Good morning all. Here’s what’s up in the news today:
City Manager Harry Black today announced that Thomas B. Corey will be the head of the city’s recently created Department of Economic Inclusion. The department is charged with increasing the availability of city contracts for women and minority owned businesses in the city. Corey is another former Baltimore official tapped by Black to lead a city department here. He was most recently The City of Baltimore Law Department’s Chief Solicitor. He will start Feb. 9.
• Average rents are going up in Greater Cincinnati, according to a survey commissioned by real estate company CBRE Cincinnati. Some of that is due to pricey new apartments in hot parts of town — the average rent on a newly-constructed apartment is over $1,000 a month in Cincinnati. But part of it is also swelling demand across all income brackets for apartments, according to the survey. You could blame pesky Millennials and our aversion to homeownership, but it seems like demand for rental units is going up across the board.
While we’re talking about rent, as we’ve reported more than a few times, Cincinnati’s affordable housing supply is stretched to the limit. There’s currently a 5,000-person waiting list to get a Section 8 voucher for one of the 11,000 units that accept them in the region. This Cincinnati Enquirer story questions whether that’s in part because Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority’s inspection standards have gotten too strict. The number of units that have failed such inspections has risen over the past couple years as CMHA started enforcing more stringent requirements on landlords. Some of the violations seem trivial — mismatched paint, hinges that need replaced — but others detailed in the story are serious, including windows that don’t open and mold problems. The story quotes one woman who actually had to move out of her home, and it was due to mold in the house. The Enquirer teased this story over the weekend with the provocative headline “Which County Agency is Leaving Residents Homeless?” But affordable housing advocates and neighborhood boosters have actually cheered the new standards. The story doesn’t mention a big piece of context: the abysmal conditions at some Section 8 rental units over the past few years. While reporting for this story published over the summer, CityBeat ran across truly shocking municipal code violations at Section 8 properties in Price Hill, for instance. These included sewage in rental unit basements, tenants without heat and water, doors that didn’t open and other major violations.
• Anti-toll groups in Northern Kentucky are fired up about statements Gov. John Kasich made last week regarding the Brent Spence Bridge. Kasich suggested that opponents of a plan to build a new bridge along one of America’s busiest shipping routes have their “heads in the sand.” That didn’t sit too well with the bipartisan group of lawmakers, businessmen and others who have come together to oppose the possibility of tolls for a new bridge. The group started a strongly-worded online petition that more than 2,000 supporters have signed so far. Kasich's plan, offered with Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, would create tolls to help fund the $2.8 billion project, but would also give a 50 percent discount to daily commuters and work to keep the price as low as possible. Opponents say tolls are unacceptable and that the states should reach out to the federal government for money to fund a more modest bridge update.
"On Wednesday, Gov. Kasich stood at a press conference – in a building that once housed companies he personally recruited away from Kentucky – and insulted Northern Kentucky and our elected leaders," it says. "If he cannot control himself, he should stay out of Kentucky."
• Ohio Gov. John Kasich has proposed funding in his recent budget that would create a new community health program aimed at reducing the state’s infant mortality rate, which is among the worst in the nation. The plan would fund community organizations to connect women in low-income areas with prenatal medical care available through Medicaid. Cincinnati's infant mortality rate is especially bad; the city has the second-highest rate of infant death in the nation.
• Ohio has announced it will delay all six executions it had scheduled in 2015 as it searches for new sources for execution drugs. The announcement comes after the state halted its two-drug execution method last month due to questions about its efficacy. Last year, an execution carried out with the two-drug method took almost half an hour, and the inmate involved was heard gasping for breath.
• The United Steelworkers Union yesterday launched one of the largest national labor strikes in recent memory. USW, which is seeking higher wages and better safety measures, called for nearly 4,000 employees who work in several oil refineries across the country to abstain from work until new labor contracts are signed with several major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. Experts say it could drive up gas prices as refinery capacity is limited. It’s the largest walkout since 1980, when USW held a three-month strike. News reports indicate that workers in other refineries may also join in the walkout.
