The first family of Hip Hop/R&B — and perhaps music in general — graced Cincinnati with their presence Saturday for Jay Z and Beyoncé’s On The Run tour. Downtown’s Great American Ballpark was Jay and Bey’s second stop on their first joint stadium tour, aptly abbreviated OTR (cue the wave of #thisisotr hashtags). The BeyHive was out in full force, along with whatever maniacal Jay Z fans call themselves.
After a stormy afternoon, skies cleared in time for the concert, which began around 9:30 p.m. (an hour-and-a-half past the show time listed on tickets, but no surprise to regular concertgoers or fans in-the-know). The couple kicked off the set with “03 Bonnie and Clyde,” their first collaboration, recorded more than a decade ago. Next up were two more duets, “Upgrade U” and “Crazy in Love,” followed by two hours of tag-teaming many of their hits.
People were blown away by the reported 42 songs performed at the inaugural OTR stop in Miami last Wednesday, and the couple delivered in Cincinnati (peep the full set list here), though every song was condensed and often mashed up with or bled into another tune.
The duo performed individually and together, creating a musical tapestry of their iconic hits (“Single Ladies,” “99 Problems,” “Diva,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”), classics (“Hard Knock Life,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Baby Boy”) and newer work (“Tom Ford,” “Pretty Hurts,” “No Church in the Wild,” “Yoncé”). Snippets of their short film/tour preview for On The Run, which featured a ridiculously long list of celebrity cameos, played throughout the show. Other high-production videos dazzled on the two big screens, ensuring everyone from the nosebleeds to the VIPs had a decent view.
For "Holy Grail," originally performed by Jay Z and Justin Timberlake (who toured together last year), Bey took on JT's lyrics, performing a powerful collaboration that left me asking, "Justin who?" "Izzo" was accompanied by a slideshow of celebrity mugshots, which culminated with Justin Bieber's — timed perfectly with the lyrics, "So poof! Vamoose, son of a bitch."
“Partition” was a sexy surprise: Jay came out to a center stage in the crowd, sat in a simple chair and rapped over the simple but catchy beat. Then Bey and her thonged backup dancers took the main stage, complete with poles, performing the infectious, erotic hit. So basically, we all watched Beyoncé dance for her husband, and we’re all better people because of it. Bey tore the house down as she recreated the video, moving behind a screen to dance/seductively mount her now-signature weirdly shaped chair thing. A very similar performance was screened at the BET Awards Sunday night.
Jay and Bey closed the show with “Part II ( On the Run)," “Young Forever” and “Halo,” walking through a crowd of fans to the center stage at one point. They kissed, which temporarily stopped the hearts of all in attendance, even if it was perhaps slightly awkward and possibly staged. A video medley of home footage played during the last two songs, featuring clips of the couple’s early years, engagement (where a romantic trip to the Crazy Horse strip club would later inspire Bey’s “Partition” video), secret wedding, daughter Blue Ivy’s birth and more recent shots of the family. Again, perhaps a bit overkill to non-diehard fans — “See, we’re really happy!!!” — but in the moment, it felt like the thousands of us in the park were sharing a special moment with the artists. And isn’t that what makes a successful concert?
Regardless of whether the tour is a big relationship-reaffirming publicity stunt, the show was a wholly entertaining spectacle. Both Jay Z and Beyoncé performed hard, making full use of the two stages, interacting with the audience and consistently changing ensembles. Another plus for fans: the duo really seemed to be having fun, which always keeps energy levels up. Jay was sure to throw in Cincinnati references in some of his songs — a small gesture that goes a long way for fans at shows. And Beyoncé teased us all during “Why Don’t You Love Me,” in which the singer plays up a crazy, needy girlfriend persona. She belted out the titular lyrics, then paused, playfully pouting, waiting for a loud enough roar from the audience before she’d continue. We roared.
The crowd at GABP was one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen at a concert in town, with visitors traveling from around the country to witness the power couple at work. Some came to dance to the Pop diva’s hits; for others, it was all about Hov’s famous rhymes; and many were eager for the rare opportunity to see two powerhouses collaborate — the audience represented a full spectrum of fans, eager to dance, drink and sing together.
Who run the world? Jayoncé.
