Yesterday we received word that headlining MidPoint Music Festival artist Justin Townes Earle was canceling his tour, including his appearance tonight for MPMF at Know Theatre. Attempts were made to keep Earle’s tourmate Jessica Lea Mayfield on the bill, but she has returned home following the tour cancellation announcement. (Those artists will not be replaced, but local singer/songwriter Nathan Holscher and his band will still play at 9 p.m. at Know; the show has been made free.) This is a great example of why attendees should check mpmf.com before they head out to the fest each night — cancellations and schedule changes are inevitable.
Last night was a glorious night for music and glorious music was made. Combinations don't get much better than that. Things didn't start so well, though; a quick e-mail on Wednesday revealed that, for a variety of reasons, my friend Matthew Fenton wouldn't be making his annual pilgrimage from Chicago to our fair festival. And then the drive down I-75 was infuriatingly stop-and-go for no apparent reason, which had me grinding my teeth all the way downtown.
Every molecule of that dour energy was dissipated with the first show of the night as Cody ChesnuTT hit the Washington Park stage like a hydrogen bomb of positive vibration.
ChesnuTT's MidPoint appearance was also his Cincinnati debut and the sizable crowd that showed up to witness it was completely enthralled with his potent blend of Neo Soul, Reggae, Jazz and Pop.
ChesnuTT doesn't dress the part of Soul crooner; graphic T-shirt covered in cassettes, red cardigan, black sweats and an army helmet. The helmet is an odd sartorial choice, but ChesnuTT has explained that he's "fighting to keep the soul alive." Not the musical genre, but the spiritual essence at the center of all human beings. That's a pretty big mission for a singer/songwriter to assign himself, but last night's performance proved that ChesnuTT is more than up to the task.
Drawing strictly from last year's gorgeous Landing on a Hundred (he no longer does any songs from 2002's The Headphone Masterpiece, feeling that he's moved beyond the events in his life that inspired that album), ChesnuTT blew any trace of negativity into the stratosphere and replaced it with a rock-solid groove (courtesy of his absolutely stellar band) and a message of pure love. Not Barry White let's-ease-them-panties-down love, but love of self, love of mankind, love of life, which should ultimately lead to unconditional love for one other person.
Not that ChesnuTT doesn't recognize the world's dysfunction. In his brilliant "Everybody's Brother," he sings, "I used to smoke crack back in the day/I used to gamble rent money and lose/I used to dog nice ladies, used to swindle friends/But now I'm teaching kids in Sunday school and I'm not turning back." On the album, the song thumps along on a hearty Funk beat, but on stage, ChesnuTT delivers that opening verse with a sermon-like intonation, and the band swells around him with Gospel fervor and Soul intensity.
No matter what vibe ChesnuTT is channeling at any particular point in the show, he is a master showman, imploring the audience to join him, engaging them to become an integral part of the proceedings. And when he sings, when he digs deep into his creative core and unleashes his soul though his vocal cords, sweet mother of all that's holy, he sounds like the reincarnation of Marvin Gaye, the little brother that Stevie Wonder didn't know he had and the lost Marley sibling all rolled into one otherworldly package. Anyone who was not smiling at the end of Cody ChesnuTT's performance last night is damaged beyond the help of therapy and psychoactive drugs. Please come back to see us again soon, Cody. If Foxygen's slot is still open, Saturday night would be just fine. (Editor’s note: Cincy’s fantastic Wussy has claimed Foxygen’s Washington Park slot tomorrow.)
After Cody ChesnuTT's splendorous opening, it was Blues/Rock legend Shuggie Otis' turn to lead the Washington Park congregation, which he did in scorching style. Otis was barely in his teens when he started playing guitar with his father, R&B icon Johnny Otis, ultimately leading to session work with Al Kooper and Frank Zappa when he was just 16, and his 1970 debut solo album, Here Comes Shuggie Otis, at 17. And while Shuggie has laid low for long stretches in his nearly 50-year career, his current resurgence is sweet vindication for those periods when an indifferent music industry ignored his virtuosic brilliance, forcing Shuggie to turn away from the industry.
