Younger local musicians and the music fans who love them might find it hard to fathom, but once upon a time, Cincinnati’s corporate Rock radio juggernaut WEBN was one of local music’s biggest allies, a wild, wooly and eclectic FM outlet as open-ended and freeform as any internet radio station or podcast. In the ’70s and ’80s, before inflexible, homogenized playlists made it impossible for even major label Cincy bands like The Afghan Whigs to get spins, the annual WEBN Album Project compilations gave major exposure to local and regional artists. Saturday at the Madison Theater, the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show flashes back to that era. In this week’s CityBeat, Brian Baker caught up with one of Cincinnati’s most popular bands ever (and an early Album Project participant), The Raisins, whose seminal lineup is reuniting for Saturday’s event, joining several other AP alumni. Brian also caught up with some of the other participating musicians to discuss the Album Project’s legacy. Below are their thoughts, as well as some vintage video clips from the era.
Cincinnati's summer concert schedule got a lot cooler this morning, as organizers announced some of the performers at this year's inaugural Bunbury Music Festival, which will go down July 13-15 across six stages along the riverfront at Yeatman's Cove and Sawyer Point. Bunbury founder Bill Donabedian (who co-founded CItyBeat's MidPoint Music Festival and helped turn Fountain Square into a legitimate live music outlet) had been saying he was on the hunt for several big time headliners for the event; today, we found out he was successful, with iconic AltMusic bands Weezer, Jane's Addiction and Death Cab for Cutie confirmed as main stage anchors. Jane's is schedule for opening night, July 13, Weezer headlines July 14 and Death Cab will cap the fest off July 15. According to the press release, there will be plenty more performer announcements to come, with plans to feature around 100 acts total at the fest. Stay tuned — a full lineup is expected to be unveiled next month.
Securing the heavyweight headliners and announcing them enables Bunbury (being billed as "affordable, fun, tech savvy, and eco-friendly") to put tickets for the fest on sale. You can get them starting today through the Bunbury site here. One-day tickets are $46 and three-day passes are available for $93.
As Donabedian's work with MidPoint and Fountain Square would suggest, local music will also be a big part of Bunbury.
“The Bunbury Music Festival will feature the best of our local Indie bands with national and regional bands that fans may have seen at other great festivals and concert venues,” Donabedian said in a statement. “Fans should think of this as an authentic music experience.”
Bunbury's announcement is just the latest in a string of positive news concerning the live local music landscape of Greater Cincinnati, which seemed in potentially dire condition by the end of last year following the closing of Newport concert venue the Southgate House and other clubs.
Turns out the sky isn't falling. In fact, the future's so bright, I hope Bunbury has vendors on-site to sell shades.
Tim Wilson is a comedian and singer/songwriter who represents Southern culture and lifestyle with his songs and stand-up. He is often featured on national telecasts of the syndicated radio shows The Bob and Tom Show and the John Boy and Billy Morning Show and Wilson has also been appeared on many of the late-night talk shows. With a dozen comedy albums featuring his original songs, Wilson has found crossover success on both the comedy and Country music charts.
CityBeat caught up with Wilson by phone to preview his appearance in Cincinnati and discuss southern roots in comedy and the assimilation of music into his comedy. Catch him performing live Saturday night at the Taft Theatre with Patti Vasquez (ticket info here).
Five Finger Death Punch is one of the most popular Metal bands in the world. The band has a catchy, melodic sound that resonates with its crowds and the band's songs have become arena anthems across the country. Five Finger continues to tour on its third studio album American Capitalist. Currently, the group is out headlining the Trespass America Festival with the bands Trivium, Pop Evil and Killswitch Engage.
CityBeat was able to spend some time with the band’s lead guitarist Jason Hook to discuss, among other things, the band’s feverish tour schedule and the effect it has on the band members' relationships, as well as what makes the music so addictive. The Trespass America Festival comes to the PNC Pavilion at Riverbend tomorrow (Wednesday) night.
CityBeat: What has been the highlight of Trespass Festival so far?
Jason Hook: Well, the first show was awesome. We opened the show on Friday the 13th just outside of Denver. The place was almost sold out, packed. We had all of our friends, family, record label, managers and agents with us. It was a massive party (and) it was day one. It was awesome, really awesome.
CB: Who leaves the biggest mess backstage at Trespass?
JH: The biggest mess? As far as what, a hot mess or just messy?
CB: It could be either.
JH: I’ll give both to Ivan (Moody, Five Finger's frontman).
CB: OK, I wouldn’t picture that.
JH: Well you don’t know him as well as I do.
CB: Is it true that he still throws up before he performs?
JH: I haven’t seen that lately but it might be because I tend to steer clear of him a little bit more than usual because of that. But he does do that. That is not an urban legend.
CB: You consistently are having these hits with huge sports and military following. What is really the formula for creating a modern day Rock anthem?
JH: I think that you have to keep things simple. People like a really consistent beat, something that has a good thump to it. Obviously, an easy to follow storyline or a relatable storyline and as many hooks as you can get into each section of the song for example the intro, the verse, the pre-chorus, the chorus, the bridge, the solo — all those are sections — and if they get too long or drawn out or too complicated or the resolution set too high for the listener, they just miss out and it will go over their head. A big part of having an anthem is having something that is simple enough that many people can grab it easily like “Rock & Roll all night and party every day.”
CB: Does the band ever write songs for a specific audience?
JH: Not really. Most of us in the band have a background where we grew up listening to heavy bands but bands that were also on the radio. That reflects in the music we make. None of it is really contrived. We just do what we like. Fortunate for us, it catches with a lot more people. Once you try to do something that is not honest, it is really hard to repeat it. You are always chasing or guessing what to do. It is better to know what you like to do and just do it.
You always have the crazy crowd surfing at the shows, the biggest Rock on the Range crowd surfing in history. Do you ever worry about fan safety?
JH: All the time. All the time. It freaks us out. I see people getting beat up pretty good out there, especially the people in the very front row because people crowd surf up from behind them, they can’t see that these 220 pound guys are being launched forward and the people in the front row are the last people that these heavy people land on their heads on the way into the pit. You get a lot of people getting smashed, and they have no idea it is happening until it happens.
I keep saying, “Is there something we should do to discourage this? Should we say that we want people to be careful and keep your eyes open?” I do see a lot of people getting hammered, and it freaks me out. We are always thinking about it.
CB: How do you stay friends living in such close quarters and being on the road almost all year?
JH: How do we stay friends? We stay away from each other. The only way to control how we all get along is to make sure there is a good amount of separation. You need a little bit of on and a little off.
For example, we get hotel rooms. The band gets hotel rooms. We get them every other day. The hotel rooms are essential and it doesn’t matter what it costs to have everybody be able go and have their own private space to go make phone calls, answer e-mails, relax, watch the TV program they want to watch, whatever. The off is just as important as the on because if you get too much together time all the time, then you are likely to have the engine run a little hot, you know what I am saying?
CB: Who in the band is more likely to get into a fight backstage and who is more likely to get laid?
JH: I don’t really want to focus on the fighting, but as far as the sex part of it, I would say, all the girls like Ivan. The rest of us are just sort of swinging the bat. They all seem to want to get to Ivan. So I would say answer "A"—my final answer — Ivan.
The thing is, to chase girls around, which is also to chase the party or stay up, all these people show up and they want to hang out with the band. This is their big night out. The problem is, if we participated in everybody’s big night out, then we end up having 42 or 55 nights in a row, and it is physically too hard. Imagine having 45 New Years Eves in a row. What kind of shape would you be in after that?
CB: Yeah, bands now are a lot more, I don’t want to say mellow, but you can’t sustain (that type of partying) for long periods of time if this is what you are going to do.
JH: God knows we have tried it. We don’t want to hurt the band. We don’t want to hurt the tour. We have a responsibility to not only talk to people during the day but to play in front of these large audiences, and I don’t want to go up there hung over and feel like crap and be fuzzy and making mistakes. It’s very hard. It’s OK when you are a club band — nobody cares; “Get me another beer.” Everyone is drunk anyway, but now we are talking about playing in front of 15,000 people at 9 o’clock at night and it is a business now. It is for real.
