It’s music festival time, folks. That barefoot-in-the-grass, sun-on-your-skin, and live-music-filling-your-bones kind of season has arrived, and this weekend our very own city is welcoming music lovers everywhere to Bunbury Music Festival.
Here are a handful of my personal favorite jams from selected artists who will be performing this weekend:
The Black Keys – Weight of Love
It’s safe to say the Black Keys are easily loved at music festivals, considering I felt that very energy on the Gulf Shores, Ala., just last summer at Hangout Fest. Plus, being up on your 6-foot-4 friend’s shoulders to see it is about as “high” as you can get. The Black Key’s latest single release, “Weight of Love,” includes the same sound, slowed down, heavy on the instrumentals. Lead singer Dan Auerbach kills it (as always) and the spacey opener/closer matches the genius lyrics inside the body of it all.
Tame Impala – Let It Happen
I first heard this fairly recent song in a cramped, poorly lit airport in Havana, Cuba, and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction. Tame Impala is that weird band you can’t help but love, with their psychedelic hypno-groove melodic Rock genre (can you say a mouthful?) and their modern-day resemblance to the Beatles. “Let It Happen” came out as a single in March, and its trippy and playful vibes truly make you want to get on your feet and dance around. Nothing more, nothing less.
Matt and Kim – Get It
This Indie dance duo can brighten any music lover's day with their upbeat, bouncy rhythms with lyrics sung by not only Matt and Kim themselves, but a crowd of party-animals to push for a bumpin’ weekend, and you can bet your ass they’ll be counting on the Bunbury crowd to join in on the movement. Now go “get it’” and dance no-hands-on-the-wheel style until it’s time to jam out with them live at Bunbury.
Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Father John Misty a.k.a J. Tillman’s sad but hauntingly beautiful outlook on love and life is confidently expressed through his unique blend of Indie, Folk, and Psychedelic Rock, with lyrics open to various interpretations, depending on who’s listening. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and the rest of his previously debuted album stands out a bit from the rest of Tillman’s previous work. Seriously, just watch the video starring our girl April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) from Parks and Recreation, whose already dark character fits the scene beyond perfectly. It’s a confusing, marvelous piece of work, and Tillman will likely perform it just as beautifully (maybe slightly frightening) live.
Catfish & The Bottlemen – Pacifier
This “no fucks given” Welsh rock band from Wales might just be enough to get everyone in the Bunbury crowd to kick off their shoes and dance in the grass like crazy people. But that’s how music festivals should be, right? “Pacifier” is the perfect example of this kind of jam — the stuck-in-your-head, can’t-help-but-move-around song. And if you have any experience on the air drums, they might just become your new favorite.
Jamestown Revival – California (Cast Iron Soul)
Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance aren’t just a well-harmonized duo, but childhood friends, making for an even better band. The Country-Folk stylings of Jamestown Revival is easy on the ears, with their honest debut album recorded straight out of a cabin deep in the woods of Utah. It’s safe to say that what you hear is what you get, and “California (Cast Iron Soul)” is the epitome of not only the genre, but the lyrics that have the ability to bring listeners back to the authenticity of their roots.
Bunbury Music Festival takes place Friday-Sunday at Sawyer Point/Yeatman’s Cove, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Downtown. More info: bunburyfestival.com.
There were diamonds everywhere at Bogart’s this past Friday (May 29), about 1,500 of them. Marina and the Diamonds is not a band, but the artistic umbrella for Welsh singer/songwriter Marina Diamandis. She says she created the solo-guise “band” moniker because she didn’t want to be seen as a solo Pop star, and wanted to “involve people” with a name that didn't make anyone feel excluded. So, you see, we are all diamonds. Most of the diamonds at her Cincinnati show were teenage to college-age girls with a smattering of parents in tow. Many had travelled a few hours to see their hero. It was a sadly homogenous audience, given the scope and talent of Diamandis and her three-album catalog, but an enthusiastic lot nonetheless.
Her set started with “Bubblegum Bitch,” the power cut from her second album Electra Heart, and from there the party never stopped. The latest single, “Forget,” followed before she and her touring backing band launched into “Mowgli’s Road.” After that trio of songs, Diamandis chatted with the crowd telling them how happy she was to finally make it to Cincinnati. Though she was preaching to the converted, Diamandis proved to be no-less charming and engaging.
“I am Not a Robot,” a U.K. Top 40 hit from 2010, followed and, as with the entire set, Diamandis’ voice soared effortlessly as she glided across the stage. About half way through, an additional keyboard was brought on stage. Diamandis proceeded to take a seat at it and play “Happy,” whilst her backing Diamonds looked on. It was a nice respite before the title track from her current album, Froot.
While every song received a loud cheer, it was the two biggest hits that really got the diamonds in attendance particularly fired up. “Hollywood” (a No. 12 hit in the U.K.) was her breakthrough single in the in 2010 and is based on her observations of the U.S. “I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America,” she sings, though it’s not meant to be a criticism. (“It was written way before I got signed," she told me in an interview a few years ago. "It's funny because I wouldn't describe my relationship with America as love or hate. Anything that has an element of illusion naturally fascinates people. I absolutely love America.”) Live, the song was keyboarded-up nicely, though the album version echoes the synth sound of the ’80s effectively. Her guitar player strummed an acoustic guitar, providing a nice counterbalance.
“Primadonna,” her other big single came next, and it too had a brighter and livelier sound on stage, sounding a little like an EDM track in spots, but not too heavily. Sadly, “Teen Idle,” a stand-out track from Electra Heart was left off the set list. “How to be a Heartbreaker,” finished the encore-less set, but the crowd seemed quite satisfied with the performance as Marina bade farewell to her diamonds to thunderous applause.
Oddly, professional photographers were not allowed to take pictures of Diamandis (as is customary for just about any concert review), something that wasn’t revealed until just before the doors opened. It is unclear who made that decision. (Primadonna indeed?)
I'm swirling a 24 oz. PBR tall-boy around 2 a.m. at a bar fashioned from an old church in a neighborhood I can't quite figure out. Is it up-and-coming like our own Over-the-Rhine? Or are we "on the wrong side of the tracks"? I don't really care at this point. I've already gotten drunk once today and spent 12 hours in the burning southern sun. I just want a bed.
There are 20-somethings in rompers, board shorts and woven sandals hunting for a festival after-party lined up around the block waiting for over an hour to sit on picnic benches and drink crummy beers together at a 300% markup over buying them at a gas station. We are only inside because someone among some newly found friends has sweet-talked the back door guy. Point is, I'm bored and ready for bed. I engage a fellow Cincinnatian at this bar after awkwardly sitting in silence for the past 30 minutes. Someone points to an open garage door leading to an abandoned courtyard where a bonfire is burning and shadowy figures have been shuffling in and out of all night. Oh man … I've been to these parties back home. They often end in way more cocaine than I'm comfortable being around or racially tense fights. But it’s the path I have to take to find out where I can sleep, so I throw my hood up to go as unnoticed as possible and dive in.
"If you high as fuck and you having a good time say yeah!"
"If you drunk as fuck and you having a good time say yeah!”
A track starts playing a familiar synth line. Everyone in the rundown rock yard throws their hands up in unison and screams, "I DONT FUCK WIT' YOU!!" Big Sean's breakup anthem blares over the PA. Yes! I'm so down with this. The fact that I'm in dirty soccer shorts and an Against Me! hoodie doesn't matter. The fact that I'm not from here doesn't matter. My age doesn't matter. My race doesn't matter. We all dance and sing along together until the cops show up. Forget the kids waiting in line to drink bad beer on park benches hoping to get laid; this is the most live party I've been to in a long while and nothing like it has ever happened back home.
But this isn't home, it's Atlanta. And it's the best part of Shaky Knees festival. I had headed to the unofficial capital of the South two days earlier with wildly different expectations. I was nervous, expecting an endlessly expansive metropolis like Chicago or New York where you could get lost for days just searching for a legal parking spot and shouldn’t expect to find a place to rest your head for less than $100 per night.
Instead I was greeted by a uniquely diverse, affordable and welcoming city that didn’t feel much more overbearing than Nashville or our own city. A welcoming attitude of southern charm and hospitality was the cherry on top of every restaurant and bar we’d visit.
Before I go on I feel it should be pointed out that while fully qualified to review a music festival, I fall into a not so primary target demo for festival promoters. Yes I’m white and middle class, but, more importantly, I’m 29. Not young enough to save up my graduation money and go on a road trip with my gal pals for the “party of the summer.” Not late enough in my 30s, with kids of my own old enough to either stay home alone or come with as I check out whatever ’80s Alt band has dusted themselves off to play in the twilight hours of each day in the name of collecting a paycheck. Most of my demographic is too busy being spit up on at all hours of the night by their newborns to afford spending three days drinking in the sun and being blasted by unhealthy decibel levels. But, alas, here I am.
That all being said, my only real complaint with Shaky Knees was its lack of diversity. It is in the Hip Hop capital of the south (several jokes were made asking locals if Outkast are the “presidents of Atlanta”), but it failed to feature a single Hip Hop or R&B act. There was a small representation of Delta music with Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Trombone Shorty dotting the schedule early Sunday afternoon (which I unfortunately missed as my attendance was unplanned and last minute, so I had to spend Sunday driving home for work). Every band I saw was just white guys with guitars. Not that there’s anything wrong with some of that, but I didn’t see a single other act that had more than one token female or person of color (the exception being Tennis, which had one extra woman on keys tucked in the back of the stage).
Atlanta’s location provides for an amazing opportunity to unite a wide array of music lovers from all over the country. I met travelers from places as far as New York, Miami, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn. It has a stronger African-American middle class than most of the Midwest, as I experienced amongst its nightlife and food scene, and yet the culture of the festival was still focused primarily on a white, suburban, Indie Rock or Folk crowd, which is a shame. Some minor lineup tweaks could make all the difference for an otherwise amazing festival.
Enough of that. We’re here to talk about performances, so let’s party …
Jukebox the Ghost While assessing the lay of the land we settled into our first full set with the Piano Rock trio. My friend, who knows my taste well enough to know I’d instantly want to judge them, insisted I give it a chance. It took a minute, but with interlude banter like, "This is a party song about breaking up," or "This is the dumbest song ever written," these guys are just having too much fun to not want to join in. I mean, come on — they closed with a cover of Queen’s "Don’t Stop Me Now" (yeah, they really had the balls to do that!) knowing full well their younger fan base would be totally lost and they didn’t give a single fuck. Kudos guys. You will do just fine in this world so long as your hairlines stay in tact.
Tennis I was merely nodding appreciatively through most of their set. Then lead singer Alaina Moore, whose neckline plunged all the way to the top of her high-waisted jeans with nothing but some hard working gravity protecting her from indecent exposure charges, introduced the song “Marathon.” One of the band’s older songs, it’s a solid straight up Doo Wop tune. (Now we’re talkin’!) I was pulled in for just a moment. But then all I could do is re-Imagine them as the opening band in the dance in Back to the Future with this same look and style. Marty never even gets the chance to rip through “Johnny B Goode.” The scene would already be too wild for Hill Valley circa 1955 to handle. There are riots in the streets! Marty disappears from the family photo and his existence fades into obscurity. Fin.
Wavves “Finally ‘the youths’ are partying!” I spent a good chunk of this set under the bright sun on searing black top thinking, “There’s gonna be some seriously dehydrated kids in sweaty ironic tees later.” Wavves’ first record was the only thing that swayed me to let my guard down and learn to accept the lo-fi revolution. Plus, “King of the Beach” is a total jam. But something just isn’t right about the energy of this young crowd. It’s like the Warped Tour of my youth for a new generation that doesn't have a George Bush to rally against and vent their angst toward. There’s a wave of aggressive indulgence in the pile of sweaty bodies that’s directed at nothing in particular and I’m too old or out of touch to understand it. Mostly I was thinking Hedonismbot from Futurama would fit right in crowd surfing over this pit. “Oh my!” Wavves new song was on point, though, perhaps suggesting a move away from the low-fi fuzz that covered up the simplicity of their previous work to something a little more richly melodic.
Manchester Orchestra I had to give this band a chance as my roommate texted me from back home insisting I check it out. I trust her. So I go. And, yeah, it’s heavy and I like that, but I’m not sure I get it yet. There are these glimmers of sing-along anthem glory, but in my 30-45 minute blind taste test of them I didn’t get enough of that flavor to crave seconds. Maybe some more research before they visit us for Bunbury next month will bring me around.
The Mountain Goats “AND HARD TIMES ARE WHEN A MAN HAS WORKED AT A JOB 30 YEARS AND THEY KICK HIM IN THE BUTT AND SAY: HEY, A COMPUTER HAS TOOK YOUR PLACE, DADDY. THAT’S HARD TIMES!” This is part of the epic, booming three-minute intro that sets the stage for The Mountain Goats’ show, a voiceover shouting a challenge to the Macho Man Randy Savage daring him to a fight in the ring across an empty stage. It gets you properly amped for what’s to follow. You can feel John Darnielle and his gang carry that energy right onto the stage with them as it ends and the crowd erupts. Don’t make the mistake of lumping these guys in with the dusters “just out for a paycheck” I mentioned earlier based on their age. You will rarely see someone look so happy to sing songs he wrote 20 years ago with as much conviction as Darnielle. His stage presence oozes “I’m a professional, but I’m having a blast!” And the crowd responds, “Alright John. Then I am too!” That presence is so strong he still wins over crowds with brand new songs despite already having a discography over 15 full-lengths deep. What's that streaming down my face as they close out with “No Children,” the hauntingly triumphant ode to the end of the ugliest relationship you’ve ever heard? It’s … it’s just a really heavy bead of sweat! It's hot out here damn it! Leave me alone!
Mastodon At this point in the day I just can’t take standing up anymore. Another minor issue with Shaky Knees overall was the food options. The ratio of local food trucks to festivalgoers yielded unbearably long lines for anyone hoping to catch some of the later acts of the day. Beer however was in ample supply, so I grabbed one to sip on while catching the most Metal moment of the weekend from a hill a hundred or so yards out from the main stage. Metalheads I trust recommend Mastodon and, yeah, they were fine with me too. Only problem is they fell just short of what I’m looking for in their songwriting, a craft often overlooked by Metal bands in my opinion. And so I spent most of their set wishing I was watching Ghost instead and checking my phone for any news of their next release. We should expect that in August.
Pixies Kim Deal purists be damned. Her current replacement did just fine and sounded spot-on like the records to me. While expecting those aging rockers coming out to collect a paycheck I’ve been talking about, there was still a dash of magic left. Or maybe it’s just that little flutter I get when a song starts up that I’ve been listening to for 15 or so years, like “Here Comes Your Man,” with no expectation of ever hearing live because, to be honest, it was a little loose at times. Okay. Really loose. Like, Frank Black stopped in the middle of a song and said, “That was my fault. I went to the chorus too soon,” and went on to the next one loose. Makes you feel a little bummed for folks who shelled out full price for a pass just because they’re so stoked to see their favorite band. So yeah, maybe my nostalgia high is wearing off now that I’m reflecting back and realizing Kim’s replacement was honestly the most engaging part of the set.
The Strokes Lead singer Julian Casablancas isn’t exactly the king of charisma. Hell, he’s not even the dunce in the corner of Charisma 101, which makes it really hard to accept this band as a headliner. His attempts at on-stage banter made for some of the most uncomfortable moments of the weekend. Tie that in with his cracking voice straining to push out the words “How long must I wait” before it just gave out during the first song of their encore, “Vision of Division.” Their set became downright unbearable at times. Unfortunately, on top of this, “Reptilia” is the only song I really care for and they opened with it. So I was over it quick. The crowd didn’t seem to care though. They all still went nuts when the song that sounds exactly like “Last Night” but isn’t it came on halfway through their set.
And so, in my constant battle of jaded cynicism vs. the fact that I do genuinely love live music, I’d say day one ended in a draw. On to round two!
Kevin Devine We raced back to the festival grounds to catch this set, but I wasn’t quite awake enough yet and needed to finish my coconut water to get things going. But Kevin didn’t care. His high energy set was better than anticipated and got me back in the game. He’s got the Indie/Emo “slow burn, build and release” pattern down and I’m totally ready to go up and down for the ride. Definitely keep an ear out for him.
Mariachi El Bronx Exactly what it sounds like. It’s Los Angeles hardcore band The Bronx … playing mariachi. I honestly resisted them for years as my friends raved and I assumed it was just another silly novelty crossover band. But they’re such great players that they managed to transcend the novelty and throw one hell of a party. Unfortunately, The Bronx gang seemed to draw the short end of the stick for the entire festival as this set was early on the main stage where the bass in the mix was for a much larger headlining crowd and it ruined the whole balance of the band. I had to leave halfway through as my body couldn’t handle the blasting waves of low end. But their bass player sure sounded great!
Speedy Ortiz “I think Squidbillies is here right?” lead singer Sadie Dupuis says between songs with minimal irony or facetiousness in her voice. And it’s this feeling of off beat intimacy the band tries to interject into the mid-afternoon, sun-drenched crowd that draws me in. It helps me understand why others are drawn to them, while my aging ears struggle to get hip to it. Dupuis voice and melodies, along with everyone else’s performances, are great, their style of off-the-beaten-path harmonic and chord structure however have never really set in for me. It kind of killed off my mariachi buzz and I stepped out halfway through to plan the rest of my day in some shade.
Viet Cong I went into this thinking the tough as nails name meant I was about to see a bratty and loud Punk band, which I was kind of stoked about. But the droning bass and synth is all good too! Makes me want to get in the world’s angriest space shuttle and fly to the moon. As they droned the last two chords of their final song back and forth for nearly three minutes I found myself wanting to shout, “Just take off damn it!” These guys would be equally good for when you're drunk alone at 4 a.m. again and your Joy Division records are just too far out of reach, plus you need a little extra edge to encourage you to break a few things!
Metz If you wish The Hives were still a hard touring band, these guys will get you half way there. Plus they’re a lil’ heavier to boot. That being said, the riffs could be a little catchier for my taste, but they still deliver enough to keep me hanging on and start snooping around for their records next time I’m out. Plus, you’ve got to love a band that you know is making somebody in Canada say, "You know that quiet guy in accounting? Yeah he TOTALLY shreds on the weekends!" Probably also worth mentioning here that these guys will be tearing up the Woodward Theater with Viet Cong on July 21st and it’s definitely going to be worth being there.
FIDLAR Plain and simple: This is why I love Punk. Just look at the dumb, unbridled joy on the faces of this sea of kids bouncing up and down in unison. There’s a certain “it” factor that the best live acts have regardless of technical difficulty or skill required to accurately perform their songs which I’ve never been able to put my finger. (FIDLAR said it best during their own set: “That’s right guys, all you need is three chords!”) This band definitely has it. The fact that I’m getting too old and responsible to honestly relate to their lyrics doesn’t matter. I think cocaine is childish and immature and I think drinking cheap beer is a waste of calories … but goddamn. I just can’t help but scream along in unison with these kids and share their same dumb, shit-eating grin. They are rescheduling their recently cancelled show at Thompson House. Keep an eye out for the new date and be prepared to lose your goddamn mind.
The Bronx And this is why I love hardcore! This is one of the tightest performances I saw up to this point despite unfortunately having the smallest crowd. No frills, just solid playing and tight execution. I had tried getting into them on record a few years back and something didn't click. Now it does. Time to go back and start working on picking up some change on the dance floor again.
Neutral Milk Hotel Yep. There's still too much ex-girlfriend attachment to this band for me to really enjoy it. Plus, they played at the time of day where no matter how close you want to get, you bottleneck at a point in the crowd that’s too far away to really feel a part of the set. “Maybe I should see if the Bronx is still playing? Why did I leave!? If one more person near me gushes over how cool using a saw as instrument is heads might roll …” Also the flock of blond college-age girls flocking out of the crowd after “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” was played early in the set was amazing. Am I being too cynical? Whatever. Jeff Mangum’s voice is still on point after all these years. Still worth it.
Wilco At this point that bottleneck was just too far away to really get into what was happening on stage, which bummed me out because I had to miss Wilco’s show in Cincy a few days earlier. The drunk people next to me were almost as loud as the reverberations distantly ringing on the stage. But hey — they’re still cranking out the hits and they're still Wilco, so you gotta love it. But I was a little too buzzed and nervous about not getting a good spot and running into this same situation for the Avetts, so I dipped out a little early.
The Avett Brothers “Effortless.” People challenge me all the time to explain why I believe these guys are objectively one of the best live musical acts in music right now and this is the only word I can ever seem to muster. The level of focus, mastery and attention to detail that goes into the performance this crew puts on night after night should be obvious to anyone who’s so much as taken a single guitar or voice lesson. The love, passion, joy, and energy they infuse into every song, whether it’s a sing-along anthem like “Kick Drum Heart” or a soft ballad like “The Ballad of Love and Hate,” makes the whole act seem more effortless every time I see them. Whether it’s Seth’s improvisational riffing on their already perfect vocal lines or Scott’s conviction and sincerity when telling the crowd he needs their help singing along with something, I truly believe they would win over any true music fan who is willing to let go and be taken by the power of one of their sets. No other band refracts as much love for what they’re doing on stage back to an audience quite like the Avetts. Their headlining set at Bunbury will be their first performance in Cincinnati since 2008. Do not miss it.
Whoa. What a ride. The fact that I’m having trouble wrapping this up despite the fact that I missed a whole day of the festival is a testament to just how much Shaky Knees has to offer music lovers. I’m having trouble keeping the two-day experience I had from unraveling into a full novella and am now forcing myself to shut up. Despite its limitations, there is still enough diversity to keep most fans of semi-independent Rock or Alternative on their toes. (No. It was not hard to resist a “shaky knees” pun here.) But when you attend next year, don’t let your time adjusting to the southern sun tap all of your energy for experiencing the city’s culture and nightlife. As much as I love Cincinnati, I think we have much to learn from this gem down South and I look forward to returning soon.
— Josh Elstro
If you have access to a radio or television set, then you’re likely well aware that “Shut Up and Dance” by Cincinnati Dance Pop crew Walk the Moon has become a bona fide Pop hit. The single has been certified platinum, meaning it has sold more than one millions copies. The catchy, danceable track is currently at No. 5 on Billboard’s singles chart and has also performed very well on various other charts. “Shut Up” reached No. 2 on iTunes Top Songs chart and Billboard’s digital charts. On Spotify, the song has been streamed more than 78 million times, while “Shut Up”’s video has held a steady presence in the Top 10 of VH1’s Top 20 video countdown. Talking is Hard, Walk the Moon’s second album for RCA Records, continues to benefit from the single’s success, moving as high as No. 14 on Billboard’s overall album chart.
The Cincinnati band has worked hard to push “Shut Up and Dance” to the upper reaches of the Pop charts. Along with the usual late-night talk show circuit, Walk the Moon has also appeared on network morning shows like The Today Show (which used various WtM tunes as bumper music throughout the day the band appeared) and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
When DeGeneres introduced the group on her show, she called “Shut Up” the band’s “No. 1 hit,” which it wasn’t at the time but could end up there as Walk the Moon keeps up its relentless promotional push. WtM’s is also becoming a bigger and bigger concert draw, selling out many of its shows across the country (the band just recently completely another successful U.S. jaunt).
And WtM has also been making it onto prime time TV lately. Last month, Riker Lynch and Allison Holker danced to “Shut Up” for a routine on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Tuesday night (May 12), the band will play “Shut Up” as special guests on NBC’s popular singing competition, The Voice. Tune in to catch the performance at 8 p.m.
Though several Cincinnati-based acts have done well on a national level, crossing over to the top of the Pop charts is pretty rare, particularly for artists who choose to remain in their hometown while pursuing their career. Walk the Moon comes home to play Cincinnati’s Bunbury Music Festival on June 5 along the Ohio’s riverfront. Click here for tickets/details.
Just a couple of decades or so ago, downtown Cincinnati resembled a ghost town in the evenings. Once 5 p.m. rolled around, most downtown workers hopped in their cars and headed home, rarely staying in or visiting the city’s core for any other reason (maybe a concert or sporting event, but that was largely a “parking garage/game/home” process). It’s hard to explain to some younger locals just how much the city has changed since then, with the life and energy brought back to Downtown and nearby Over-the-Rhine over recent years becoming the norm.
There are, of course, numerous reasons for the resurrection of the city’s center, much of which is covered weekly in CityBeat (new restaurants, bars, events and other additions, plus the influx of people deciding to live in the area). Every summer I’m particularly struck by the huge shift the city has made when I attend some of the many free live, outdoor concert options available to the public most days of the week. Seeing hundreds of people from all backgrounds enjoying free music in a variety of genres is yet another thing that should make our city proud of how far we’ve come.
Lineups for this summer’s music series on Fountain Square and Washington Park, as well as the relative newcomer, Smale Riverfront Park, have gradually been unveiled over the past few weeks. Below is a list of scheduled events so far. All of the series do a great job of spotlight the enormous local talent in the city, and there are also several concerts featuring national touring acts that would otherwise cost you several dollars for tickets (or at least a cover charge of some sort).
Print this out, grab a highlighter and mark your favorites (or, heck, take a chance on something new) and then get ready for another great summer for music lovers in the Queen City. (These are only the weekly music-related happenings; visit myfountainsquare.com, washingtonpark.org and mysmaleriverfrontpark.org for all kinds of other events happening this summer in the spaces.)
Salsa on the Square
The long-running Salsa on the Square series gets a jumpstart on the other music series on Fountain Square, kicking off today (and continuing through mid-September, which is also later than the other series). Running 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., the concerts feature numerous area Salsa bands, lots of dancing and even some instructors on hand to help you out if you need some tips.
May 7: Son Del Caribe
May 14: Tropicoso
May 21: Kandela
May 28: Clave Son
June 4: Stacie Sandoval & Grupo Tumbao
June 11: Kentucky Salsa All-Stars
June 18: Son Del Caribe
June 25: Zumba
July 2: Kandela
July 9: Clave Son
July 16: Stacie Sandoval & Grupo Tumbao
July 23: Kentucky Salsa All-Stars
July 30: Tropicoso
Aug. 6: Stacie Sandoval & Grupo Tumbao
Aug. 13: Monk River
Aug. 20: Clave Son
Aug. 27: Son Del Caribe
Sept. 3: Afro-Cuban Cartel
Sept. 10: Tropicoso
Sept. 17: Latin Beat Project
The American Roots series features a variety of acts that cover the wide spectrum that is Americana music today. Most of the top local Roots acts are performing, while touring artists like American Aquarium, Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys, Dale Watson and more will also make appearances. Each night features two performers. Music runs 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
May 26: American Aquarium and Ben Knight and the Welldiggers
June 2: Buffalo Wabs & the Price Hill Hustle and Wild Carrot
June 9: Chicago Farmer and Shiny and the Spoon
June 16: Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys and Jeremy Pinnell
June 23: The Shook Twins and G. Burton
June 30: The Quebe Sisters and Howlin’ Brothers
July 7: Dale Watson and Straw Boss
July 14: TBA
July 21: Quiet Life and Crow Moses
July 28: The Brothers Landreth and Josh Eagle and Harvest City
Aug. 4: Arlo Mckinley and Wilder
Aug. 11: Young Heirlooms and The Hiders
Aug. 18: Bulletville and Noah Smith
Aug. 25: Elk Creek and Frontier Folk Nebraska
Sept. 1: Dallas Moore and Pure Grain
Joining the usual array of some of the finest Reggae bands in the city and region this year for Reggae Wednesday are numerous touring bands, including St. Louis’ Taj Weekes & Adowa, Jamaican natives Yabba Griffiths and Jah Messengers Reggae Bnad and Brooklyn’s New Kingston. Reggae Wednesdays run 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
May 27: Areesaa Iyah & The Eastwind Band
June 3: Taj Weekes & Adowa
June 10: Yabba Griffiths & the Traxx Band
June 17: Ras Bonghi Reggae All-Stars
June 24: Positive Mental Attitude
July 1: The Flex Crew
July 8: The Ark Band
July 15: The Cliftones
July 22: Gizzae
July 29: Oriel Barry and the Revoluters
Aug. 5: New Kingston
Aug. 12: Ukombozi
Aug. 19: All Star Jammerz
Aug. 26: Jah Messengers Reggae Band
Sept. 2: Anthem Reggae Band
MidPoint Indie Summer
Sponsored by the popular late September MidPoint Music Festival (which, full disclosure, CityBeat runs), this year’s Indie Summer concerts (held each Friday) feature some of the biggest acts in the series’ history, alongside some of the best Rock/Indie/Alt/Electronic bands in Cincy. The Indie Summer shows showcase four acts and begin at 7 p.m. each week. (More artists are to be added to certain dates.)
May 29: Surfer Blood; The Yugos; Automagik; Harbour
Jun 5: The Mowgli's; One Day Steady; Nevele; Beloved Youth
Jun 12: Kopecky; Broncho; Coconut Milk; Near Earth Objects
Jun 19: Buffalo Killers; Ohio Knife; Mad Anthony; Go Go Buffalo
Jun 26: Sloan; Mother Mother; Old City
Jul 3: Red Wanting Blue; Young Heirlooms; Motherfolk; Chris Salyer
Jul 10: Saint Motel
Jul 17: The Ting Tings; Brick + Mortar; Black Signal
Jul 24: Givers; Prim; Even Titles
Jul 31: The Whigs; Multimagic; Pop Goes the Evil; The Never Setting Suns
Aug 7: Tweens; Leggy; Smut; Shark Week
Aug 14: Judah & The Lion; Seabird; Matt Hires; Along the Shore
Aug 21: San Fermin; Lemon Sky
Aug 28: Wussy; Pike 27; The Perfect Children; JetLab
Sep 4:The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die; Injecting Strangers; Moonbeau: Edison
Beats by Self Diploma
Local production/promotion crew Self Diploma has always done a fantastic job of bringing in some of the hottest acts on the EDM and Hip Hop circuits, making its Saturday night showcases some of the biggest of all the series. Last year, the group opened things up to other genres and offered audition opportunities to artists of all sort. Though still heavy on DJs, Electronic/Dance music and Hip Hop, this year’s lineup also includes things like Country Pop and live R&B and Funk. Music starts each Saturday at 7 p.m., with the last act going on at 10 p.m.
May 30: Alex Angelo; Ezzy; Aprina; Justin Stone
June 6: Ja Rule; Trademark Aaron; Diamond Star Russell; Mayo
June 13: King Chip; Cameron Grey; Razook; Sarob
June 20: Nappy Roots; Packy; Ajax Stacks & Nate Paulson; Alexa Lusader
June 27: OnCue; Cato; Rhett Wellington
July 4: Ground Up; DJ Kev the Goon; Swah; David Zup
July 18: Milk N Cookies; Panzer; Reaux; Button Mashers
July 25: Futuristic; Marc Goone; Puck; The Media
August 1: No Sleep; DJ Drowsy; CopyCats; Gold Dash
August 8: Huey Mack; Kid Quil; Lauren Vanatsky; Kid Slim
August 15: Kap Slap; Saranate; RandiFloss
August 22: Academy; TJ Hickey; Sh3llz; Benji
August 29: JMSN; Oregonia; Tana Matz
September 5: The Jane Doze; Gateway; Halogen
Washington Park has stripped back to two weekly music series this year, but both offer plenty of exciting performers.
The Bluegrass shows return this year to the centralized gazebo/bandstand stage every Thursday (except Aug. 6, which sees the return of the popular Lumenocity multi-media extravaganza). The “Bluegrass” part of the name is a bit of a misnomer; Bluegrass bands are on the schedule, but so are plenty of other Americana/Country/Roots/Folk acts. I guess alliteration is more fun than bad puns (or maybe Dick Clark’s production company would sue if they went with “Americana Bandstand”). Music starts at 7 p.m. and there are usually two acts per night. This year’s lineup includes an appearance by Country Blues favorite Charlie Parr, diverse Michigan ensemble The Appleseed Collective and a few other national acts.
May 28: The Mamadrones
June 4: Mustered Courage and Blair Crimmins
June 11: Willow Tree Carolers
June 18: Jake Book and New Country Rehab
June 25: Woody Pines and Barefoot Movement
July 2: Casey Campbell and Charlie Parr
July 9: Mipso and Railsplitters
July 16: The Appleseed Collective and The Tillers
July 23: Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle
July 30: Red Cedars and Blue Rock Boys
August 13: Hu Town Holler and Town Mountain
August 20: Mike Oberst and My Brother’s Keepers
August 27: Comet Bluegrass All-Stars
September 3: Al Scorch & Friends
Fridays at Washington Park, R&B and Jazz acts from all over the country (there are some real legends in this bunch) will provide the sounds for Friday Fusion. The concerts rotate between the Bandstand stage and the Main Stage (across from Music Hall). Music begins at 7 p.m.
May 29: Midnight Star (Main Stage)
June 5: Dixie Karas Group (Bandstand)
June 12: Michel’le (Main Stage)
June 19: Eddie Brookshire Quintet (Bandstand)
June 26: Hot Magnolias (Bandstand)
July 3: Delfeayo & Jason Marsalis (Main Stage)
July 10: Zapp Band (Main Stage)
July 17: Straight Ahead All-Female Jazz Band (Main Stage)
July 24: Tim Warfield Quartet (Main Stage)
July 31: Marc Fields Quintet (Main Stage)
August 14: Soul Pocket (Main Stage)
August 21: Vernon Hairston Trio (Bandstand)
August 28: Kathy Wade with the Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra (Main Stage)
SMALE RIVERFRONT PARK
Cocktails and Crown Jewels
Washington Park previously hosted the weekly Crown Jewels of Jazz concerts, but this year the series moves to one of the city’s newer green-space gems, Smale Riverfront Park (near the river and The Banks). Now called Cocktails and Crown Jewels, the concerts are heavy on Jazz acts but also include some R&B, Salsa and the melange of styles crafted by funky party crew The Cincy Brass. Music starts at 7:30 p.m. The concerts take place on the park’s Schmidlapp Event Lawn & Stage most Thursdays throughout the summer. The shows are free but attendees can also pay $25 to enjoy the music from the special VSP Area (with some food and drink included).
May 28: Alex Bugnon
June 4: The Cincy Brass
June 11: Urban Jazz Coalition
June 25: WOW featuring Tim Warfield and Bobby Floyd
July 2: FrenchAxe
July 16: Craig Bailey and the Cincy Jazz All-Stars
July 23: Orquesta Kandela
Aug. 6: Ingrid Woode & the Woode Tribe Orchestra
Aug. 13: fo/mo/deep
Aug. 27: Sound Body Jazz Orchestra
The new music video from veteran Cincinnati funkateer (and relentless road dog) Freekbass recently appeared online. The clip for “Everybody’s Feelin’ Real” — the slinky, head-boppin’ Pop/Funk title track from Freekbass’ most recent full-length release — shows a variety of scenes and special guests to the viewer through a smartphone screen (fitting, as more and more people seem to be viewing life in that manner anyway).
Though endearingly short on special effects, the clip is still wildly engaging, particularly as you play “spot the cameo.” The video features some big-name special guests from the world of music, including Mike Gordon of Phish, Ryan Stasik of Umphrey's McGee, George Porter Jr. of The Meters, Stefan Lessard of Dave Matthews Band, Bernie Worrell from P-Funk and Talking Heads, Steve Molitz from Particle, Zion Godchaux of BoomBox, Cincinnati native Alan Light (music journalist and former editor of Vibe and Spin magazines) and Bigg Robb from Zapp. Cincinnatians and baseball fans will also notice a very familiar face — the Hit King himself, Pete Rose, pops up to sing/lip sync part of a chorus.
Click here to stream/purchase Everybody's Feelin' Real. It should be Freekbass’ last self-released effort for a while; earlier this year he announced that the respected indie label Ropeadope will release his next album.
Every April, the Cincinnati Zoo presents an every-Thursday concert series called “Tunes & Blooms,” which showcases some of the finest local bands in Greater Cincinnati (as well as the Zoo’s Botanical Garden in full bloom). But for this year’s series, Mother Nature had different plans, as April showers brought cancelled concerts on April 2, 9 and 16.
The free concerts have been rescheduled and begin this evening (Wednesday) with local Folk/Americana favorites Hickory Robot and The Tillers. The next rescheduled date is tomorrow (Thursday) and features another pair of Folk dynamos — Jake Speed and the Freddies and Shiny and the Spoon. The final rescheduled show takes place May 13 with the fantastic Buffalo Wabs & the Price Hill Hustle and Honey & Houston.
The music begins at 6 p.m. all three evenings and runs until 8:30 p.m. There is no admission charge to get into the zoo after 5 p.m. (there is a $9 fee is you’d like to park in the zoo’s parking lot). Click here for more info.
Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival (owned and operated by CityBeat) recently announced that tickets for the late September festival were on sale, as well as a new date format (instead of Thursday-Saturday, 2015’s MPMF will take place Friday, Sept. 25-Sunday, Sept. 27). Now the first artists slated to appear at MPMF have been unveiled.
The first batch of MidPoint 2015 acts includes pioneering British Shoegaze band Ride, Canadian Electro Pop duo Purity Ring, Indie/Electronic up-and-comers Sylvan Esso, experimental artist tUnE-yArDs (aka Merrill Garbus) and diverse Indiana songwriter Strand of Oaks. The rest of the initial lineup announcement features Zola Jesus, Cathedrals, Matthew E. White, Pokey LaFarge, Moon Duo, Betty Who, K.Flay, Beach Slang, Sarah Jaffe, Ryley Walker and Truly.
More artists (as well as specific schedule and venue info) will be announced in the coming weeks as the Over-the-Rhine/Downtown festival approaches. For the latest updates, tickets (a limited amount of early bird passes are still available) and more info, visit mpmf.com. Artists interested in showcase consideration can still apply through mpmf.com through May 17.
Here's a sampling of some music clips from this round of MPMFers:
Tribute albums are typically divided into three categories. They’re either a) bankable artists covering high profile subjects (or, infrequently, famously known cult figures); b) cool/respected artists covering cool/respected artists; or c) some weird hybrid of the first two.
Two recently released tributes fall squarely in the second category, with Avett Brothers frontman Seth Avett and rising Americana/Rock vocalist Jessica Lea Mayfield taking a quietly beautiful stroll through a sampling of Elliott Smith's exquisite catalog on Sing Elliott Smith, and Frames frontman and solo artist in his own right Glen Hansard honoring his great hero and friend Jason Molina on It Was Triumph We Once Proposed: Songs of Jason Molina, which was available last month.
There are odd connections between the two projects. In the general point of interest sense, both are posthumous tributes. Smith died in 2003, apparently by his own hand, and Molina succumbed in 2013 after a long battle with alcoholism. And on a more personal level, by the sheerest of coincidences, I've interviewed both of the subjects of these two tributes.
Back in 2000, I spoke with Smith while he was still touring on Figure 8, which had come out earlier that year. And in 2003, I was assigned a feature on Songs: Ohia, fronted and braintrusted by Molina, who had just finished an album he titled The Magnolia Electric Co., which marked the end of Songs: Ohia and the shift to the band named after his new album. Both were fascinating and heartfelt conversations with artists who were amazingly self aware but not at all self absorbed, quietly brilliant songwriters who had an almost pathological need to extract their musical impulses from the dark well of their ultimately troubled souls.
Hansard — who came to prominence as the voice, guitarist and primary songwriter for Irish Rock band The Frames before establishing a side project (Swell Season) and solo career and hitting semi-big with the movie Once and his soundtrack, featuring the Academy Award-winning hit "Falling Slowly" — was so inspired by Molina's deeply emotional and confessional songcraft that the first fan letter he ever sent to a fellow artist was to Molina. Back in 2005, two years after I'd interviewed Molina, I had the rare opportunity to witness the pair's personal and professional bond firsthand.
At my second South by Southwest experience, I followed former The Onion music editor Stephen Thompson to see a Frames appearance at one of Austin's innumerable daytime parties. Stephen was a huge Frames fan and the band knew him well; he had done enough to help expose the band to American audiences that they thanked him in the liner notes to Burn the Maps.
When we arrived at the venue, the band members were wandering through the crowd just prior to their set and Stephen made a beeline for them. He introduced me to The Frames, but there was a dark, diminutive and somewhat familiar presence in the circle who was clearly with the band but not as a member. Glen Hansard spoke up, in his pudding thick Irish brogue, and said, "This is Jason Molina."
I shook his hand and reminded him of our phone conversation and the Rockpile feature two years previous. He greeted me warmly and we talked about what we'd seen at the festival to that point and what we hoped to see going forward. We spent a good 10 minutes in this convivial manner, right up until The Frames took the stage and were announced. After that, his unwavering focus was on the band; he watched and listened as though he was occupying the front pew in church during a sermon he knew for an absolute fact would change his life for the better. He stood in rapt attention, soaking in every word, every note and every nuance and with good reason — The Frames were a mesmerizing live force back then.
At the set's conclusion, Molina immediately swiveled toward me and we exchanged jaw-dropped exclamations of disbelief. Within a few minutes, Hansard made his way to Molina's side and the two began critiquing the performance, Hansard pointing out the flaws and Molina categorically dismissing them. I laughingly thought to myself as I headed to the door and the next party, I'll bet their roles will be diametrically reversed when Magnolia Electric Co., the band that Songs: Ohia had morphed into, plays later this week and Hansard is the fan in the front row. It reminded me of something Molina had said regarding the fact that he was already thinking past the album he had just finished.
"I can do better," he said without hesitation. "My next one, I'm already sweating it. Since the day I walked out of the studio, I've been working on the next one. I don't feel like this one failed, but I'm still looking for the better one."
I thought about Hansard's face as it must have looked while he watched Molina's appearance in Austin, Texas, a decade ago, and imagined the sadder but equally beatific visage he must have exhibited in the studio as he was translating the five tracks that comprise It Was Triumph We Once Proposed. This brief and beautifully executed EP serves a similar purpose as Hansard's distant but never forgotten fan letter, as he pays loving tribute to his long personal friendship with Molina and to the work that first illuminated his immense talents to the world.
Hansard assembled a group of longtime Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co. collaborators/friends to record a heartbreaking quintet of Molina compositions, all Songs: Ohia tracks and all lending themselves perfectly to Hansard's passionate and sensitively wrought translation. Molina often worked at the creative intersection of Leonard Cohen and Neil Young, and Hansard taps into that shivery vibe with a true fan's boundless devotion and a true friend's immeasurable grief. On the one-two punch of the powerfully poignant "Being in Love" and the achingly beautiful "Hold On, Magnolia," Hansard illuminates the raw, wrenching wisdom of lines like, ”We are proof that the heart is a risky fuel to burn," and the prescient "You might be holding the last light I see before the dark finally gets ahold of me." And just like Molina's life and amazing musical output, Hansard's It Was Triumph We Once Proposed is both immensely satisfying and far too short.
The other contender for Most Amazing and Deserved Tribute of the Year is Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield's Sing Elliott Smith, a (relatively) spare and loving bow to one of this generation's most insightful and contemplative songwriters. After his shredding turn with Portland’s Heatmiser, Smith turned down the volume for his home-recorded solo debut, Roman Candle, which was followed by his equally nuanced eponymous sophomore album and then the jewel in his crown, 1998's Either/Or, which director Gus Van Zant cherry-picked for his soundtrack to his masterpiece Good Will Hunting. Smith scored an Academy Award nomination for his song "Miss Misery," and the success of the soundtrack and his almost uncomfortably vulnerable performance at the Oscars vaulted him into a spotlight that he never actively pursued.
By the time of our 2000 interview, Smith had managed to come to uneasy terms with the maelstrom of fame that resulted from Good Will Hunting and Either/Or's tangential success. It had required him to think about his work in pedestrian ways, to explain it in a fashion that would be understandable to people with little understanding.
But through it all, Smith remained true to his own process, trusting that, regardless of outside opinions, expectations or interests, he continued to create the kind of music he wanted to hear in the manner that he wanted to create it. And he knew that, no matter how much anyone involved in his career wanted him to pull Either/Or 2 out of his magician's hat, the only thing that would truly satisfy his artistic nature would be to create what came out of him organically, without being conjured or forced.
"I don't think it was on my mind," Smith said about making the Beatlesque Figure 8 in the wake of major-label debut XO, Either/Or and Good Will Hunting. "I was just making up songs the way I always do. I mean, it was never going to sell millions of copies, so there wasn't that kind of pressure."
That may well be why Sing Elliott Smith is so incredibly successful as a tribute. Smith's songbook is among the most revered in contemporary music and the acclaim that has been lavished on Avett and Mayfield since their debuts is both effusive and deserved. Given all that, there's little risk involved at any level of this project.
The blending of the two principals' voices was the only unknown and that particular question mark is definitely straightened into a boldface exclamation point with Avett and Mayfield's brilliant opening duet on Either/Or's "Between the Bars." Avett's stylistic path from Punk provocateur to rootsy Americana troubadour to genre melding alchemist is a pretty fair match to Smith's own journey, and Mayfield's weary optimism lines up well with Smith's gloomy hopefulness. Together, Avett and Mayfield are the perfect translators for Smith's hushed (and not so hushed) odes to the anguish and bittersweet joy of love and modern life and they coalesce almost effortlessly on brilliant lines like, "Nothing's gonna drag me down/To a death that's not worth cheating."
It's moments like that one from "Baby Britain" that make Sing Elliott Smith resonate so clearly from start to finish. It's particularly poignant when Mayfield takes the lead on "A Fond Farewell" — from the album Smith was working on at the time of his death, released posthumously as From a Basement on the Hill — and she sings words that seem so startlingly prescient coming so close to Smith's sad end; "A little less than a happy heart/A little less than a suicide/The only thing that you really tried/This is not my life, it's just a fond farewell to a friend/It's not what I'm like, it's just a fond farewell to a friend/Who couldn't get things right."
Avett and Mayfield offer a broad core sample of Smith's amazing catalog (only 1995's self-titled sophomore album isn't represented), and the pair's affinity for and love of their subject's work is evident in every trembling note and emotional lyric. At almost 37 minutes, Sing Elliott Smith is a full album but it feels impossibly short and is over well before the listener is ready for it to be done. If ever there was a release that warranted the often-dreaded subtitle of Volume 2, it would be Sing Elliott Smith.
It seems only proper that the final words in this piece should be reserved for the subjects of these two tributes. First, an interesting comment from Jason Molina about his songwriting process led to a philosophical statement about his musical belief system.
"I almost write the music at the same time I'm trying to think of who could best put this onto tape, and that goes right down to the engineer," he noted. "Maybe it's a cowardly way to work because I don't take all of the burden onto myself, but ego should never be part of the music."
And finally, Elliott Smith addressed the media's tendency to label him as "melancholy," which morphed into an explanation of the simple reality that labels have tried to manipulate and contradict throughout their long and checkered histories.
"As soon as someone calls you a songwriter, you automatically get the melancholy tag," Smith admitted. “Also, 'Why aren't you playing dance music?' and 'Why are your songs so sad?' They're just clichés. If it wasn't those, it would be different ones. You can't always expect people to relate. There are all kinds of people, and some people understand each other and some people don't. NSYNC sells nine million records, so there's nine million people that can relate, and I'm not one of them. So even if you sell millions and millions of albums, there's always going to be somebody who doesn't get it. If you want to be creative and do what you do, it's going to be kind of idiosyncratic."
Long live the idiosyncratic artist, and the memories of those who left us way before their creative dreams were fulfilled.
A limited amount of early-bird passes to the 2015 MidPoint Music Festival are on sale now. Tickets good for all three days of the fest are available for $69, while V.I.P. passes are only $149. Once this first batch of passes is gone, weekend passes will be $79 (and $179 for V.I.P.s) through Labor Day, when another $10 price increase kicks in. The tickets are available for purchase at mpmf.cincyticket.com.
MPMF has also announced a new date shift. After 14 years of running Thursday-Saturday, MidPoint 2015 will take place Friday, Sept. 25-Sunday, Sept. 27. Organizers say the move was to make things easier for out-of-town guests (who previously might not have been able to make the Thursday shows) and also allow for more daytime programming opportunities, including in Washington Park, which is expected to see an increase in attractions and music showcases.
Stay tuned here and at MPMF.com (where artists can also submit for showcase consideration through May 17) for the latest MidPoint developments. You can also follow MPMF on Twitter here and Facebook here for more up-to-date info.