THE BLACK & BROWN COMEDY GET DOWN: The Black & Brown Comedy Get Down is an all-headliner tour of who’s who in today’s comic scene: Mike Epps, Cedric the Entertainer, George Lopez, Charlie Murphy, D.L. Hughley and Eddie Griffin. 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30. $49.75-$65.75. U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway St., Downtown, usbankarena.com.
SIGNATURE SERIES BLUES & BREWS AT MEMORIAL HALL: Season two of Memorial Hall’s Signature Series Blues & Brews features a performance from internationally renowned Tennessee Blues band The Ori Naftaly Band, plus food from Eli's BBQ and The Phoenix and Rhinegeist beers. 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30. $47-$57. Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, cincinnatimemorialhall.com.
BEEFSTEAK CLUB DINNER: Bockfest's Beefsteak Club Dinner's misleading name derives from an elite club that has formed annually since 1896, in which prominent Cincinnatians gather to pair beer and beef in the ambience of a brewery. This year’s event will be held on the third floor of the Hudepohl Brewery bottling building and feature roasted goat and pig (with sides and dessert) instead of steak. 6.30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31. $50 single dinner ticket. Hudepohl Brewery, E. McMicken Ave., Over-the-Rhine, bockfest.com.
CINCINNATI WORLD CINEMA OSCAR SHORTS PRESENTATION: Cincinnati World Cinema hosts two days of screenings to bring you the five short documentary films nominated for this year’s Academy Award in Documentary Short Subject, plus two additional Oscar short-list films. The nominees offer an astonishing degree of diversity in respect to genre, narrative and style, capturing the full spectrum of documentary filmmaking in ways that, in some years, is lacking in the main feature categories. 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31; 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1. $10; $12 at the door. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington, Ky., cincyworldcinema.org.
SUPERJAM 2015: Though it’s (obviously) wintertime, organizers of SuperJam 2015 will create an outdoor music festival atmosphere indoors at Tori’s Station in Fairfield on Saturday. The all-day show features an eclectic array of some of the area’s best bands, including reigning Bluegrass Cincinnati Entertainment Award winners Rumpke Mountain Boys, plus Rising Smoke, Peridoni, Sassafraz, The Almighty Get Down (which just won the Best Live Act CEA), Tropidelic and Elementree Livity Project. 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31. $30. Tori’s Station, 74 Donald Drive, Fairfield, superjam2015.com.
THE HISTORY OF CINCINNATI MUSIC: The presentations on The History of Cincinnati Music that David (“Uncle Dave”) Lewis has been presenting at the Main Library over the last year or so have been so good — so enlightening and entertaining — that one wishes he could do it for much larger crowds at the Aronoff Center or Music Hall. But because his presentations have been on Wednesday evenings, many haven’t been able to attend. But now there’s a second chance. The Main Library’s music librarian, Steven Kemple, has arranged for Lewis to present reprises of his past lectures at 3 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month in the Reading Garden. It starts tomorrow with The Hymn Composers of Cincinnati: Philips, Bliss & Doane, and Lewis will have guest pianist Jeremy Stevenson with him. All lectures are free.
THE OTHER PLACE AT ENSEMBLE THEATRE: Sharr White’s troubling, engrossing and sometimes humorous drama The Other Place debuted on Broadway a year ago; Ensemble Theatre’s D. Lynn Meyers is staging its regional premiere, featuring veteran actress Regina Pugh as the enigmatic Juliana Smithton, a scientist renowned for her expertise in pharmaceuticals. She’s highly respected as a professional, but she’s becoming unhinged as a result of divorce and being estranged from her daughter. Through Feb. 15. $18-$44. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-3555, ensemblecincinnati.org.
The presentations on The History of Cincinnati Music that David (“Uncle Dave”) Lewis has been presenting at the Main Library over the last year or so have been so good — so enlightening and entertaining — that one wishes he could do it for much larger crowds at the Aronoff Center or Music Hall. Or as a professor at University of Cincinnati — he’d be great there. He combines his original research with recordings and archival film footage and still photographs (when available).
One of his presentations, about Homer Rodeheaver, whose Cincinnati-based publishing company and record label were pioneers of sacred music and who was also close to the famous 1920s preacher Billy Sunday, got a nod as Best Arts Lecture last year from CityBeat.
But because his presentations have been on Wednesday evenings, many haven’t been able to attend. But now there’s a second chance. The Main Library’s music librarian, Steven Kemple, has arranged for Lewis to present reprises of his past lectures at 3 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month in the Reading Garden.
It starts tomorrow with The Hymn Composers of Cincinnati: Philips, Bliss & Doane, and Lewis will have guest pianist Jeremy Stevenson with him. All lectures are free.
Looking ahead beyond tomorrow, here’s the 2015 schedule so far for Lewis’ Saturday encore presentations:
At the same time, Lewis is continuing with his new lectures on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Here is the schedule for those to date:
Good morning! I’ll be brief in my news update this morning, since I’m also keeping an eye on today’s White House task force on 21st century policing taking place at the University of Cincinnati today and tomorrow. You can live stream the event here. Anyway, here are a few bits of news floating around today:
The director of Cincinnati’s emergency medical service is asking for more money to respond to the region’s ongoing heroin crisis, saying that the crisis is getting worse every month in the city. One of the big costs the city’s emergency responders are encountering is Narcan, a drug used to treat heroin overdoses. The drug is costly, and the number of overdoses keeps climbing. EMS District Chief Cedric Robinson says seven overdoses a day happen in Cincinnati and that the number is climbing. The city’s expenditures on Narcan have nearly tripled in the past year. In 2013, the city spent about $21,000 on the drug. In 2014, that jumped to $60,000.
• Will some parts of the Greater Cincinnati area fail new, more stringent federal air quality standards? It seems like a possibility. The region barely passed current air quality tests last year, and several counties, including Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont and Campbell Counties, failed in 2013. Standards from the Environmental Protection Agency could get tougher by next fall, meaning that the region could be subject to new oversight from the agency. Hamilton County exceeded guidelines for ozone, one of the pollutants measured by the EPA, on only four days last year under the old standards. Under proposed new standards, it would have gone over the limit by more than 20. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club are cheering the new rules — they’ll be better for residents’ health, saving millions in healthcare costs. But businesses say the costs of compliance will be high. They’re lobbying against the new standards, of course.
• Now that he’s officially announced he’s running for U.S. Senate, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has started staffing up, tapping former Battleground Texas Democratic strategist Ramsey Reid as his campaign manager. Before his stint working to try and turn deeply Republican Texas purple, Reid was also a big part of President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. He’s also working with two political strategy firms: a firm led by Obama campaign veterans called 270 Strategies; and Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, which helped him win his council seat.
While Sittenfeld gears up for what may be a tough Democratic primary, his potential Republican opponent incumbent Sen. Rob Portman is also powering up his campaign. Portman has chosen high-profile Republican strategist Corry Bliss to manage his campaign. Bliss was last called in to turn around Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ last Senate campaign after he came under a strong primary challenge that threatened to unseat him.
• Gov. John Kasich has called for eliminating Ohio’s income tax for small businesses, a move that looks likely to bum out conservatives and progressives alike. The staunch conservatives in Ohio’s state House love the idea of cutting taxes, of course, but aren’t down with Kasich’s plan to, you know, actually pay for those tax cuts by increasing taxes on cigarettes and oil. They say that’s not a tax cut and that they want the state spending less money in general, even after the state’s budget has been slashed to the bone over the last few years. Progressives, on the other hand, say past income tax cuts have been deeply regressive. A 2013 cut paid for by boosting the state’s sales tax a quarter percent shifted the tax burden toward Ohio’s lowest earners, progressives say, and Kasich’s new proposal would further shift that burden. Under Kasich’s plan, almost all businesses run as sole proprietorships, or businesses owned by a single person who reports business profits as personal income, would not need to file state income tax. A business would be exempt from the income tax so long as its sales are under $2 million.
• Finally, if Bill Gates told you to be afraid of computers, would you listen? Gates revealed that he’s very worried about the potential threat artificial intelligence, or AI, could pose to humanity in coming decades. Gates revealed his concerns in response to a question he received during a Reddit "Ask me Anything" session. During his AMA, Gates also expressed optimism about the near future when it comes to computing. He envisions robots able to pick produce and do other mundane tasks flawlessly. It’s when the robots get smarter, he says, that we have to worry. His concern echoes that of other technology magnates like Tesla founder Elon Musk, who called AI “summoning the demon” at a symposium in October. I feel like I’m summoning the demon every time I open Microsoft Word, which is a nightmarishly vexing program, but that’s a whole other subject Gates should be addressing.
Umphrey’s McGee is one of the most popular bands in America on the Jam Band scene. Its sound can attract an eclectic audience with hints of Rock, Jazz and R&B and the well-rounded, phenomenal musicians in the lineup. The band has been touring nationally for over 15 years and is a staple on the summer festival scene. Umphrey’s have produced eight studio records; its most recent offering, Similar Skin, was released in the middle of last year.
CityBeat caught up with keyboard player Joel Cummins and discussed the changes over the years on the road and the fun and challenge of making every show a unique experience for the audience. The band plays the big room at the Taft Theater tonight at 8 p.m.; TAUK opens.
CityBeat: Your band is so famous for having ever-changing set lists. How do you determine what you are going to play each night?
Joel Cummins: We use a lot of different ways to figure out what to play. One of the main ones we use now is a website called allthings.umphreys.com, developed by a friend that has a complete tour history and everything we have played. It is a really interesting and interactive site that the fans can use to see what they haven’t seen us play before. We use it to look back and see what we have played in certain markets or make sure we do something different and don’t repeat the same thing. It is a really useful tool.
As far as making the set list, I will compile a history of whatever it is that we have played and whoever is feeling it that day will pick songs and make a set list for that night. It’s interesting — one of the things that makes it fun for the fans is that any combination of the six of us can write a set list, we try to mix it up throughout the tour so it is staying fresh for us and the fans every day. And now that we have about 180 original tunes, we have quite a few to choose from every day. So it is nice to be able to play for five or six days in a row and not have to repeat a song.
CB: I am just amazed that you can remember that many songs over that period. It is very impressive.
JC: You get to a point where you learn a song and as you are thinking about it and connecting the thoughts to the hands … after a while it becomes muscle memory. I think the only reason we are able to do this is because we made sure we play all these songs at a minimum once every couple months so you still remember it and we know how to play them. When we do different covers, one or two every show, we may only play those once or twice a year so that is something where we will run those entire songs the day of the shows and pick what we want to do to get it back. Thank God for muscle memory or we’d be in big trouble otherwise.
CB: You guys have been together for almost 20 years now. Have you experienced multi-generational fans yet?
JC: We have. It is a pretty cool thing. There are a lot of things I never expected to hear when we were talking to fans. Certainly one of those things is finding parents and their kids who are both fans, finding all these people that have said they make great friends at the shows and (travel) around the country to see each other, maybe somebody met their husband or their wife at a show. Those personal connections and stories that have happened with the band because of our music I think are one of the main things that keep me looking forward to the shows because I know that there are a lot of people out there that this means a lot to. It’s an engaging thing musically, but it has become a really cool social event bringing people together. Our fans, more than most bands, like to have a good time but they are there for the music. You go to our shows, you are going to meet some friendly, hopefully intelligent people. Our fans aren’t starting fights or getting crazy. It is cool to see the community develop as it has. It is something I never imagined that would happen.
CB: I (photograph) a lot of different genres of music and talk to a lot of different people. The Jam Band music scene seems to be a little more collaborative and supportive group with each other. You have collaborated with a ton of artists over the years. Do you have any favorite collaborations you have done? How do you go about choosing who you are going to work with next?
