This weekend, the Cincy Blues Fest — presented annually by the Cincy Blues Society — returns for its 21st year, a remarkable accomplishment for a music festival of any sort. The festival kicks off tonight and continues tomorrow at Sawyer Point along the riverfront.
The weekend features two main stage acts with serious ties to Cincinnati’s Blues past. Educator, author, DJ, singer and harmonica player Steven Tracy returns to Cincy to play the main stage on tonight at 7 p.m. with his band the Crawling Kingsnakes. A Walnut Hills High School graduate, Tracy worked with local Blues icons like Pigmeat Jarrett and Big Joe Duskin, becoming a part of the scene he’d later dig deeper into in the 1993 book, Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City. His writing career is extensive — Tracy has written dozens of album liner notes and edited/wrote/intro-ed several other books on a variety of subjects. Today, Tracy is a professor of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Saturday at 6 p.m. on the fest’s main stage, Stacy Mitchhart and his band are slated to perform. Mitchhart grew up in Cincinnati and spent time playing music on the East and West Coasts before returning to his hometown in the early 1990s and forming Stacy Mitchhart and Blues-U-Can-Use, a staple on the local Blues scene for a few years. After a move to Nashville, Tenn., in the mid-’90s, Mitchhart’s musical career really took off. His albums have been widely acclaimed and done well commercially — his 2011 release, Live from B.B. King’s, debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Blues charts — and he’s received high-praise for his showmanship and remarkable Blues voice. In 2008, Mitchhart was the subject of the well-received documentary NashVegas Blues.
Here is tonight's main stage schedule:
5:45-6:45 p.m. Dave Muskett
7:00-8:15 p.m. Steve Tracy & the Crawling Kingsnakes
8:30-10 p.m. Reba Russell Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. Watermelon Slim & the Workers
And here's the lineup for the Main Stage tomorrow:
4:15-4:45 p.m. Blues in the Schools (BITS) Band
5-5:45 p.m. The Juice
6-7 p.m. Stacy Mitchhart Band
7:15-8:30 p.m. Nikki Hill
8:45-10:00 p.m. Honey Island Swamp Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. Ana Popovic (all the way from Serbia!)
Some of the coolest things at the Cincy Blues Fest can be found on the “specialty” stages — a “specialty” of the fest — which this year includes a “Women of the Blues” stage on Friday, headlined by national act EG Knight and also featuring locals Rio & The Ramblers, The Juice and Tempted Souls Band.
Here is the "Women of the Blues" stage ((aka the Arches stage) schedule for tonight :
5:45-7 p.m. Rio & the Ramblers
7:15-8:30 p.m. The Juice
8:45-10:00 p.m. Tempted Souls Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. EG Kight
Saturday sees the return of the “Boogie Woogie Hall of Fame Piano Stage,” featuring an international cast of top-shelf Boogie Woogie pianists, including local favorite Ricky Nye and former locals (now Florida-based) Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues. The house band for the Boogie Woogie stage is Johnny Vidacovich (drums), George Bedard (guitar) and Chris Douglas (bass).
Saturday's Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame stage (aka Arches stage) lineup:
4:30 p.m. Ben Levin
5 p.m. Ari Borger
5:40 p.m. Ricky Nye
6:20 p.m. Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues
7:10 p.m. Bruce Katz
7:50 p.m. Al Hill
8:30 p.m. Axel Zwingenberger & Lila Ammons
9:10 p.m. Joshua Paxton
10 p.m. David Vest
10:40 p.m. Bob Seeley
11:20 p.m. Chris Conz
The Blues Fest again presents the St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage on both days of the event, always an excellent snapshot of the current local Blues scene.