Music Tonight: Rootsy Connecticut-based trio Plume Giant performs at the Rohs Street Cafe in Clifton Heights with Columbus, Ohio's Deadwood Floats and Cincinnati's own Molly Sullivan (check out Sullivan's lovely, unique track "Bad Weather" here). Plume Giant released its self-titled debut EP last year, drawing praise from Seattle to New Haven, and travelled up and down the east coast in support. The Indie Folk trio — built around timeless songs, amazing three-part harmonies and pure, naked acoustic guitar/viola/violin backing — is taking on the Midwest this month, touring in advance of its first full-length, due this coming spring. Click here to listen to the EP and enjoy the Plume Giant song "Old Joe the Crow," performed live below.
After months of rising anticipation and weeks of weirdly intermittent and torrential rain, Bunbury's first day looked to be a winner. A great announced lineup, no precipitation in the forecast and nothing but sunshine expected for the day; against all odds, that's exactly what we got. But it wasn't the rain to come that presented a problem, it was the rain that had already fallen; the area on the Serpentine Wall that had perfectly pocketed the Rockstar Stage last year was completely swallowed by the rising Ohio River, and the stage had to be moved to the opposite end of the field housing the all important Main Stage. It turned out to be a pretty decent fix, all things considered.
After securing my Level Three media pass (which, in the hierarchy of accessibility, I think meant that if any band needed help moving equipment, I was obligated to roadie for them), I headed for the Bud Light stage for Public. I had done a story on them back in January; they were home for Christmas so given their proximity, they came to my house and we did the interview in my basement. My daughter had answered the door and let them in, and for weeks afterward she was telling her friends about the cute guys I had interviewed at the house. Public's teenage girl effect was fully evident at their Bunbury appearance, as squealy females shrieked their appreciation for every song, and randomly shouted "I love you!"s arced over the rather sizable crowd. The trio did songs from their self-titled EP, a new tune called "Honey Bee" and, taking a page from the infinitely talented and creatively twisted Richard Thompson, offered a thunderously blazing turn on Britney Spears' "Toxic." In the studio, Public has the sound of a ramped up Modest Mouse, but in the live arena, they definitely blister and kick a little closer to the Led Zeppelin vibe they claimed as inspiration during our conversation, adding a dollop of harmonic Pop to sweeten the deal. If teenage girls are any indicator — and they usually are — Public could be headed for Walk the Moon territory pretty quickly.
Next up, it was Alone at 3AM at the Lawn Stage. I love these guys; super solid, crunchy heartland Indie Pop/Rock that states its case without a lot of unnecessary flash or padding. The band had plodded along for close to seven years before solidifying a dedicated line-up behind vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Max Fender and bassist Joey Beck and moving forward; a good deal of growth occurred with the additions of Sarah Davis on keys and Chris Mueller on drums (and business savvy). That in turn lit a fire under Fender, leading to a pair of albums in the last three years — 2010's Cut Your Gills and last year's Midwest Mess.
For A@3's Bunbury slot, the quintet was showing off their new guitarist; Clay Cason's recent departure left a gap which has been admirably filled by Jake Tippey, taking a busman's holiday from his howling duties in the Frankl Project and proving every bit as valuable in a Pop/Rock context. The band roared through songs from their most recent albums, introduced a couple of new songs (Chris mentioned after the show that A@3 would be working on an EP, and then tracking a new full length for imminent release) and even dipped back into their debut album, City Out of Luck, for a spin through "Mexico." Max's gruff voice sits comfortably in the Paul Westerberg/Bruce Springsteen range and it's the perfect vehicle for expressing his blue collar love-and-life songs. Can't wait to hear the new stuff in the studio, kids.
Before setting out for the Rockstar Stage, I caught the opening of Ohio Knife, one of Cincinnati's brightest new entities. Initially a side project for the Chocolate Horse, vocalist/guitarist Jason Snell, guitarist Andrew Higley and drummer Joe Suer — who all played together in Readymaid as well — ultimately put the Horse in the stable to concentrate on the Punk-scrubbed Blues of Ohio Knife, and with good reason. The trio is a sweat-soaked hurricane in the studio (their 2012 EP was a marvel), but the live translation hits with the force and heat of a flamethrower in an ammunition dump, and it won't be long before the CEA nominees for Best New Artist wind up taking home some bling. Where are we with the full length, guys?
After a quick shot of Ohio Knife, it was time to motor to the other end of the festival to check out the Dunwells. The UK outfit fronted by, logically enough, the Dunwell brothers, has found a good deal of success with their debut album, Blind Sighted Faith, and its ubiquitous single "I Could Be a King." When they played the single, frontman Joseph Dunwell thanked Q102 for their support, but it bears pointing out that, WNKU has been beating the drum for the Dunwells for quite some time now (just as they had for the similarly Folk/Pop toned Mumford & Sons). That being said, the age of the crowd seemed to indicate that Q102's demographic was probably best represented here today, so perhaps the win should be scored in their column after all. However the commissioner decides to rule, the Dunwells put together a crisp and wonderfully vibrant set that pays homage to the West Coast sounds of the Eagles and CSNY. The one exception to that sonic blueprint is the aforementioned "I Could Be a King," which offers an irresistable Pop edge that shimmers like the best of Crowded House. When brother David Dunwell strapped on the old five string to play the hit, he noted wryly, "I think every Englishman should at some point come to America and stand in front of an American audience holding a banjo with no idea how to play it." I think he was being graciously self-deprecating. The Dunwells seemed to go down a storm and I think they would find a large and enthusiastic audience if they returned outside of the auspices of the Bunbury Festival. Quick note: If you see a Dunwells album titled Follow the Road in stores (for you youngsters, a building where your parents buy music) or online, it is actually a re-sequenced and remixed version of Blind Sighted Faith, with a few alternate versions tossed in for flavor.
I briefly considered heading over to the Bud Light Stage to see some of Everest (a pick from Bunbury worker bee extraordinaire Jacob Heintz), but opted to check out a bit of Tegan and Sara at the Main Stage before making a definite decision.
I've interviewed both Quin twins over the years — most recently, I talked to Sara the year after the release of 2009's Sainthood — and while I lean toward their early work as far as my personal taste is concerned, their last trio of albums have been fairly well stacked with radio-friendly Pop songs with the potential to reach a massive audience. The enormous turnout for their Bunbury set would seem to support their decision to go the pure Pop route, but the fact is that Tegan and Sara have been cultivating a large and diverse audience for the past decade and a half, and their synth-driven Pop direction was not enough of a departure to alienate any portion of their slavishly loyal fan base. Predictably, the bulk of their set was devoted to Heartthrob, along with faves from The Con and Sainthood; they also reached all the way back to 2002's If It Was You for "Living Room" and they threw in a cover of Tiesto's "Feel It in My Bones," on which they originally guested. As expected, the adrenaline and volume of the live experience ferments Tegan and Sara's sugary Pop confections into something with a little more bite. Even for those who weren't completely sold on their recent work (my hand is up), Tegan and Sara's live presentation could make you see the light.
After T&S, it was time to hit the Amphitheater Stage to see Buffalo Killers. If you missed seeing the James Gang in 1971, here's your chance. Because I'm old enough to have actually missed the James Gang (with Joe Walsh, that is; I was lucky enough to see the even rarer sight of the James Gang with Tommy Bolin. Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls …) that joke is only marginally funny. Luckily, Buffalo Killers have approximated the trio's fuzzy guitar assault and maniacally furious rhythm section here in the 21st century to give an indication of what Joe and the boys might have sounded like if they had stayed together a little longer and gelled a little better. And even though Buffalo Killers have managed to inject a bit of poppy sunshine into their bunker-busting sound, in the live arena the band still rumbles and shoots like a rhythmic Sherman tank. The Killers hit all of my teenage buttons (which were installed long ago and have never been fully deactivated, same as every man on the planet, I suppose) and any opportunity to witness their feedback-through-an-elephant-gun glory is a chance to time machine back to the days when electric dinosaurs roamed the earth and their squalling racket could be heard from sweaty and sparsely attended auditoriums to densely populated arenas. I love Buffalo Killers. They remind me that there is wisdom in remembering the past, joy in celebrating the present and excitement in anticipating the future.
After a brief stroll around the grounds to grab something to eat, it was back to the Amphitheater Stage for a healthy dose of Rock hard Americana with Those Darlins. The Nashville outfit has been down a Darlin since early last year when Kelley Anderson opted out of the band to pursue other musical projects (her new group, Grand Strand, got a good buzz after touring with Richard Lloyd last year), and her amicable departure has obviously changed the group's dynamic, particularly the absence of their signature three-part harmonies. The remaining Darlins — Jessi (Wariner), Nikki (Kvarnes) and drummer Linwood Regensberg — are carrying on with the-show-must-go-on determination; new bassist Adrian Barrera seems to be slotting in quite well and Those Darlins' core sound, along the lines of the Pandoras if they'd been influenced by Wanda Jackson and the Ramones, remains largely intact. Their Bunbury set did display a good deal more Rock and a good deal less twang than you'll find on their first two albums — 2009's Those Darlins and 2011's Screws Get Loose — and it's a safe bet that the new album they're currently working on will follow that blueprint as well. No one at the Amphitheater seemed too dismayed at the shift, particularly the hyperactive dance contingent in front of the stage. Two Darlins is clearly enough Darlins to make Those Darlins.
I bailed out of Those Darlins a bit early to make the long walk back to the Rockstar Stage to take in the Gypsy Jazz goodness of DeVotchKa. I've long been a fan of the Denver-based outfit (I came to them through 2004's How It Ends, fell in love with their version of the Velvets' "Venus in Furs" from the Curse Your Little Heart EP and adored their work in Little Miss Sunshine) but have never had the opportunity to see them in the flesh, and when I saw them on the Bunbury schedule, I knew there was little that could draw me away from their show. Luckily, their 9 p.m. slot meant they weren't programmed against anyone else, so the way was cleared for my first live DeVotchKa experience.
DeVotchKa lived up to and surpassed all advance billing with a set that walked the wire between frenetic and atmospheric but maintained high energy from start to finish. Even when they slowed the pace, there was an electric tension in their presentation that made clear something explosive could happen at any moment. And it usually did. All four members of the band — Nick Urata, Jeanie Schroder, Tom Hagerman, Shawn King — play multiple instruments so almost any sound is available to DeVotchKa, including theremin, boukouki, accordion, trumpet and Melodica. And Schroder does the heaviest lifting, either plucking with power and subtlety on her enormous upright bass or blowing away like Dizzy Gillespie on steroids into a gigantic sousaphone that looks as though it would be the punishment instrument for getting bad grades in high school band ("Okay, Baker, D in Orchestra, 10 solos with the death tuba..."). It wasn't a performance to analyze or interpret, it was a Gypsy Jazz soundtrack for a magic show, a feeling to wash over you like cool waves on warm sand, a Slavic Rock and Roll dance party. More than a few people on DeVotchKa's Facebook page declared it the best show of Bunbury's three-day weekend. It was most assuredly one of them.
Finally, it was time for fun. Not the fun that we'd been having all day at Bunbury, but the fun. that's topping the charts and recently played Saturday Night Live and won a couple of Grammys this year. Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of the band. I like their sound to a certain extent, it's energetic and entertaining and I really like Nate Reuss' voice. I actually interviewed him a decade ago when he was fronting the Format; ironically and perhaps presciently, he used the word "fun" a half dozen times to describe his band at the time.
At any rate, I hung around to see the show to be able to report how it was to my daughter, and because the band clearly doesn't take itself too seriously. When they accepted their Record of the Year Grammy for "We Are Young," Reuss said, "I don't know what I was thinking, writing the chorus for this song. If this is in HD, everybody can see our faces, and we are not very young." All in all, I was expecting a pleasant if unassuming concert experience.
And that's pretty much how it started, with the "Some Nights" intro, the title track to their sophomore album (it would show up in its entirety during the band's two-song encore, leading into "One Foot" from Some Nights). In fact, fun. performed almost all of Some Nights (save for "All Alright"), and over half of their debut album, 2009's Aim and Ignite, perhaps best represented by "At Least I'm Not as Sad (as I Used to Be)" and the nearly eight-minute closer, "Take Your Time (Coming Home)." Of course, they saved their anthemic signature singles for the second half of the set, first "Carry On" and then, two songs later, the epic Grammy-winning Pop of "We Are Young." Sandwiched in between though was a very charming version of The Rolling Stones’ "You Can't Always Get What You Want," an interesting lead-in to "We Are Young," a song that would seem to sport a diametrically opposed message. By the time fun. concluded with "Stars" as the second song of their encore, they had fired a confetti cannon (there was still yards of fun. confetti on the field when The National played Sunday night), performed the majority of their two studio albums and put on a show that proved they were worthy of their first-night-closing status. While I think they should remove the rather severe punctuation from their name, I have to say I was at least slightly converted toward a fun. lifestyle.
The Country Throwdown Tour wraps up in a few weeks. By all accounts it has been a success, drawing large crowds and little, if any, controversy. We caught up with Emily West, Heidi Newfield, Sean Patrick McGraw, Sarah Buxton & Jedd Hughes while they were on tour to get inside their heads.
Revitalization group 3CDC's live music programming throughout the past few summers has helped turn Fountain Square into the heart of Cincinnati's increasingly active downtown area, drawing thousands to the Square every week to catch everything from Reggae and Salsa to Hip Hop and Indie Rock.
The group will be doing the same thing in Over-the-Rhine at the newly renovated Washington Park across from Music Hall. The Park officially opens tomorrow (July 6) with a 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. The christening will be followed by tours of the park, then a free 5 p.m. World Choir Games "friendship concert" at the Bandstand.
Like with Fountain Square, Washington Park's weekly music series will showcase local musicians, with live performances on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Wednesday will be "Bandstand Bluegrass" night, featuring some of the best area Bluegrass artists. The shows begin July 11 and will run every week, starting at 7 p.m., until Sept. 5. On Fridays, the Park features "Friday Flow," a night of R&B and Soul that starts July 13 and runs each Friday through Sept. 5.
The lineups for Wednesdays and Fridays have yet to be announced, but more details have been made available about the every-Thursday Jazz in the Park series. Beginning July 12, the lineup has been curated by local Jazz pianist Chris Comer, who held a similar role on Fountain Square last year. The first Jazz in the Park concert is July 12 and features Comer and his quintet, plus special guest Napoleon Maddox from the progressive Jazz/Hip Hop group IsWhat?!
Jazz in the Park performances run 7-9 p.m. through Aug. 30. Other shows in the series include the P&G Big Band (July 19); The Cincy Brass (Aug. 2); Steve Schmidt (Aug. 9), Ricky Nye Inc. (Aug. 16); and the Dick Sorice-Dan Jackson Quintet (Aug. 23).
Along with many other special concerts — like Over the Rhine's (the band) free show July 22 and the rare joint performance featuring Cincinnati Pops, May Festival Chorus, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet — the Washington Park summer schedule is filled with other types of events, from community festivals to "dog programs" to movie nights and special "Curiosity Saturdays" for kids.
One of the coolest physical changes to Washington Park is the interactive Classical Music Walk of Fame, a project in conjunction with the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and InfoTrust which will enable visitors to use their smartphones and tablets to play various musical selections through the park's sound system or through the very cool "musical fountains," which will change appearance/flow/color depending on which music is selected.
Here's a quick overview of how the interactive Classical Music Walk of Fame will work.
To read about all of the things Washington Park has planned just this summer alone (remember, it will be a primary venue for the MidPoint Music Festival at the end of September) click here.
Ill Poetic — the multitasking Hip Hop artist who made his bones in the Cincinnati and Dayton scenes and writes a monthly words-of-wisdom column for CityBeat called Hip Hop (Un) Scene — will be providing some dispatches from the road this month for us as he embarks on the J. Rawls-headlined “#Ohio Takeover Tour.” The tour (featuring a roster of Ohio acts) is an early promotional push for The Hip Hop Affect, the anticipated new release from Rawls, a renowned DJ/producer whose credits range from work on the first Black Star album to working with Madlib and The Beastie Boys. Recently, Rawls leaked the new track “We’re on Top (#ohiotakeover),” a “posse cut” featuring 23 MCs from the Buckeye State.