JC: I think some of that sense of community emanated from the festival scene. It is interesting because it is a shared thing with the bands as well as the fans. One of the things I do is Jam Cruise; I have done 11 of the 12 of them. I know all the artists like family. It’s cool to have these bonds develop and I think because of the style of music we play, because it is more collaborative and there are a lot of good musicians on the scene, it encourages the idea of collaboration.
If I had to name one as my favorite, we actually just got to play three concerts in New York with Joshua Redman, who is this really talented, really adventurous sax player. He has won Grammys and played with the best of the best, and the fact that he still wants to come back and play with us every once in a while is a really great challenge for us and really engaging to do. I think we have one of the most extreme varieties of styles in our music. As a result, we either play with people like Josh, who are in the Jazz scene, or someone like Mavis Staples, who is obviously a legendary R&B singer. We are friends with Huey Lewis, who is one of the most amazing guys out there in the music business, (and we’ve played more) current things like something Electronic with STS9 or something acoustic with Yonder Mountain String Band. I think we are lucky that we are in the time we are because bands used to be more closed off and competitive with other acts out there. It is a lot more fun when you can be friends with people and make music together.
CB: You lost your original drummer, Mike Mirro, last year.
JC: Yeah, inevitably things come up (about him) all the time. Most of the time it’s funny things that he said or jokes that have carried on. Most recently, we did a holiday show with some members of the band in Chicago. He actually has a charity now in his name, the Michael A. Mirro fund for Neuroscience Studies. We were able to give a pretty sizable chunk of money to that. It is good to have his presence pop up in daily conversations, but even more than that, the charitable aspect of trying to contribute to studies that help people who have the challenges like Mike had. We miss him dearly and he was a close personal friend, so even though he wasn’t with us in the band anymore (when he passed away), we had collaborated a bunch of times since he left the band. It was a really horrible, tragic loss.
CB: The festival lineups are being announced really early this year. Can you tell me what you look most forward to with the festival performances? What do you think is one of your greatest festival moments?
JC: I think the artist camaraderie is a really exciting thing with festivals. We have been lucky to play so many great festivals. One of our favorite annual ones we always do is Summer Camp in Illinois and that is something we co-headline with moe. and they always have other great headlining artists. Steve Miller Band is going to play this year. Widespread Panic is going to come back. There are a lot of great artist always at that one.
As far as career defining festivals for us, I’d have to go with Bonnaroo. We played the first one. Up to that point we had been playing at clubs in Cincinnati like Ripley’s, and maybe the Southgate House. We got asked to be a part of that first Bonnaroo. We were nervous because we got like a 5 p.m. Friday slot. We were wondering if anyone was even going to be there yet. We ended up playing in front of 10,000 people that day, a completely jam-packed tent. It was in 2002, and that was our first moment where maybe people knew who we were on a national scene. That is something I will always remember.
CB: You mentioned some bars you played in Cincinnati over the years. Do you have any favorite Cincinnati moments or memories?
JC: There are lots, to be honest. One of the early ones I’ll never forget. We played the last night at Ripley’s before it closed with our buddies Ray’s Music Exchange, a great Cincinnati band. That was kind of an emotional and cool night. That was the first night of us going out on a tour on the East Coast and Ray’s was headed out to the West Coast. I also remember probably just three or four years ago, one of my favorite things we did (was when) we played at Moonlite Gardens and Mad Dog, who is Ray’s former trumpet player, put together a horn section for us. We did a little back and forth competition, playing songs back and forth, and we had the horns up in the balcony and we were on stage and it was just one of those cool unique moments that hasn’t happened before. People are always trying to come up with fun things like that to do. You never know with Cincinnati because there are guys looking to get some kicks out once in a while and do something interesting and out of the box.
The Taft is one of our favorite rooms to play. I think we have only played there twice before. It is exciting to come into one of your favorite rooms and play for a sold-out crowd.
The Ghostbusters reboot has its leading ladies!
Director/co-writer Paul Feig posted a picture on Twitter of what he’s confident will be the next ghost-busting foursome: