Four beers, a couple of brats and one regrettable weekend at Oktoberfest later, I’m ready to see what else Cincinnati has to offer in terms of merrymaking. Midpoint Music Festival is supposed to be the real deal, and my hopes are high. I’ve had my fill of jacked-up prices on warm keg beer and German interpretations of musical blunders such as the chicken dance song.
I’ve sprained my neck.* I’m taking Vicodin and Thursday night is the first night of MidPoint Music Festival. When my editor told me my review should be first-person and to “think, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” I snorted at just how closely it might come given my current intake of prescription drugs.
No longer stoked for the experience but realizing it’s far too late to get out of going, I texted my friend, Rachel, on Wednesday night. Was she going? Could I tag along with her? The buddy system seemed like a good idea this time around. She immediately told me sure and that she had planned to see Andrew Bird, Best Coast & Dirty Projectors on Thursday.
Thursday evening, I stroll toward Washington Park. There aren’t tons of people out at 7:45, but it’s still early in the week and early in the night. There are still enough people that it’s easy to walk mindlessly at the heels of a group of scarf-donning 20-somethings and end up where I need to be to meet my friends.
I glance around, but I don’t try too hard to find Rachel. She’s one of those people you hear before you see. Instead, I find a spot near the sound booth between two relatively attractive and seemingly girlfriend-less guys, pull out my phone and begin to send texts and emails.
By 8:10, I’m bitching, though.She knows I’m jacked up on painkillers. If I wander off with some heavily bearded rapist in skinny jeans, thinking he’s Rach, it’s all her fault. Mostly importantly, I’m absolutely distraught that I shaved my legs yesterday. I’ve always had this strange idea that if I’m about to get raped, I’ll just say, “You don’t want me. It’s a hot mess down there.” I think he’ll be disgusted by my lack of feminine upkeep leave me alone. Now I’ll never know if that line works! Has anyone already tried it? I’ll have to Google it later.
It's 8:20 and I still don’t see Rachel. I do, however, see a tall, lanky shadow near the ATMs and he’s laughing. It’s Dan. I text Rach for confirmation and then head over to find him with a few other people I know. (They have names, too, but they’re really irrelevant for tonight.)
We make a few bad jokes and then Andrew Bird starts with zero fanfare. He just launches into his music, people applaud in surprise, and he carries on It’s a beautiful view. Andrew Bird has these slowly spinning art-installations that look like plumes of smoke and a very cool rotating double-Vitrolla-like thing. Above the roof of the stage glows the pretty, white flora-inspired window of Music Hall. Last time I went to Music Hall for the Opera, I was probably parked just about where my friends and I currently stood.
He’s good. His whistles have me staring at him in expectation. Where are the little animated birds fluttering toward him with ribbons for his hair and water for his face? It’s all just so pretty. I’m mesmerized.
Until my foot lands on something hard and round. Is it a sprinkler head? Yes. I know this without having to look at it. And yet, drop my head and try to find the small black circle as it hides out in the grass and my shadow. I don’t see it. But I feel it, right under my foot. It finally occurs to me that I should lift my foot and I immediately stumbled into Rachel and Dan, who shrug off my apologies. Figuring out how long I’ve known Dan requires higher math than I’m capable of, but he’s used to my stumbling into him.
The stumbling and bumping calls my attention to the fact that Andrew Bird is playing not only an entirely new song but also he’s in an entirely different spot. He’s near an upright bass, hovering over an old microphone and making music I love oh-so-much. Still, when it’s back to the usual stuff, I’m not the only one feeling the weight of his mellow music.
It’s decided that we need caffeine. Fast.
As half our group strides through back alleys and around clusters of people, Rachel tries, to no avail, to tell us that Yelp says Coffee Emporium closes at 8 p.m. She’s like one of Andrew Bird’s birds, she sounds nice in all the chaos, but she’s having a hard time rising above it. In the end, it takes standing in front of Coffee Emporium’s darkened doors for Dan and I to admit defeat.
Ira’s (Iris? I can never remember) is closed, too.
So, we do what any sensible, caffeine depraved people would do: We send Dan to his apartment to make us some while we go stand on Clay and watch Best Coast through a fence.
No one will ever convince me this isn’t the best view for their show. Sure, you can’t see their faces. But, you can still pick up on all their energy and hear things perfectly. Mostly, though, you also get to see the rest of the crowd dancing like crazy fools, singing along and having an awesome time. Standing outside that fence, I think I enjoyed the energy far more than I would if I were amidst those flying elbows and twitching hips.
Dan and, our friend, Erik are back.
They brought camp chairs and no coffee.
We utilize the chairs and this awesome see-saw for a hot minute before Dan gets a text about Bluegrass at Mr. Pitiful’s and then we’re off, again. I’m still not entirely sure what our friends were talking about at this point. They came out giddy over the .5 seconds of music they heard that sounded Bluegrass and Irish. (Despite knowing Dan for at least half my life, I’m still surprised by how absolutely stoked he is about this.) They mentioned a name that I don’t see anywhere on Mr. Pitiful’s Thursday line-up. However, on Friday we’re all meeting up at the Midway at 5p, where they are, apparently, playing again.
Despite multiple pleas of, “Are you sure we shouldn’t support our friend?” and “We could at least peak in and say ‘Hi,’” we don’t make it into Mr. Pitiful’s to say reassuring things to Young Heirloom’s Chris Rob.** For a brief second I contemplate making a stand. I’ll stand like Superman and demand we give this musician-man our dues!
Except they’re talking about caffeine, again, and if they go too far, I’ll never find them. Even not on my best of days, OTR is like that tricked out maze in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. Except Lord Voldemort is played by a skinny, African American guy who comes up to Dan while we’re still on Main Street.
“Hey man, have you ever been tazed?” he asks my friend.
A bright light flashes and I’m terrified for my one-time best friend. What’s that disarmament spell? But it’s just a watch or a flash light or something and Dan, who I think I’ve only ever seen mad once (at me, of course), just shakes his head and tell the guy it’s not cool, he doesn’t even know him.
And then we’re just not there anymore. We’re in 1215 Wine Bar and Coffee Lab.
But, I don’t actually like either of those things. All I’ve wanted all this time was a pop or a chai. They have chai, though. And they’ll ice it! And, you know what else? It doesn’t taste like my coveted goodness from Fido, in Nashville, but I think it’s better than Starbucks. Holy Shit. This place needs a drive-thru.
I’m talked out of seconds by Rachel, who is bound and determined we make it to The Emery for Dirty Projector. I’m ready to give up the ghost. I just want another chai…or 10. There’s a cheese plate that looks good, too. Mm, Cheese. But, I remind myself that I’m supposed to be writing about the music. Also, I have no idea which direction I’d go to get back to my car once I’ve been properly filled with dairy products.
So, off we go, to the Emery.
It’s packed. Thank goodness Cincinnati is filled with some seriously sweet people. A bit of rearranging and the seven of us are in one long row in the balcony. We’re only forced to sit and hide yawns for a few minutes before the music starts.
I like Dirty Projectors and their quirky, disjointed Pop Rock. It makes me want to dance. Except no one in the balcony dances. I can see hints of movement and excitement below. But the people around me, the ones near the rafters, are zombie-like. No one moves, except to yawn or to leave. It’s hot, too, and I swear on anything that it smells like Skyline up there.
They should have played at Washington Park. Out in the cool air and in the open field, where there aren’t seats to lull the tired, drunken masses to sleep. That would have been better for everyone.
When I find myself trying to calculate the likelihood of my death if the balcony collapses, I know it’s time to go. It’s been a short night, but I’m done. If I stay much longer, I’ll fall asleep. Or I’ll throw up. I pop a Tums for the trip back to my car and duck out.
Once outside, I’m far less concerned than I should be about the fact that I have only a vague idea how to get to my car.
There is one thing I know for certain, though: I’m stopping for Skyline on the way home and I want extra cheese.
*Who knew that was even possible? Not me.
**That’s his name with us, whether he likes it or not.
This whole week has been overflowing with big-time concerts, from Radiohead to Red Hot Chili Peppers to Drake. If you went to any (and especially if you went to ALL), your pocketbook is probably a little lighter this weekend. So, in honor of all of you heroes who paid $15 just to park or spent $100 on three beers, tonight's live music recommendations are all FREE. And high-quality, to boot.
• Kick off your weekender on Fountain Square tonight for perhaps the most eclectic MidPoint Indie Summer series concerts of the year. Kicking off at 7 p.m., the free show is like a musical world tour that takes you from the early Reggae sounds of Jamaica (with local openers The Pinstripes) to the unique and exotic native-Blues of Timbuktu (Malian music legend Khaira Arby, pictured, and her band) to the grinding, deep Funk of Nashville's vintage Soul revivalists The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker on the mic. Dancing shoes are a must!
Walker and the Dynamites recently teamed with fellow soldier in the retro-funky revolution, Bettye Lavette, for the single "Yours & Mine." Check the phenomenal duet below.
• Local powerhouse power trio The Sundresses perform a freebie tonight at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. The 10 p.m. show also features Lexington rockers Oh My Me, making tonight's show a half-reunion of the "Midwest by Southwest" tour from this past spring (which also featured Wussy — who are currently headed to the west coast for dates — and Whiskey Daredevils from Cleveland).
Oh My Me has an intriguing and often captivating sound, mixing a groovy back-drop of fluid, hypnotic psychedelia with singer Erin Reynolds' stunningly soulful vocals weaving between the grooves — sort of a modern day Big Brother and the Holding Company. Lots of singers get the Janis Joplin comparison; Reynolds' voice and presence are so thoroughly alluring and absolutely natural, she's one of the few who actually deserves it.
Check the clip below for a taste.
More than just the openers, there's another reason to show up early. The first 20 people through the door tonight receive a free copy of the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards' 2008 Album of the Year, Barkinghaus, by headliners The Sundresses.
Click here for the full run down of tonight's live musical entertainment offerings.
At first blush, a pro tennis tournament named for a financial corporation and a music festival all about indie music and culture might seem like awkward bedfellows — not quite “oil and water,” but more “banana and helicopter.” But last year, organizers of the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament — featuring top players from around the world and matches viewed by a global audience — and the MidPoint Music Festival joined forces to make the combination a “chocolate and peanut butter” teaming that would make Reese’s proud. The cross-promotional efforts were designed to spread the good word of Cincinnati’s biggest music festival (coming up Sept. 22-24) to music lovers who might be unaware it exists. This year, the partnership seems more solidified, with a designated MidPoint Stage providing tennis fans with acoustic sets by MidPoint-approved local, original artists consistently throughout the tournament.
Several local acts have been notified in recent weeks that they have been chosen to perform at this fall’s MidPoint Music Festival. Organizers today revealed its second wave of national acts that will join them at the Sept. 27-29 fest — Andrew Bird, Ralph Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys (revealed a couple of weeks ago at a MidPoint Indie Summer concert), The Walkmen, The Antlers, Hospitality, Rich Aucion, Stepdad, Eternal Summers, White Arrows, Dirty Bourbon River Show, Hume, Sidewalk Chalk, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Kitten, F. Strokes, Wooden Wand, Hundred Waters, Golden Boy, Tim Easton and Army Navy.
Keep up to date with the latest MPMF news at mpmf.com and this here music blog at citybeat.com. Early Bird All Music Access and Loyalty Presale passes are sold out. A limited number of All Music Access Passes ($69) and VIP Passes presented by CVG ($169) now on sale. Washington Park Day Tripper passes will be available soon. Get your tickets now at CincyTicket.com.
Check out news songs from The Antlers and (previously announced MPMF band) Grizzly Bear at NPR here.
Here's the latest music video from The Walkmen, for their tune "Heaven."
And here's a recent CNN piece on Andrew Bird.
If you're looking for something cool to do tonight — and especially if you're a huge fan of the falltime MidPoint Music Festival — head to the Contemporary Arts Center at 8 p.m. for a MidPoint "Reveal" showcase featuring the stellar, textural Indie Rock of local faves Pomegranates, nationally-acclaimed foursome Aloha (pictured) and Cleveland's The Buried Wires.
Any musical act interested in performing at this September's 10th anniversary installment of the big MidPoint Music Festival has just a few days left to turn in submissions for consideration if they haven't already. The official deadline is this coming Monday night (May 16) at 11:59 p.m. Miss it and miss out.
As the weather reports began to shape up for the end of this week, I was almost convinced that we would be breaking the current drought by doing the reliable MidPoint rain dance, which apparently consists of scheduling the weekend and saying the word "MidPoint." But, miracle of miracles, it did not piss down rain on the first night of MidPoint (although it was hot enough to feel as though we’d been rained on). After doing the Australian crawl from the Lodge Bar to the Blue Wisp last year, however, I’m not complaining. At all. It was a glorious night, and Thursday’s bands provided the perfect soundtrack.
Beginning Sept. 3 at the Art Academy of Cincinnati's Childlaw Gallery (1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine), the people behind the massive photography exhibition FotoFocus will set their lenses on the many great concert photographers in the region.
Reverberation: Capturing the Live Music Experience will coincide with the MidPoint Music Festival, located just off the 12th Street MidPoint Midway (the strip featuring vendors, food, live music the box truck carnival and much more). Hours will be extended during MPMF, with the exhibit staying open until 9 p.m. on Sept. 26 and 10 p.m. on Sept. 27-28. (Normal hours, starting Sept. 3, are 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Mondays-Fridays, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays). The exhibit closes Sept. 29.
The work of 29 artists will be featured in the exhibit, including shots from legends like Melvin Grier (an award-winning photojournalist who shot many years for The Cincinnati Post) and Michael Wilson (whose portraits have been featured on the covers of albums by The Replacements, Over the Rhine, Lyle Lovett, Ron Sexmith and many others), as well as Maurice Mattei, Sean Hughes, Keith Klenowski and Kara Smarsh. (Click on the names to check out some of the artists' work.)
It seems like only yesterday that we were running all over Downtown trying to see a bazillion bands perform for the 2008 MidPoint Music Festival. Now it’s time to start preparing for a bigger, badder, better MidPoint in 2009.