Shuggie's set started a little hesitantly as he acclimated to the stage set-up; at one point, he jokingly asked, "Can somebody show me how to work this shit?" Somebody did and he was off, peeling off incendiary riffs and razor sharp runs with a casual intensity. The set's sole slow spot was a new song called "Special," that sounded like Shuggie copying the numerous Pop artists who have copied him, but he followed it with a blazing version of "Me and My Woman" that erupted from the stage like a volcano and oozed through the assembled multitude with the heat and inevitability of the resultant lava flow. Once he and his stellar band got going, Shuggie Otis provided a transcendent moment in MidPoint history, the redemptive return of an astonishing talent that should never have gone away in the first place.
Only one thing could have dragged me away from the hair-raising, slack-jawed wonder of Shuggie Otis, and that's the triumphant return of Cincinnati’s Mad Anthony. Since the July van accident that could have been the band's literal epitaph, drummer Marc Sherlock was restrained by a neck brace and an order against all relatively physical activity. Outside of a little rhythmic tapping to keep his chops up, Sherlock was virtually drumless for three months, while guitarists Ringo Jones and Adam Flaig hit the road for some acoustic dates to keep the rent money coming, then set off for its first cross-country tour, which culminated with last night’s homecoming.
And so Mad Anthony took the triangular stage at The Drinkery, their first show with their full current lineup since the accident that nearly cost them everything. Jones and Flaig brought plenty of their patented frenzy to their acoustic gigs, but they've clearly missed their hypertalented timekeeper, which was evident from the visceral fury that permeated every note of last night's show. Sherlock couldn't have looked any happier; with every roll, every cymbal crash, every massive kick, his smile was a permanent fixture, and Jones and Flaig responded with a tumultuous joy that was a palpable presence in the room.
At a normal Mad Anthony show, the trio storms into an audience's frontal lobe with incomprehensible power. If The Stooges ate Black Sabbath and shit out three perfectly formed babies the next day that grew up and absorbed Punk, Pop and Rock influences like a bar towel, then wrung out those influences into shot glasses and downed them one liquor/beer/sweat/adrenaline slug, that would be Mad Anthony. Last night's return to The Drinkery was all that amplified to the third power. Naturally, they finished with "We Love This Fucking City." Naturally, this fucking city loves Mad Anthony. It's worked out so far.
After the major nut-kick of Mad Anthony, I tooled down to Arnold's to catch some Beatlesque sweetness courtesy of Canada’s The Shilohs. They were really quite good, and I definitely wanted to hear more of them, but they seemed intent on a mid-tempo set in the key of "If I Fell," and I wasn't quite in the mood for that. So I headed back to The Drinkery to catch locals Frontier Folk Nebraska's set.
After Mad Anthony's blistering presentation, I chatted up Kelly Thomas for a few minutes outside The Drinkery, and she had noted that Frontier Folk Nebraska was veering in a decidedly more electric direction, rather a shift from their traditional acoustic roots. When The Shilos didn't pan out for me, I decided to witness FFN's electric evolution for myself. Good decision.
The new FFN is plugged in and ready to whip any ass in the house. Imagine a world where The Ass Ponys channel Crazy Horse and the Bottle Rockets and Uncle Tupelo and you'll be close to the barely restrained muscle emanating from the new Frontier Folk Nebraska. All of this was evident on the band's eponymous 2011 album, but it's magnified to an incredible scale in the live setting. FFN recently lost founding bassist Steve Oder to a graduate program, which could have seriously altered the band's chemistry, but new bassist Matthew McCormick seems to have settled in nicely, alternating between a pulsing beat and runs that emulate lead solos, forming a slinky rhythm section with drummer Nathan Wagner. Meanwhile, frontman Michael Hensley and Travis Talbert create a tandem guitar attack that perfectly balances nuance and power. I liked where FFN was and I love where they are.
After FFN, I found my car and took a drive down to the Mainstay to catch London's blazing Rock power trio Leogun. Vocalist/guitarist Tommy Smith is a revelation, a genetic hybrid of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in one electrified body, wringing sounds from his guitar that invoke all the greatest '70s translators of the Blues while maintaining a firm stance in the 21st century. Anchored by the thunderous rhythm section of bassist Matt Johnson and drummer Mike Lloyd, as slippery and as solid as Entwistle and Moon, Leogun swaggers and swings with retro inspiration and contemporary energy. They peeled through a set filled with tracks from their phenomenal debut, By the Reins, but one of the highlights was their completely unexpected and timber-rattling take on Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie." Not sure when they'll be back, but I'll be there when they return.
• Music editor Mike Breen informed me that publisher Dan Bockrath was going to be making with the beers this year, but I had no idea he would begin his hop blitzkrieg so quickly and voluminously. Dan found me in the crowd at the start of Cody ChesnuTT's set and put a beer in my hand immediately. And just as I finished that first one, Dan reappeared at my side with yet another, claiming, "I feel so good I had to double down." After this MidPoint, I may be able to build a new wing onto the Beer Buying Hall of Fame with Dan's empties alone. You are a god that walks among men, Dan Bockrath, and I hope to see you every night this weekend.
• During Cody's lovely and moving "Love is More Than a Wedding Day," he announced that it might be a good time to dance with the one you love. I looked at Dan, Dan looked at me, but we dismissed the idea. It is a testament to Cody's soulful presentation that I actually considered it, though.
• Years ago, my good buddy Troy paid me the ultimate compliment when he spotted me at a show. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, "I know I'm at the right show when you're at it." The very same could be said for the ubiquitous King Slice. His appearance at a show is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Follow him and see where he goes next. That's where the party will likely be the best.
• Also ran into Magnolia Mountain's Mark Utley, who's in the teeth of planning the next Music for the Mountains benefit show. The second MFTM disc is chock full of traditional goodness and the album and the concert will raise funds to help eliminate the mining practice of mountaintop removal. As Mark noted, "Nature gives women the ability to forget about the pain of childbirth so they'll ready to do it again. That's how it was for me with this concert." The pain is always worth it, man (says the guy who's not feeling the pain) … good luck and God speed.
• And on my way out of Shuggie Otis, I chanced upon Jim Blase, co-owner of Shake It Records and quite simply one of the finest human beings I've had the pleasure to and good fortune to know.
• Lots of folks turned out for Mad Anthony's return, including Kelly Thomas, who was an architect of two benefit shows to help the boys get back on their feet (and who is actually collaborating with the band on some new songs, which should be awesome). Also in attendance was former MA bassist Dave Markey, and his ebullient mom, who may have been the biggest fan in the room; I'm pretty sure she knew the words to every song. It was a beautiful thing.
• Jim Blase was also hanging out at the Frontier Folk Nebraska show, obviously showing support for Travis, who still puts in some time behind the Shake It counter. I was about to head over to say hello again but ran into old friend Danny Rupe, who I never get to see anymore except at random and all to infrequent MidPoint shows. He put my digits and e-mail add into his Jetsons phone, so maybe I'll hear from him with a little more timeliness now.
• Slice, The Black Owls' Brandon Losacker, Dave Markey and Ringo Jones were all hanging at the Leogun extravaganza. I was looking for my Class X compatriot Eddy Mullet, who had designs on the show, but I didn't see him so his plans must have changed. God, I hope it wasn't a kidney stone; that's what derailed his Bunbury experience. After the show, I had a quick chat with Tommy and Matt from the band as they were packing up to go, and then Ringo and I closed the Mainstay, as he regaled me with tales of Mad Anthony, and promises that their new material is the best they've ever done. I know they'll prove it when the time comes.
This evening is the kick-off of the free MidPoint Indie Summer series on Fountain Square — starting at 7 p.m. with The Trouble with Boys and also featuring Paper Airplane, The Love Language and Camera Obscura — and it’s also the first time you can buy tickets for this September’s MidPoint Music Festival … at a greatly discounted rate.
Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group is guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry guidebook, Musicians’ Desk Reference. Click here for his previous blog entries.
Aaaaaaaaaaand we are done! Well, kind of …
After nearly two years of content creation, testing, editing, restructuring and discussion, I am very proud to announce that the content for Musicians’ Desk Reference is finally complete! There is still much work to be done ahead of the release — completion of web development, beta testing, marketing, promotions and more — but we are at least moving ahead, right on schedule.
It sounds cliché, but it is amazing to take a step back and realize how far this project has really come, in addition to considering how much it has forced me to grow as an individual. It all started with an idea that I simply could not let go of, despite my initial thoughts that The Counter Rhythm Group just could not handle taking on a project of this (theoretical) scale. I tried working around this notion from every angle, discussing it with an array of employees that have helped in our growth, and at the end of each reflection period I knew that we had to still move forward with the idea, any way we could.
Those that know me know that I am a planner. I like making lists — and especially checking things off of that list. I try to find structure in everything when at all possible, and more often than not I find myself asking, “Why?” I have no idea where this mentality came from and my immediate family has reaffirmed that statement over the course of the last few months. It is this mentality, combined with my passion for helping musicians that has provided the fuel for this journey.
I am so excited to share this vision with the world. While it sounds cheesy, I can promise you that every page has my heart and soul poured into it, and that it has been painstakingly been picked apart by myself and a dedicated group of contributors. We are truly aiming to provide the best information possible to be used for many generations to come. I have stated before in these blogs that this is by far the most involved I have ever been in a project — I never considered leaving a legacy, but I am starting to think that this could be it.
So what does this mean for the user? I can say with confidence that there is way more to this project than I ever could have imagined, and the fact that it still consistently “wows” me should be a testament to those who have been patiently waiting for the final product over the past several months.
While the eBook is completely customizable to each individual and scenario, I can honestly say (to those who are interested) to get ready to spend some time reading and considering the subject matter. We have meticulously worked to build the documentation so that it touches base on certain generalities and specifics, offering clarity and understanding on the matter without requiring several days’ worth of reading. I am not a big fan of lengthy reading materials and our generation tends to be intimidated by large batches of text — the sole reason we have invested so much time and resources into a digital platform. To state it conservatively, it will take an artist some time to work through the entire project, which is meant to serve the user through several areas of their career as they develop and grow.
We are so close to being able to put Musicians’ Desk Reference in your hands that I honestly have a hard time sleeping at night. Looking ahead, we will be receiving a beta version of the eBook within the next week and we have many users lined up to participate. If you are interested in being considered for a beta trial, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
September is when things start getting really exciting, as we are pulling out all of the stops for this release. Without going into too much detail, I can say that we will have an established presence at the Midpoint Music Festival this year, and that this will be the first time the eBook will be available for purchase (acting as our “soft” release, exclusively to those physically at the festival). Pre-orders will be available in early September and are expected to ship the week after MPMF. This will all build up to our national release in October at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, where we will be also have a significant presence. There are many more things in the works; I promise that it will all be worth the wait.
I would like to close by thanking all of those that have shown support throughout this process, to The Counter Rhythm Group and to myself. While this is not the time to name anyone individually (that comes later), I want you all to know how much it means to us. Your continued support will help us through the coming months and we hope you will join us in spreading the word about Musicians’ Desk Reference. We have literally put everything we can into this project, and we are proud to say that we were able to build it while living in this great city, utilizing most outsourced services to companies and individuals located in the Queen City. We want to make a significant impact in the music industry, and I look forward to proudly telling anyone and everyone where it all started — right here in Cincinnati.
So far, the videos released from The Queen City Project’s series of clips from The MidPoint Sessions (a day party that took place at the Art Academy during September’s MidPoint Music Festival) have showcased three great Ohio acts — Athens’ The Ridges (also the curators of the Sessions), Cincinnati’s The Happy Maladies and Columbus’ Indigo Wild. Today you can check out the final clip from the performances, this one featuring another Cincinnati artist — intriguing singer/songwriter Molly Sullivan. While the previous performances were acoustic, Sullivan strums an electric guitar and utilizes loops to create a haunting effect.
Click here for more about Sullivan. And you can see/hear her live this Thursday at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine as she opens for Lexington, Ky.’s Ancient Warfare, which also played this year’s MidPoint Music Festival. Find details on the free show here.
MPMF news and musings: Three-day wristbands are running low (get 'em here now, quick-like). If you miss your chance (or are broke like me), there are ways to win freebies. (It's the luck of the draw, so don't bank on it, but definitely worth a shot!)
The fine folks at local club conglomerate 4EG (which operates The Pavilion, The Lackman, Keystone, Righteous Room and several other bars around town) is giving away 10 MPMF 3-day passes. Click here for details. And seek out the CityBeat booth at Oktoberfest this weekend, harass our employees and sign up for s chance to win a pair of fancy-schmancy VIP tickets. (You can find the official Oktoberfest guide in the CityBeat on streets right now.)
And now, with the countdown down to just seven days, here are our daily MidPoint Music Festival 2012 picks …
Laetitia Sadier (France)
Fans of French Post Rock favorites Stereolab need no introduction to Laetitia Sadier. She was the co-founder of Stereolab and also founded Monade in the mid ’90s. Along the way, she was also a frequent collaborator, working with everyone from The High Llamas and Blur to Common and Mouse on Mars. In 2010, Sadier went solo, releasing The Trip on Stereolab’s U.S. label, Drag City Records. This summer, she followed up the record with Silencio, a dynamic album that runs from lush, orchestrated pieces to quirkier electronic Pop to warm Tropicalia, all driven by Sadier’s trademark sensual coo.
You'll Dig It If You Dig: Nico, Jane Birkin, Stereolab. (Mike Breen)
Laetitia Sadier performs at the Contemporary Arts Center on Thursday, Sept. 27, 11 p.m. Here's her new video for the Silencio tune "Find Me the Pulse of The Universe."
Denney and the Jets (Nashville, TN)
Denney and the Jets may be one of Nashville’s most mysterious bands. A Google search reveals almost no biographical information about them, just plenty of references to the quote on their Tumblr page. (“One warm night in July an angel came to me and said, ‘There is nothing I can do for you. Nashville is dead and so is Rock ’N Roll.’ ”), which brings up an interesting question: Do you need to know anything/everything about a band to enjoy their music? As far as Chris Denney and his Jets are concerned, the answer would seem to be a resounding “Hell no.”
UPDATE: Since the official guide went to press, we dug up (i.e. got a press release with) info on the group. From their PR:
Frontman Chris Denney began writing songs in the Spring of 2008, recruiting Wes Traylor (Natural Child), and Jake and Jamin Orrall (of JEFF The Brotherhood) to be the very first of his Jets. After each member parted ways to pursue their own individual careers, Chris signed on Daniel Pujol (eponymously of PUJUOL) and Joe Scala. After Pujol's departure, Denneysolidified the lineup by adding longtime friend Sean Cotton on lead guitar, Joe's little brother Evan Scala and most recently bringing in Ric Alessio on keys and sax. Denney and The Jets have turned songwriting into a full realized communal process and have grown in to one of the South's finest.
After releasing a 7" single and EP (a limited Cassette only release) on JEFF The Brotherhood's Infinity Cat Recordings, the band returns with their new 5-song Self-Titled EP on Miami, FL-based label Limited Fanfare Records -- Recorded in the Spring of 2012 with Producer/Engineer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, The Parting Gifts) -- with "Close The Blinds" recorded at Cleft Music by Nashville legend, Loney Hutchins. The result is an insanely fiery batch of tunes that Nashville Cream calls "[Straight-up rock and roll music] — not bastardized, compromised, corrupted or contaminated."
Dig: Bob Dylan and Paul Westerberg get drunk on bathtub gin and listen to Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys. (Brian Baker)
Denney and the Jets play MidPoint on Saturday, Sept. 29, at 11 p.m. at the Cincinnati Club. Dig the vintage swagger on this track, "Fun Girls."
LOCAL LOCK PICK
Jody Stapleton and the Generals (Cincinnati, OH)
Jody Stapleton has always had an ear for the past and a finger on today's pulse. With the Stapletons a decade ago, Stapleton made Psych-fueled Garage Rock that sounded vaguely phase shifted from another time and yet completely fresh, a talent that earned them CEA awards for Best New Act and Rock Band of the Year in 2001 and 2003 respectively. With his new outfit, Jody Stapleton and the Generals, Stapleton is similarly tapped into bygone days, this time the sunshine-on-your-shoulder days of '70s AM radio Pop, combined with a modern sensibility and approach.
Dig: Paul Westerberg listening to a transistor radio tuned permanently to 1973. (BB)
Jody and the Generals perform Thursday, Sept. 27, at Main Event, 11 p.m.. Here's a few tunes from the band's recent debut release.
Click here for full MPMF details via the official MidPoint site.
Started the night off with a bang, bang — Jagjaguwar Records’ Okkervil River at Grammer’s. The tent was packed — so packed that it was hard to weave to the front — but I was sneaky. From Austin, Texas, and labeled Folk Pop, Okkervil didn’t disappoint. Will Sheff, frontman with a beard and black-rimmed glasses, busted out a clear, deep, penetrating voice. Between the strings, bass, guitar, tambourine, keys and more, this band built a series of startling crescendos, while still allowing for some playful guitar solos. The music would surge to rise, then dive, pulling off a true independent spirit that was uplifting, but mixed with the bass vocals, there was yet another layer of complexity that made it artistic and multifaceted. This band has truly grown and tightened over time, becoming mature, and they’ve carefully molded the tunes into a creative shape, while maintaining a structure worth following.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been sharing some great new videos shot at September’s MidPoint Music Festival by The Queen City Project. The clips feature performances from The MidPoint Sessions, a day party held during MPMF at Art Academy of Cincinnati in conjunction with FotoFocus’ Reverberation concert photography exhibit. The event showcased acoustic performances by four Ohio acts — Athens’ The Ridges (who curated the lineup), Cincinnati’s The Happy Maladies and Molly Sullivan and the star’s of today’s video debut, Columbus Indie Rock foursome Indigo Wild.
Indigo Wild formed in 2010 and, if the name sounds familiar, it may be due to the band’s frequent shows in Cincinnati. So far, the band has only issued one recording, the 2011 EP If By Sea, but for The MidPoint Sessions, Indigo Wild unveiled a newer song titled “Be Patient.”
The band’s website says “Be Patient” “lays a stepping stone” to Indigo Wild’s first full-length release. Keep updated on the album’s progress and all things Indigo Wild at indigowildmusic.com.
Tonight at Rohs Street Café in Clifton Heights, local musicians get an industry trade show of their very own. The “Locally Insourced: Cincinnati Music Industry Trade Show” is being presented at the venue at 6 p.m., organized by the Counter Rhythm Group and presented in conjunction with the MidPoint Music Festival.
Along with being able to register for showcase consideration at this year’s MPMF (you can also do so now via Sonicbids; click here for details), Locally Insourced is designed specifically with Greater Cincinnati musicians in mind and features booths representing various music entities in the area, from recording studios and merch makers to local labels, radio outlets and much more. Among the vendors participating: Modern Misfit Classic Genius, Southpaw Prints, Bearcast Radio, The SoundWorkshop Recording Studio, El Rey Effects, Moonbeam Studios, Moonlight Studios, CincyMusic.com, Play It Forward, Phratry Records, DMark Video Productions, Cincyticket, Coda Photography, QCA and Sebastian Illustration.
The event is free and open to all ages. Visit locallyinsourced.com for more details.
Counter Rhythm Group main-man Brian Penick has just launched a Kickstarter project for his forthcoming interactive and customizable e-book, Musicians’ Desk Reference. Here is the pitch video that explains the project very well; click here to visit the Kickstarter page and check out the various perks your donation can earn for you.
For even more on the book, attend tonight's trade show and be sure to keep an eye on this here blog, where Penick recently began guest blogging monthly updates about the project.
Tomorrow evening on Fountain Square will be dry! I promise, or I'll personally refund your ticket money. This week's installment of the free MidPoint Indie Summer concert series on the Square features another solid bill. Joining in on the fun Friday is rootsy Indie Rock crew and Bloodshot recording artists Ha Ha Tonka, the eclectic Izzy and the Catastrophics (read more here) and our pals from great Athens, Ohio-born Indie Chamber Folk group, The Ridges.
The Ridges (MPMF vets) usually add a great personal touch to their area gigs by making cool little commercials for the event (which we've featured several times in the past). Tomorrow's show is no different. Check their latest "ad" and then click here to listen to more tunes from The Ridges.
Friday's MidPoint Indie Summer show starts at 7 p.m.
Here's a taste of Ha Ha Tonka, via the music video for the group's "Lonely Fortunes" from last year's Death of a Decade.
And here's a wild video from Izzy and Co. for the song "Mi Bailarina."