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.
The 2015 edition of the MidPoint Music Festival (owned and operated by CityBeat) is less than two months away, returning to various venues in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown Sept. 25-27, and this morning organizers announced the release of the schedule and a few additional performers.
New artists added to this year’s 14th annual event include The Besnard Lakes, Heaters, The Moth & The Flame, Alberta Cross, The Glazzies and Left & Right. A few more local acts — Mad Anthony, Bulletville and Culture Queer — were also added to the roster. Widely-acclaimed Cincy-area rockers Buffalo Killers will also perform at this year’s MidPoint. You can catch a preview when the group headlines a free show tonight on Fountain Square, part of the MidPoint Indie Summer series. The band is joined by Ohio Knife, Pop Goes the Evil and Go Go Buffalo for tonight’s 7 p.m. concert.
The festival also announced new venues for this year’s fest. Woodward Theater and Maudie’s, plus an outdoor stage at the corner of 14th and Sycamore streets, join previous venues Washington Park, Taft Theatre’s Ballroom, The Drinkery, Mr. Pitiful’s, MOTR Pub, Christian Moerlein Brewery and Arnold’s to host this year’s 120-act lineup.
Though it hasn’t always been a loving relationship, Bogart’s has been a part of my musical life since the ’80s. I’m slightly older than the venue. I was 5 when it opened. But in less than 10 years, as my music fanaticism truly took hold, Bogart’s would become a place of awe to me.
It began when I entered junior high. I went to a school just a few blocks up Vine Street. It was commonly known as Schiel, but I attended during a brief period when it focused on foreign languages and was called the Cincinnati Bilingual Academy.
My fellow musically-obsessive friends at the time loved to hang out on Short Vine. The record stores were a big draw, as was the arcade, Jupiter and Beyond. So we spent as much time as we could in the area after school and on weekends. Bogart’s sat right in the middle of it all, but it was this magical, mysterious entity to us. Because the venue was yet to have “all ages” shows, we’d never seen a concert there. But we would stand out front and marvel at the posters in the window, wishing we could go see some of these very bands with which we were becoming deeply obsessed.
At some point, we discovered the alleyway that ran behind the club and realized that was where the artists entered and loaded in. So we began a ritual that lasted through high school. A few friends and I would linger around the backstage door before shows by artists we loved, hoping to see our heroes and maybe get an autograph. We would also sometimes be able to hear the musicians doing soundcheck, and every so often during our early high school years we’d be there late enough that we could actually hear some of the concert through those back doors.
There I got to meet some artists who were favorites of mine then and remain important to me to this day. Guitarist Andy Summers of The Police stopped at Bogart’s on a solo tour. The Police were by far my favorite band at the time, so it was incredibly exciting to say hello to Summers (who is a tiny, tiny man) and have him sign the pickguard I yanked off of my cheap acoustic guitar. I also got to meet the members of L.A. Punk legends X. Billy Zoom, the band’s blonde-pompadoured guitarist, was hilarious. He chatted with us briefly and then when we asked for autographs, he happily obliged, pulling a silver paint pen from his leather jacket. It must’ve been a new acquisition because he couldn’t get the cap off, so he handed it to me for help. Nervously, I got it off, but also broke the pen in the process somehow. Zoom started giving me shit and I was horribly embarrassed, but later realized he was likely just busting my chops and having fun with me.
When I was just starting junior high, British Ska/Pop band The English Beat played Bogart’s on its 1980 tour. The Beat were second only to The Police to me, but the show was during a time where we could only longingly look at the gig posters in the front windows. Later, while in high school, with our back door ritual in full swing, General Public — which featured the Beat’s frontmen Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger — were booked to play Bogart’s, so we made plans to try and meet Dave and Roger. We arrived a few hours before the show and noticed that a few upperclassmen from our high school were there hanging out as well. It was a cold day and Roger and Dave came hurriedly around the corner towards us, huddled up in coats and trying to stay warm. Dave saw the five or six of us hanging around and instantly invited us in out of the cold. This was my first time inside of Bogart’s and it felt like I’d just entered a sacred temple. I had to leave (Mom was waiting for me), but we got to make that climb up the stairs from the backstage, walk across the stage (where the band members were messing with equipment), then through the big hall and out the front doors. It was a highlight of my life up to that point.
I also camped out around back when Adrian Belew and The Bears (featuring local musicians Rob Fetters, Bob Nyswonger and Chris Arduser of The Raisins) were making their Bogart’s debut in 1985 (it was the start of the band’s very first U.S. tour). I was a huge fan of Belew’s solo albums and work with King Crimson and The Raisins were one of my favorite bands. The Raisins were the first “local band” I truly fell in love with and anytime the group played an outdoor, non-club, all-ages show (in a park usually), I was there.
Belew finally was making his way into the club as we approached, accompanied by a man we didn’t recognize. It was Arduser, who was actually the drummer during an earlier period of The Raisins, not during the time when I’d go to see them constantly. As Belew jotted down autographs for me and my friends, he introduced Chris with a silly joke I’ll probably never forget: “This is Chris Arduser, also known as Chris Our Drummer.”
Years later, when I started my writing career, several of these moments connected and came full circle. While living in New York City, I had the chance to interview X’s frontpeople Exene Cervenka and John Doe in their record label offices (I didn’t bring up the Zoom/exploding-pen incident). I did an extensive phone interview with Belew. And through writing about and interviewing Arduser and Fetters over the past 20 years, I think if they saw me on the street they’d recognize me and say, “Hello.” Just being able to talk to those guys (and Nyswonger), considering my fanaticism over their bands from a young age, was and is pretty amazing.
A few years ago, I got to sit backstage at Riverbend with Dave Wakeling when The English Beat opened for 311. He was the kindest “Rock Star” I’d ever met and he actually hung out with me and a few other people I was with before and after the show. (When he let us into Bogart’s, I was convinced it was because one of the older high school girls was very cute, but I’m now more convinced he was just being a cool guy.) At one point, I was standing next to Wakeling at the side of Riverbend’s stage watching 311 play. At one point, he leaned over and said in my ear, “I think me and Roger (who no longer performs with The Beat; Wakeling is the only original member) will get back together at some point.”
If my 13-year-old self would have been told that any of those moments would happen several decades later, he would’ve fainted.
At some point in the ’80s, Bogart’s began experimenting with having all-ages show. My very first show at the club was to see Violent Femmes (I believe in 1986), but, in the early stages of this experiment, Bogart’s herded us under-agers up into the balcony. I remember loving the show and being in the club, but I more vividly recall looking down on the club’s floor and noticing what a small audience there was. While the balcony had hundreds of kids smushed together and barely able to breathe, it seemed like there were only a couple hundred people below us. Still, I’d made it into Bogart’s! Not long after, I made it to the floor-level when the club was hosting high school cover bands for all-ages shows. The Complaints (who also did some originals I really liked) were the big band at my high school at the time and I remember the club being packed with teens for their show. (Fun fact: The Complaints’ drummer was Michael Meisel, who later became a big-time music manager for several popular artists, including Nirvana.)
The club kept expanding its all-ages policy over the next few years. Punk Rock matinee shows were very popular; I fondly remember seeing some of my favorite local Punk acts, like SS-20, The Edge and Human Zoo, thrashing around on the Bogart’s stage. It seems like a weird dream now, but there were also Punk shows that featured wrestling — an actual ring was installed in the middle of the floor and local Punk icon/radio host/Bogart’s employee Handsome Clem Carpenter not only MCed (I believe), but also wrestled.
Another early show I saw was True Believers, Alejandro Escovedo’s early punk-ish band. I remember this show because it was the first time I actually was served beer at the club. My teenage friends and I were sitting at a long table and a waitress came up to take our order; she didn’t flinch when we ordered a pitcher of beer. So, of course, we ended up ordering about 20 pitchers of beer throughout the night.
Around this time, I played my first shows at Bogart’s, something almost any young musician will tell you is a pretty special feeling. My Punk band was added to a few bills by a gracious promoter or fellow local band. I remember being so nervous at those first shows that I could barely play my instrument, partly because I was thinking about all of the famous musicians (U2, Prince, R.E.M.) who had stood right where I was standing. I ended up playing there many times over the years with various bands (opening for bands like New Model Army, Prong, Matthew Sweet and Fugazi), but the early shows were the most memorable. When my first band opened for 7 Seconds, we started to get heckled by a gaggle of skinheads in the crowd (we mixed Rap, Funk and Post Punk into our sound, which offended their purist tastes apparently). Our singer started taunting them so they approached the stage; as one started to climb up, I punched my combat boot directly into his face at the lip of the stage. After our set, the club provided us with a couple of security guards so that we could walk back up and watch 7 Seconds. We were told some skinheads were waiting for us outside, but by the time we got out, they were gone.
By the time I reached college, I was a regular at Bogart’s. I even started befriending some of the staff, dating a couple of bartenders and even marrying one. These were the days when I saw certain bands right before they graduated to “arena rock”-levels of success, like The Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys and Marilyn Manson. One of the more memorable shows was a weird 1995 package tour headlined by Mike Watt and featuring Hovercraft (which included Eddie Vedder on drums, right as he was at his Grunge God peak with Pearl Jam) and a new band fronted by Nirvana’s Dave Grohl on guitar and vocals. Grohl was road-testing his new group, which you may have heard of (rhymes with Doo Righters). Watt headlined the show and was backed by Vedder, Growl and Germs/Foo Fighters/Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear for his set.
As mentioned above, I haven’t always loved Bogart’s. The sound has ALWAYS been hit or miss, often frustratingly. I can only imagine it’s best explained by the set-up of the club (basically a big, long brick shed). There was period when the staff was almost universally rude, with harsh pat-downs at the door (at one point, if you tried to bring in anything that could remotely be considered dangerous — a lighter! A pack of cigarettes! A chain necklace! — it was often just tossed in the trash) and overly-aggressive bouncers roughing up kids who were perhaps dancing a little too hard. About 10 years ago, I got an assignment from U.K. weekly music paper NME to review an Insane Clown Posse concert at Bogart’s. During the pat-down, the door person grabbed the pen I needed to take notes and he tossed it into the garbage. I know ICP crowds can be rowdy, but, even after explaining the pen’s purpose, the doorman just blank-stared me, seemingly convinced that I was just the type to go on a serial pen-stabbing spree during the show.
I loved the ICP show, by the way. The band is a Bogart’s staple and that was my first time seeing them. The music isn’t really up my alley, but the duo’s ridiculous showmanship is truly something everyone should experience at least once. I’m convinced the two ICP dudes know they’re more a comedy act than anything — and probably chuckle at the fans who take them way too seriously — and that makes me appreciate what they do. It was like a surreal circus show gone awry and I had a smile on my face the entire time. Though afterwards, I felt really bad for the Bogart’s clean-up crew — SO. MUCH. FAYGO. I wonder which show was more dreaded by the janitors — ICP or GWAR?
The Bogart’s of today is strikingly different and in the best shape it’s been since I started going there. I remember several years ago writing a rant about the club (probably after the ICP incident) and pointing out that, in the decades I’d been going to concerts there, the venue had made absolutely zero notable improvements. Sure, they’d upgrade the sound system from time to time (usually without much noticeable improvement to the sound), but the club never seemed to improve conditions for the customers (good Lord, those bathrooms approached CBGB levels at times). Maybe it was a money issue or maybe management felt there was no reason to upgrade, since people were coming anyway. And, besides, where else would they go to see these particular acts?
But the days when going to Bogart’s felt like entering a prison yard are long gone. A few years ago, I remember going to a show and being stunned at how different it was. It was right after some upgrades and, while nothing drastic, it changed the whole vibe of the club and the experience. The staff was friendly. The front-door inspections were respectful. The bathrooms were clean. It was suddenly customer-friendly in a way I never remember it being.
There is no way I can remember every show I saw at Bogart’s, memorable or not. There have been several hundred. But a few stick out. There was the 1990 show when on-the-rise bands Faith No More and Soundgarden opened for cult Metal group Voivod; by the time the tour got to Bogart’s, the openers were blowing up on MTV and radio, which meant that less than half the large crowd stuck around to watch the headliners. Another time, when I started my writing career, I had a pre-show interview with the guitarist for Blind Melon at a restaurant next door to the club. As we chatted, late singer Shannon Hoon (who’d later put on a great show) and the other band members threw food at each other and acted (endearingly) like 12-year-olds.
Another favorite memory was a weird Red Hot Chili Peppers/Faith No More show in 1987. This was when Hillel Slovak (who later died from a heroin overdose) was still playing guitar with the Peppers (a favorite band of mine at the time), and Faith No More featured Chuck Mosley on lead vocals (well before Mike Patton took over the mic). Faith No More opened and ran through most of the material from the We Care a Lot and Introduce Yourself albums, its only releases at the time. Then things got weird and Mosley started telling the sizable crowd that the Chili Peppers weren’t going to show. Then the band started doing jams and weird covers, playing for well over an hour. Mosley did an acoustic version of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka.” By the time guitarist Jim Martin began to do a solo Hendrix-esque rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” it felt as if Mosley may not have been kidding.
Faith No More was clearly vamping and trying to fill time. Then, in the middle of a song, four heads started weaving towards the stage from the back of the room. The Chili Peppers hopped onto the stage with Faith No More and jumped up and down for a few minutes, then headed backstage. They put on a great, incredibly energetic show (they said their tour van — a VW Beetle Bus with bullhorns on the front that my friends and I saw in the parking lot afterwards — broke down on the highway, but we all suspected something drug-related caused the delay). For their encore, the Peppers came out naked except for the tube socks on their dicks (part of their schtick at the time) and looked nervous as hell, glancing over their shoulders constantly. Apparently they’d been informed about Cincinnati’s low-tolerance for anything sexual in public (remember, this was the ultra-conservative ’80s, when Cincinnati was most associated with shutting down “obscene” art exhibits and hassling Larry Flynt) and were fearful of being arrested. The band played one or two short, fast songs and then booked it off stage. (It’s just a rumor, but I’d heard the police were indeed there and going to arrest them, but the band escaped in a fan’s car and stayed at their house playing video games all night.)
I’m not a big fan of huge crowds, so sold-out Bogart’s show always put me in panic attack mode. But I’ve braved several and I’m glad I did. When Bob Dylan decided to play some smaller clubs in 1999 and chose Bogart’s as one of them, I proudly took my dad to see him. I’ve seen Dylan numerous times over the years and more often than not I’ve left disappointed. But at Bogart’s, he sounded amazing and played inspiringly. I also took the love of my life to an over-stuffed Bogart’s in 2003 see her favorite band of the time — The White Stripes — when she was several months pregnant with our child (if she’d given birth, the baby would have had to have been passed to the exit, crowd-surf style, because it was so packed).
Bogart’s has admirably supported local and regional artists since as long as I can remember. Locals were given opening slots for big-time bands often. After my first band played a crazy set at one of the club’s battle of the bands (competing mostly with straight-forward Hair Metal bands), Dan Reed, manager at the time, came up and asked if we wanted to open for Jane’s Addiction. We very much did, but Jane’s took off and ended up playing Hara Arena in Dayton instead. The aforementioned local Punk shows were always a blast. And I have fond memories of 97X’s old 97Xposure band contests. The club’s “battle of the bands” events (which I mostly attended as a guest judge after my competitive years were over) could sometimes be painful, but I always enjoyed watching the younger bands exhibiting that same awe that I felt the first time I played there (and it was fun to play “Spot the Parents”). The club also hosted a couple of benefits for local community radio station WAIF that were a lot of fun, one featuring a ton of local bands playing Christmas songs (my band decided to perform in just Christmas underwear — briefs! — which must’ve been horrifying) and one with local groups playing David Bowie songs. And I spent many great New Year’s Eves at Bogart’s when the great Columbus, Ohio band Royal Crescent Mob played there every year. I seem to remember The Afghan Whigs taking the slot a few times, too. (The many Whigs shows I’ve seen at Bogart’s, including their most recent one a couple of NYEs ago, have been some of my all-time favorites.) In recent years, CityBeat has hosted a new band showcase at Bogart’s — the staff has always been great and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the shows.
I wouldn’t say Bogart’s is my favorite club — I prefer smaller venues, in general. But I’m very thankful it exists. It has been the one constant, reliable place to check out live music of every sort in Cincinnati ever since I was a teen, and its mid-size has made it possible for mid-level acts to play the Queen City instead of skipping it altogether. More or less, my musical life has revolved around Bogart’s, and it’s hard to imagine what it (or Cincinnati’s concert scene, in general) would have been like without it. Thankfully, we don’t have to.
CityBeat celebrates the 40th anniversary of Bogart's with this week's issue. Check out Brian Baker's overview Cover Story on the club's rich history and promising future, plus sidebars on Brian's favorite moments, the view from John James' nearby record stores, Prince's surprise visit in 1984 and the infamous Heavy Metal Wheel of Sex.
Back in January at Music Hall, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, under the direction of conductor John Morris Russell, presented its unique “American Originals” concerts. During the performances, the orchestra collaborated with several local and national Folk/Americana artists to perform and celebrate the music of Stephen Foster and other early songs that are the foundation of the “Great American Songbook.”
Read CityBeat’s cover story on the project here.
Rosanne Cash, Aoife O’Donovan (who recently returned to join the Pops for its Fourth of July concert at Riverbend; read our interview with her here), Dom Flemons (formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Joe Henry joined Cincinnati area artists Over the Rhine's Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, members of the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars and others to perform specially arranged versions of Foster compositions like “O! Susannah,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Camptown Races” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” as well as traditional numbers like “Red River Valley,” “Kumbaya” and “Amazing Grace.”
A live recording of the concert featuring 17 songs will be released on Friday, Sept. 11. (You can pre-order it now here from Amazon.)
Here is the detailed track listing for the American Originals release (via cincinnatisymphony.org):
1) “O’ Susannah” (written by Foster, arranged by Chris Walden and with Joe Henry on vocals)
2) “Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair” (written by Foster, arranged by Rob Mounsey and with Aoife O’Donovan and Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine on vocals)
3) “My Old Kentucky Home” (written by Stephen Foster, arranged by Rebecca Pellett and featuring Rosanne Cash on vocals)
4) “Amazing Grace” (traditional, arranged by Pellett and featuring Aoife O’Donovan and the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars)
5) “Rolling River: Sketches On Shenandoah” (composed by Peter Boyer)
6) “Why, No One To Love?” (written by Foster, arranged by Pellett and featuring Over the Rhine’s Bergquist on vocals and her OTR partner Linford Detweiler on Rhodes keyboard)
7) “Old Folks At Home” (by Foster, arranged by Timothy Berens and featuring Dom Flemons on vocals and harmonica, Timothy Berens on banjo and Paul Patterson on fiddle)
8) “Kumbaya” (traditional, arranged by Berens and featuring Timothy Lees, Kathryn Woolley, Gabriel Pegis and Scott Mozlin on violins and Richard Jensen on djembe
9) “Slumber My Darling” (by Foster, arranged by Chris Walden and featuring O’Donovan on vocals and guitar)
10) “Aura Lee” (by Foster, arranged by Pellett and with Henry and Ed Cunningham on vocals)
11) “Foster's Folly” (by Foster, arranged by Berens)
12) “Ring, Ring The Banjo” (by Foster, arranged by Walden and featuring Flemons on banjo and bones
and Cunningham on fiddle)
13) “Red River Valley” (traditional, arranged by Berens and featuring the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars)
14) “The Battle Cry Of Freedom” (composed by George Frederick Root and arranged by Berens)
15) “Beautiful Dreamer” (by Foster, arranged by Mounsey with Cash on vocals)
16) “Hard Times Come Again No More” (by Foster, arranged by Berens and featuring Over the Rhine, with Bergquist on vocals and Detweiler on guitar)
17) “Camptown Races” (by Foster, arranged by Mounsey and featuring the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars, as well as Cash, Flemons, Henry, O’Donovan and Over the Rhine on vocals)
When you think summer music festivals, you probably think about things like high-powered sunscreen, hydration and the chance that you might get drenched if a storm rolls through. But this weekend in Greater Cincinnati, there are three festival that spotlight our great music scene, and you won’t need an umbrella, SPF 500 or $8 bottles of water for any of them. (Two of them feature “patio stages” that are outside, but schedules will be adjusted if harsh weather strikes.) Click on the artists' names for more on each of the acts.
• Stanley’s Reggae Fest returns for its fifth year to Stanley’s Pub Saturday, showcasing some perfect summertime music with vendors, Jamaican food (from Ena's Jerkmania) and an outdoor patio stage (weather permitting; see above).
Music starts at 6 p.m. Get a ticket today for $12 here, or pay $15 at the door.
• The eclectic Folk/Americana scene in Greater Cincinnati is one of local music’s most thriving, and Saturday at Newport, Ky.’s Southgate House Revival, you’ll be able to catch some of its guiding lights (as well as a few touring acts). The inaugural Cincy Folk Festival is being presented by the local music website cincygroove.com and proceeds benefit local Northern Kentucky radio station WNKU.
The fest will utilize all three stages at the Southgate. Tickets $20 (get yours in advance here). There are also VIP tickets available for $30 (VIPs will be treated to catered food and music from The Young Heirlooms and Honey and Houston at 5 p.m.).
Here is the full schedule (visit cincyfolkfestival.com for updates and full info).
7:30 p.m. Bulletville
8:30 p.m. David Gans
9:30 p.m. Kim Taylor
10:30 p.m. AJ Ghent Band
12 a.m. Chicago Farmer
9 p.m. Mamadrones
10 p.m. Hickory Robot
11:15 p.m. Souse
12:30 a.m. Gabbard Brothers
8 p.m. Carole Walker
9 p.m. Tracy Walker
10 p.m. Ma Crow & The Lady Slippers
11 p.m. My Brother The Bear
12:30 a.m. Wilder
• Tonight and tomorrow (Friday/Saturday), the Northside Tavern hosts the return of the Northside Music Festival on three stages, including one on its outdoor patio. The fest, now in its eighth year, features some of the city’s finest Indie and Rock acts of various shades and styles. And it’s all FREE. Visit the NMF’s Facebook event page here for the “in case of rain” schedule.
Back Room stage
10:45 p.m. Skeleton Hands
11:45 p.m. Artisan
12:45 a.m. Dream Tiger
Front Bar stage
10 p.m. Smut
11 p.m. Everyday Objects
7:30 p.m. The Slippery Lips
9 p.m. Subsets
10:30 p.m. Tweens
Back Room stage
10:45 p.m. The Harlequins
11:45 p.m. Temple
12:45 a.m. Soledad Brothers
Front Bar stage
10 p.m. New Strange
11 p.m. The Sundresses
7:30 p.m. Leggy
9 p.m. The Tigerlilies
10:30 p.m. Fairmount Girls