Friday's St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage schedule:
5:45-6:45 p.m. Thomas Long & Blue Sacrifice
7-8 p.m. Noah Wotherspoon Band
8:15-9:15 p.m. Ralph & the Rhythm Hounds
9:30-10:30 p.m. Brad Hatfield Band
10:45 p.m.-12 a.m. G Miles & the Hitmen
Saturday's St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage lineup:
4:30-5:30 p.m. The Blue Birds Big Band
5:45-6:45 p.m. Jay Jesse Johnson Band
7-8 p.m. The SoulFixers
8:15-9:15 p.m. Doug Hart Band
9:30-10:30 p.m. Chuck Brisbin & the Tuna Project
10:45 p.m.-12 a.m. Leroy Ellington Blues Band
Here is a map of the Blues Fest grounds:
Tickets are $15 for Friday, $20 for Saturday or $25 for a
two-day pass (tickets can be purchased at the gates or here). Visit
cincybluesfest.org for everything else you need to know about the
It’s no secret that Chicago is a great place for music. Pretty much any touring band of note — and no doubt many a musical outfit that need not be noted — is sure to include a Chicago stop, and the city’s local scene remains rich and diverse, aided by a host of nurturing venues and an eager, uncommonly discerning base of listeners. That it’s only a five-hour drive from Cincinnati makes it an enticing destination for those of us who yearn to catch shows that skip the Queen City.
Chicago’s embarrassment of musical riches has only grown in recent years with the addition of two high-profile three-day summer festivals: Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. The former needs little introduction — Perry Farrell’s unexpectedly fruitful brainchild is, almost undeniably, the inspiration for the explosion of summer fests over the last two decades, a trend that has grown even more robust since the turn of the century. Every weekend each summer now features at least one festival worthy of audiences’ ears. The trend has even reached Cincinnati, where Bunbury just finished its second successful year — and shared a headliner with Pitchfork. (Whether outdoor settings, marked by often difficult weather conditions and bright sunlight, is the best way to experience the type of music offered at such festivals is a different question.)
Lollapalooza is, alongside behemoths Coachella and Boonaroo, one of America’s biggest and best-attended summer fests, boasting more than 130 artists and an audience in excess of 150,000. Pitchfork, meanwhile, has quickly established itself as a singular presence on the summer circuit, a discerningly curated endeavor that’s an extension of the influential, taste-making webzine that runs it. (Chicago-based Pitchfork.com took over the business side of the fest in 2006 after curating 2005’s initial gathering, which was then called the Intonation Festival). Set in Union Park — a modest city-block space just west of downtown Chicago — Pitchfork now features nearly 50 artists, many of which are still unfamiliar to all but the most plugged-in Indie music connoisseurs. (Ironically, as a champion of cutting-edge acts on the way up, Pitchfork also serves as an early snapshot of future Lollapalooza lineups.)
This year’s Pitchfork, which ran July 19-21, offered one of its most curious lineups to date, especially as it pertains to the headliners, which included Bjork, Belle and Sebastian and, somewhat controversially, R. Kelly. Sure, there were several typically lesser-known acts on the bill, but almost all of them graced the Blue Stage, the smallest of the fest’s three stages. Whether this year’s more accessible bill might have been a reaction to last year’s fest, which gave relatively high-profile slots to such interesting but largely faceless artists as AraabMuzik, Purity Ring, The Field, Big K.R.I.T., Hot Chip and Chavez, among others, is anyone’s guess, but a realignment of sorts from Pitchfork’s powers that be seems plausible.
More proof of a possible shift in booking philosophy: There were more veteran acts than ever this year. Beyond the headliners, each of which has been making music for more than two decades, there was Wire, The Breeders, Swans, … And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Low and Yo La Tengo. The only comparable 2012 act in terms of longevity — admittedly not the best gauge when it comes to creative vitality, but we’re talking audience-drawers here — was Godspeed You Black Emperor, which headlined along with Feist and Vampire Weekend. All are solid acts, but none of them are likely to perk the senses of those looking for a little “star power.” Enter Kelly, one of the era’s preeminent hit-makers (more on that later).
As usual, many of Pitchfork 2013’s most interesting artists emanated from the Blue Stage, which is the most intimate of the fest’s three stages — the larger Green and Red stages (note the refreshing lack of corporate branding, another sign of Pitchfork’s discerning nature), which are but 50 yards (or so) apart, alternate acts at the north end of Union Park, while Blue’s lineup overlaps with the other two. Tucked into a tree-laden area of the park’s southwest corner, the Blue Stage is something of a festival unto itself, its cozy confines offering a break from the spacious, open-air spots where the Green and Red reside.
Multiple Blue Stage artists delivered strong sets, including Frankie Rose, a former Dum Dum Girl whose latest album, Interstellar, is a Synth Pop gem that wouldn’t sound out place alongside Beach House; Mikal Cronin, a little ragamuffin of a guy whose latest album, MCII, is a Power Pop keeper; Angel Olsen, whose Americana-flavored songs and swoon-worthy voice and visage compelled much of the audience during her late-afternoon slot; Metz, a Canadian trio coming to Cincy for this year's MidPoint Music Festival in late September, whose terse songs roared even more righteously in a live setting (think Nirvana on fast-forward); Minnesota mainstays Low, who seemed oddly out of place but still effective in the early evening light; and Trash Talk, a Hardcore crew from Sacramento, Calif., whose long-haired frontman delivered the funniest line of the fest after noticing a number of “old people” in the relatively sparse Friday-afternoon crowd: “I like old people. Old people make the world go around. They fucking had us and shit.”
Best of all — or at least the biggest surprise — was Brooklyn-based Post Punk quartet Parquet Courts, whose playful, twisty tunes recall everyone from early Pavement to the Minutemen to a far less trashed Guided by Voices. Frontman Andrew Savage’s voice is thin but endearing, and his dynamic guitar interplay with fellow frontguy Austin Brown had more than one rapt audience member shaking their ass in the Saturday-afternoon sun.
One got the sense that the Parquet Courts dudes would have been just as happy performing on the street corner just beyond the fence behind them. The fact that they had a much bigger platform to deliver their slanted gospel is just one example of what has made Pitchfork so vital for those looking to experience something rawer and less polished than the acts that dominate other festivals. (Go get Parquet Court’s recent full-length, Light Up Gold, as soon as possible.)
Even the Blue Stage’s less successful performances were compelling in one way or another: while Julia Holter, Ryan Hemsworth, Andy Stott and Evian Christ — the latter three DJs who essentially stand behind a table — have issues in the area of crowd interaction and sometimes suffered from spotty sound mixes, each was able to convey its mood-altering music in ways that, at the very least, provided sonic respites from the relatively more conventional acts at the bigger stages, whose roar often bled into the Blue’s.
On to the two main stages, which drew large, unusually enthusiastic crowds all weekend. Long a champion of adventurous Hip Hop, Pitchfork again featured some intriguing purveyors of the form, most notably Sunday sets by Killer Mike and El-P. The pair released two of the best albums of 2012, and their stellar recent collaboration, dubbed Run the Jewels, dropped as a free download in June. After a sweaty set in which Mike ran through songs from his R.A.P. Music — including strong versions of the title track and the politically cutting “Reagan” — he joined his buddy El-P for a batch of Run the Jewels cuts that mixed verbal dexterity with a healthy dose of levity. Their record, simply titled Run the Jewels, is something of a break from the duo’s doomsday aesthetic as solo artists — Jewels is an exuberant, sonically diverse fun-ride that makes light of Hip Hop’s silly preoccupation with bling (the two performed with fake gold chains around their necks), among other Pop-culture oddities. (El-P later tweeted, “I’ll just go ahead and say @pitchforkfest is the most chill, fun ass festival around right now.)
Run the Jewels was an interesting transition into a set from the ever-vital Yo La Tengo, which mixed choice cuts from its vast back-catalog (including sweet reworked versions of “Autumn Sweater,” “Tom Courtney” and “The Hour Grows Late”) with several tunes from the New Jersey trio’s latest record, Fade. As usual, they didn’t interact much with the crowd, though frontman Ira Kaplan, who dropped in several impressive guitar freak-outs, did joke that it was “good to be opening for R. Kelly again.”
The fest’s most curious social-media-stirring moment occurred Sunday evening as M.I.A., amid a garishly colorful backdrop of spinning wheels and neon lights, unveiled songs from her forthcoming album, Matangi. A sea of cell phones rose to record her entrance; many stayed aloft throughout. It was a departure in audience etiquette — somewhat unexpectedly, much of the festival was free of such ubiquitous use of technological interference.
Clad in a flashy gold top and orange short-shorts, M.I.A. stalked the stage, often with dancers at her side, as bass-heavy Dance-Rap arrangements thundered through the ample soundsystem with almost netherworldly force. The ceaseless sonic assault pretty much drowned out whatever she might have been trying to convey in her new songs — which, based on the spottiness of her previous record and the delayed release of Matangi, might be a good thing. Only when her set was interrupted by technical glitches did she seem spontaneous or even all that engaged. It was a weird, disjointed set, the kind of whiz-bang spectacle that rarely rears its head at Pitchfork.
In contrast, Savages Saturday afternoon appearance was a model of lacerating intensity. The buzzed-about British quartet — whose recent debut Silence Yourself is a satisfying blast of atmospheric Post Punk — was one of the most anticipated acts of fest. They didn’t disappoint, delivering blistering versions of “I Am Here,” “She Will” and “Fuckers,” a new song about not letting the “fuckers get you down.”
Jehnny Beth is a captivating frontlady, her no-bullshit stare and frequent high-pitched yelps lifting the music’s familiar elements — everyone from Gang of Four and Patti Smith to Siouxsie Sioux and PJ Harvey come immediately to mind — to uncharted heights. More unexpected was the band’s tendency to evoke ’80s-era U2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even more curious was Beth’s evocation of Ian Curtis, both in terms of her appearance (lean with close-cropped hair) and in some of her mannerisms (as if the music were transporting her somewhere beyond the stage).
Michael Gira, Swans’ longtime ringleader, was impressed,
asking the audience, “How about them lady Savages?” before clapping in
appreciation. Gira’s band immediately followed Savages, and it was an
apt pairing, like opposite sides of the same coin. His crew of gifted
Post Punk vets — which includes a hairy multi-instrumentalist named Thor
and a suave German slide-guitar player who looks as though he’d be
right a home in a David Lynch flick — conjured an unholy racket during a
truncated version of “The Seer” and offered an inspired take on
“Oxygen,” which featured Gira doing a spooky Indian-like dance
throughout. While it was odd to witness Swans’ menacing, ebb-and-flow
soundscapes in broad daylight, the outdoor setting still left those in
attendance vibrating long after the band’s final drone leaked from the
That brings us to the three headliners. The festival’s mission — it attempts to highlight the most adventurous, zeitgeist-channeling acts on the current landscape — makes choosing an anchor to each day’s events a challenging dilemma for Pitchfork organizers. Given the esoteric nature of many such music-makers, there are only so many high-profile acts that fit the typical “headliner” criteria. Past choices have included such Alt-Rock mainstays as Flaming Lips, Spoon and Sonic Youth to more contemporary entries in the canon like TV on the Radio, Animal Collective and LCD Soundsystem.
Pitchfork even had Yoko Ono headline one year, which makes the choice of R. Kelly as Sunday night’s festival-closer even odder one on multiple levels. First, there’s the fact that Kelly — no doubt one of the most important R&B artists of the era, and a Chicago native to boot — is the most mainstream artist the festival has ever booked. Second, and far more troubling for many, is Kelly’s reputation as a serial misogynist who never got the legal reprimand he deserved.
The most vociferous critic has been longtime music writer Jim DeRogatis, who broke the story of Kelly’s indiscretions while working at the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002. DeRogatis called Pitchfork’s decision to book Kelly and the subsequent excitement from “some (not all) paying customers” as being “fueled by irony.”
No doubt there are legitimate questions about how an artist’s personal issues should impact the way in which we experience their music, but, for better or worse, those knotty questions were not going to be answered during Kelly’s Pitchfork set.
In fact, based on the reaction of those in the massive crowd — probably the festival’s largest ever — irony was not as prevalent as DeRogatis wanted to profess. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance, which ranged from fortysomething African-American couples to teenage hipsters, seemed genuinely excited to be taking in Kelly’s sextastic jams. The performance itself, meanwhile, was largely standard-issue R&B stagecraft, as Kelly ran through much of his extensive songbook medley-style (38 songs!). Not even a steady drizzle of rain could dampen the mood, as many swayed and sang along straight through to a set-closing version of “I Believe I Can Fly,” which was accompanied by the release of dove-shaped balloons.
If Kelly’s presentation was fairly straightforward, Bjork’s closing set on Friday was anything but. Or so it seemed — unless one was within 75 yards of the stage, it was hard to see what was going on besides fleeting glimpses of Bjork’s elaborate headgear, which looked like a porcupine lit up from within. Worse, the two video boards that flanked the Green Stage were mounted too low, rendering them almost useless to those they should intend to aid.
No matter: Bjork’s expressive voice was just as fluid and otherworldly as one would expect on slightly reconfigured versions of “Hunter,” “Joga” “Pagan Poetry” and “Army of Me.” When rain and pending lightening and thunder prompted festival organizers to pull the plug after an hour, Bjork responded with this curio: “It’s calm. I don’t know. This wouldn’t be much in Iceland, I can tell you that much.”
It also rained on Belle and Sebastian Saturday night, but not enough to cut short what was the festival’s most overt nod to nostalgia. The Scottish crew ran through a career-spanning set that crested early with rousing versions of “I’m a Cuckoo” and “The Stars of Track and Field,” which had more than one thirtysomething couple embracing amid all the tuneful sweetness.
One of the oldest free series of its kind in the region, the It’s Commonly Jazz showcases have now been running for 28 years, presenting marquee artists like Eddie Harris, McCoy Tyner, Javon Jackson and David “Fathead” Newman.
The free series — running every Thursday in August (lucky Jazz fans get five events this year) — returns to the outdoor Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park tonight. The opening show features renowned saxophonist Craig Bailey.
Nice interview from Greece with Bailey:
Here is the rest of the It’s Commonly Jazz lineup for 2013:
Trinidad-born Etienne Charles, acclaimed for his mix of island rhythms and Jazz, plays Aug. 8.
Charles jazzing up Marley:
Young tenor sax wiz J.D. Allen performs at the Aug. 15 show.
Allen and his trio play "The Matador and the Bull":
Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/actor Gregory Porter on Aug. 22, presented with Learning Through the Arts, Inc. as part of the Crown Jewels of Jazz Heritage Festival. For tickets to (and more info on) the Crown Jewels fest — running at various venues in Over-the-Rhine and Mt. Adams Aug. 21-24 — click here. Here's LTtA's Kathy Wade explaining the festival:
Gregory Porter's official music video for "Be Good (Lion's Song)":
For the finale, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, who will be joined by his group of young Jazz lions, Wolfpack, comes to the ICJ stage on Aug. 29.
Warren Wolf's video biography:
Music runs 6-8 p.m. For complete info, visit itscommonlyjazz.com.
• Macy’s Music Festival — still often referred to locally as “Jazz Fest” as a nod to the fest’s roots (despite a complete lack of Jazz nowadays) — returns to downtown’s Paul Brown Stadium tonight and tomorrow.
The festival is a Cincinnati tradition, a true “event,” regardless of what music is featured (which may explain the lackluster booking rut the fest was in for a while). But this year’s Macy’s Music Fest has one of the best lineups in recent memory.
Tonight's performers include headliner Jill Scott, plus Charlie Wilson, TGT (Tyreese, Ginuwine, Tank), locals The Faize Band and a rare performance by Cincinnati legend, Funk superhero and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Bootsy Collins.
Charlie Wilson is fresh off of receiving the BET Awards' Lifetime Achievement honors.
And here's the crowd rockin' to Charlie at last year's Macy's Music Festival.
Saturday’s lineup features newcomer Leela James, KEM, Prince’s ol’ pals Morris Day and The Time, Fantasia and blockbuster headliner R. Kelly, an arena-worthy star fresh off of his odd but successful (despite the many "Pee on Me!" signs in the hipster audience) 38-song, headlining appearance at the Pitchfork music festival in Chicago. But … MORRIS DAY AND THE TIME!
Morris Day and The Time - Jungle Love by DemonPreyer
Find more about the fest at macysmusicfestival.com. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Prices range from $40-$85 (only single-day tickets are available). Showtime is 7:30 p.m. each night.
• If your tastes trend more towards old-timey music and Bluegrass (and your wallet trends more towards empty), downtown's Arnold's is presenting the two-night Tito's Old Time Music Festival, running tonight and tomorrow. "Tito's" refers to sponsor Tito's Homemade Vodka, an Austin, Texas-produced spirits producer; Tito's reps will be on hand and Tito's drink specials will be plentiful. There will be also a chance to win an Epiphone acoustic guitar and purchase signed fest poster created by local poster-art great Keith Neltner.
You don't have to be a vodka enthusiast to attend — there is some great local Roots/Americana music each night. Tonight, Western Swing crew The Sidecars kick things off at 7:30 p.m., followed by My Brother the Bear, The Goodle Boys and AltCountry greats Terminal Union, which just released an amazing debut album, Making Arrangements (look for a review on this here blog soon).
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.
One of the Midwest’s best new music fests, Cincinnati’s own Bunbury Music Festival, presents its second annual event this weekend. With another stellar lineup for the three-day affair — including headliners like Fun., MGMT and Cincinnati-bred Indie Rock stars The National (whose latest album debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart), plus a great number of Greater Cincinnati’s top acts — a “sophomore slump” seems impossible.
Be sure to arrive early and check out some of the lesser-known acts; there are a lot of up-and-coming gems to discover. Below is the full schedule (click here to auto-download a PDF version of the schedule from the fest.)
Shows run Friday-Sunday and start at 2 p.m. Gates open at 1
p.m. each day. Tickets are $65 or $130 for three-day passes. (Kids 10
and under are free with a paying adult.) Keep your wristband on; Bunbury
allows re-entry, if you need to run to the car and pound a 40, er, grab
From BunburyFestival.com, here is what is and isn't permitted to bring to Bunbury:
What to Bring (Allowed Items)
- Sun Gear (e.g., sunglasses, sunscreen, etc.)
- Seating (e.g., folding chair, blanket, etc.)
- Bug Repellent (no Deet)
- Rain Gear (ponchos are best, but small, hand-held umbrellas are OK)
- Baby strollers
- Empty water bottled (no glass) or Cambelbak
- Wall mounted rapid charger (charging stations provide iPhone and mini-USB chords, but if you have your own chord, you won't have to wait)
What NOT to Bring (Prohibited Items)
- Weapons, fireworks or explosives of any kind
- Illegal substances (including narcotics) or drug paraphernalia
- Framed or large backpacks
- Glass containers of any kind or coolers
- Food, beverages or Cambelbaks that are full
- Carts, bicycles, skateboards, scooters, or personal motorized vehicles (including Segways). There is bike/scooter parking outside the event site
- Tents, large umbrellas or chairs that are NOT sand chairs (seat more than 9" off the ground)
- Pets (except service dogs)
- Any audio recording, professional camera or video equipment
- Moshing, crowd surfing, and/or stage diving
- Vending without a Bunbury license or permit
- Bills over $20. We won't accept them at the beverage booths.
There's more fun AFTER Bunbury at the Bunbury official after-parties, with loads of drink specials and no cover charge. Tonight, DJ Ice Cold Tony will spin at the official after-party at downtown's Igby's. Tomorrow, Bunbury performers Chairlift will DJ the after-party at aliveOne in Mt. Adams. And Sunday's after-party at downtown's The Righteous Room will have DJing by great Cincy Electro duo You, You're Awesome. (Friday and Saturday's parties start at approximately 11 p.m.; Sunday's starts at around 10 p.m.)
FRIDAY, JULY 12
MAIN STAGE: The Features (2:45 p.m.); Delta Rae (4:15 p.m.); Tegan and Sara (5:45 p.m.); Walk the Moon (7:45 p.m.); fun. (10 p.m.)
ROCKSTAR STAGE: Beat Club (2 p.m.); The Dunwells (3:30 p.m.); Red Wanting Blue (5 p.m.); Youngblood Hawke (6:45 p.m.); Devotchka (9 p.m.)
CINCINNATUS STAGE: Billy Wallace (2:45 p.m.); Pete Dressman (4:15 p.m.); Josh Eagle (5:45 p.m.); Jay Nash (7:45 p.m.)
BUD LIGHT STAGE: Public (2 p.m.); American Authors (3:30 p.m.); Everest (5 p.m.); Sky Ferreira (6:30 p.m.); Tokyo Police Club (8:30 p.m.)
LAWN STAGE: Alone At 3am (2:45 p.m.); Old Baby (4:15 p.m.); We Are Snapdragon (5:45 p.m.); Seabird (7:15 p.m.)
AMPHITHEATER STAGE: The Mitchells (2 p.m.); Ohio Knife (3:30 p.m.); State Song (5 p.m.); Buffalo Killers (6:30 p.m.); Those Darlins (8 p.m.)
SATURDAY, JULY 13
MAIN STAGE: Empires (2:45 p.m.); Robert Delong (4:15 p.m.); Twenty One Pilots (5:45 p.m.); Cake (7:45 p.m.); MGMT (10 p.m.)
ROCKSTAR STAGE: X Ambassadors (2:00 p.m.); Civil Twilight (3:30 p.m.); Chairlift (5 p.m.); We Are Scientists (6:45 p.m.); Divine Fits (9 p.m.)
CINCINNATUS STAGE: Margaret Darling (2:45 p.m.); Taylor Alexander (4:15 p.m.); Tim Carr (5:45 p.m.); Christopher Paul Stelling (7:45 p.m.)
BUD LIGHT STAGE: Culture Queer (2 p.m.); Vacationer (3:30 p.m.); The Mowgli's (5 p.m.); Oberhofer (6:30 p.m.); Atlas Genius (8:30 p.m.)
LAWN STAGE: The Ready Stance (2:45 p.m.); The Bears Of Blue River (4:15 p.m.); Black Owls (5:45 p.m.); You, You're Awesome (7:15 p.m.)
AMPHITHEATER STAGE: New Vega (2 p.m.); Messerly And Ewing (3:30 p.m.); Ben Walz Band (5 p.m.); The Pinstripes (6:30 p.m.); Bear Hands (8 p.m.)
SUNDAY, JULY 14
MAIN STAGE: Joe Purdy (2 p.m.); Gregory Alan Isakov (3:30 p.m.); Camera Obscura (5 p.m.); Belle & Sebastian (7 p.m.); The National (9 p.m.) (Read CityBeat's interview with The National here.)
ROCKSTAR STAGE: The Knocks (2:45 p.m.); A Silent Film (4:15 p.m.); Night Terrors of 1927 (6 p.m.); Yo La Tengo (8 p.m.)
CINCINNATUS STAGE: Ben Knight (2 p.m.); Jake Kolesar (3:30 p.m.); Mark Utley (5 p.m.); Channing & Quinn (7 p.m.)
BUD LIGHT STAGE: Gringo Star (2:45 p.m.); High Highs (4:15 p.m.); Savoir Adore (5:45 p.m.); Black Joe Lewis (7:45 p.m.)
LAWN STAGE: Mia Carruthers (2 p.m.); Bethesda (3:30 p.m.); The Harlequins (5 p.m.); DAAP Girls (6:30 p.m.)
AMPHITHEATER STAGE: The Upset Victory (2:45 p.m.); Green Light Morning (4:15 p.m.); The Hiders (5:45 p.m.); Daniel Martin Moore (7:15 p.m.)
Here is Bunbury's official Spotify playlist for the fest featuring many of the performers:
And, finally, here is the map of the Bunbury Festival grounds from bunburyfestival.com: