just that good.