After 96 consecutive hours of baking in the Tennessee heat and humidity, walking from stage to stage to take in as much music as possible and drinking and dancing sometimes from noon until dawn, even your third and fourth shower after returning home from Bonnaroo can be like a religious experience. Though the festival itself gets under your skin in a way that one does not necessarily wish to ever wash away. Indeed, coming down after the festival, returning to the mundane realities of everyday life, can be a difficult proposition for hardcore Bonnaroovians struggling to simply settle back into their daily routine on planet earth.
The fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014 found (photographer) Chuck (Madden) and I sun-dazed but smiling, still eager to soak up and savor every bit of music we could. Among the few campers stirring that murky morning, I woke early and wandered the eerily empty festival grounds well before noon. I’ve attended the festival six times since 2006, but Sunday morning was the first time I rode the Bonnaroo ferris wheel. After an hour or so of tapping away on my trusty laptop in an empty press tent, the ferris wheel ride gave me an opportunity to chill and be still for a few minutes, surveying the scene from a bird’s eye view. A crowded cornucopia of bright lights and loud music after dark, it was both surreal and serene to view the Bonnaroo festival grounds silent in the morning.
The silence wouldn’t last. Even before I disembarked from the ferris wheel I could hear Lucero doing their soundcheck on a stage that I could barely see in the distance.
Chuck’s day began with a pair of bands he would be raving about for the rest of the afternoon: Kansas Bible Company on the tiny On Tap Lounge stage and much-talked-about new arrivals Lake Street Dive in That Tent, where a surprisingly large crowd had already gathered for the band’s 1 p.m. start.
Cloudy skies and occasional drizzle kept temperatures tolerable for the first three days of the festival. But Sunday was all clear skies and blazing sun, sending temperatures into the 90s for most of the day. Always an endurance test, Sunday at Bonnaroo 2014 was a brutal trial for the thousands on site who were forced to either hydrate, hunker in the shade, or both, until the sun relented in the early evening. But shade is not easy to come by at Bonnaroo, and sitting in a hot tent is no kind of relief whatsoever. Sunscreen, long sleeves and floppy hats ruled the day. Experienced Bonnaroovians are well-familiar with the physical demands of the festival. It just so happens that after three days of relative ease and comfort, Sunday’s weather conditions upped the ante on a panting throng already sunburned and exhausted.
Arguably some of the finest acts on the Bonnaroo lineup were featured on the festival’s final day, as Bonnaroo attendees were treated to phenomenal sets by Broken Bells, The Avett Brothers, Fitz and the Tantrums, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Shovels & Rope, Washed Out, Wiz Khalifa, The Lone Bellow, Okkervil River and an afternoon performance by Yonder Mountain String Band on the main stage that featured Bluegrass legend Sam Bush on violin.
This writer tumbled into the Other Tent just in time to catch a rousing set by Those Darlins. Like Nashville’s Wild Feathers before them on the weekend itinerary, this was sort of a hometown gig for Those Darlins, a band whose founding members met at a Rock & Roll camp in Murfreesboro, Tenn. A sparse but dedicated crowd happily held lead singer Jesse Zazu aloft as she tumbled over the barricade and into the audience. Laying back on a sea of fans’ hands, her guitar squall raged unabated at full steam as her eyes rolled back in her head. (Those Darlins play a free show in Cincinnati this Friday, headlining Fountain Square’s MidPoint Indie Summer concert.)
After a ridiculous amount of pre-gig hype, the controversial Kanye West’s Friday night performance delivered nothing but disappointment to a Bonnaroo audience that should have known better to have expected anything more. Saturday headliner Jack White and Sunday’s top dog Elton John showed that good material and passionate, substantive performances will always trump shallow arrogance, hype and bullshit. To Mr. West, who once claimed himself to be “Shakespeare in the flesh,” I submit this famous quote from Macbeth:
“Life’s but a walking shadow,
A poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
It is a tale
Told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
Of far greater significance than this writer expected was a stellar Sunday night performance by Elton John, who reeled off one classic after another to close out Bonnaroo 2014. I knew Elton’s set would be great, but I was not prepared for just how truly amazing it was. With a band featuring guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, who have been with him for 45 years (you read that right), Bonnaroo 2014 was Sir Elton’s first-ever appearance at a U.S. festival. Opening the show with Side One of his classic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album from 1973, Elton proceeded with a version of “Levon” that concluded with a virtual clinic on Rock & Roll piano playing in the extended outro. Though I was dubious at first about Elton closing out the festival, this two-hour performance instead turned out to be such a stunner that I know I will forever count it among my all-time favorite Bonnaroo memories.
Thanks again to CityBeat for this amazing opportunity and to Chuck Madden whose concert photography is simply the best and whose friendship and company are a big part of what makes the Bonnaroo experience so meaningful to me.
Cincinnati Pop Rock quartet Mixtapes formed about four years ago and immediately hit the road with a relentless dedication. The band’s hard work paid off and it has experienced great success, building a dedicated fan base across the country with great live shows and hook-drenched, nationally-released albums and singles.
As anyone who has seen Mixtapes live knows, the band’s shows are adrenalized, sweaty fun and their music, while growing more mature and diverse with each release, is sheer fist-pumping, singalong joyfulness.
Frontman Ryan Rockwell was living the dream. But somewhere along the way, his life became more like a nightmare. The fact that Mixtapes’ launch coincided with the death of his father certainly played a part in Rockwell’s difficulties. Though details are vague, according to a press release, Rockwell “started to watch himself deteriorate and become the type of person he hated the most. He tried things he never thought he would and got dangerously close to not making it out.”
"I had never felt more alone," Rockwell says in the release. "Friends that I have had for years literally just stopped talking to me, stopped responding, a large number of them. I turned to the only thing I knew, and I started writing about it. I don't know who was wrong or who was right, but I know how much it hurt and people that I have helped and would do anything for left me when I needed help the most. Other people stepped up and saved me. I don't place blame though … I became a different person for awhile.
Rockwell was trying to understand what was going on in himself to make him so unhappy, but found it difficult to express. So he did what he does best and channeled his emotions into writing and recording songs. Working with friends Kamal Hiresh and Zach George and using the name Youth Culture, Rockwell hit the basement and created what would become the 10-track album, I Hate How Normal I’ve Become, an accomplished and eclectic collection of songs that, while still instantly catchy, possess much more darkness than Mixtapes’ jubilant Punk Pop.
Rockwell released the Youth Culture album late last month as a “pay-what-you-want” (yes, even if you want to pay nothing) download.
“This is an album for people going through things they don't like to talk about or know how to express,” Rockwell says. “We did it all ourselves and paid for it all ourselves. First and foremost, we want you to hear it — which is why it's free. If you like it enough, we'd very much appreciate a donation to recoup costs and eventually put it out on vinyl. But as always with everything I've done, I just want it to get out there, so thank you so much for taking the time to listen; there's a lot of bands out there, thanks for giving this a spin."
Listen to I Hate How Normal I’ve Become below, then click the player to grab your very own copy.
Fans worried that Youth Culture might signal the end of Mixtapes, fear not. The band is currently crisscrossing the United States on the massive Vans Warped Tour, which it'll be a part of until August. (The band is slated to appear at the Warped Tour’s Cincinnati stop on July 16 at Riverbend Music Center.)
Heavy Hinges is a new-ish band featuring some faces likely familiar to dedicated local music fans. Guitarist Jeremy Singer and drummer Brian Williamson have played in numerous groups over the past two decades, while singer/guitarist Dylan Speeg and bassist Andrew Laudeman were members of long-running, super-diverse Cincinnati crew Buckra. Maya Banatwala is the relative newcomer in the band, but her soul-drenched co-lead vocals in the Hinges serve as the group’s secret weapon.
Heavy Hinges debut album, Mean Old City, shows signs of some of Buckra’s trademark sonic diversity, but it’s channeled in a more focused manner. Ultimately, Heavy Hinges is a great Rock & Roll band, but its sound is touched by influences from Blues, Pop, Funk and Soul to various other forms of American Roots music. Like Alabama Shakes, Heavy Hinges manages to sound remarkably vital and “of the now” — despite the obvious vintage inspirations — thanks to the sincerity and vigor poured into each note. Mean Old City bristles with a timelessness that has less to do with the classic genres flirted with throughout and more to do with the from-the-heart songwriting and playing.
Here’s a music video for Mean Old City track “Booze May Be Your Lover, Not Your Friend”:
Speeg and Banatwala make for great co-frontpeople, crisscrossing their melodies and harmonies sometimes like X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe and other times like June and Johnny Cash, with each singer possessing a voice quite distinct from each other, yet still sounding like they were made for each other when they come together. Meanwhile, the rest of the band are flawless and perform with a similar soulfulness; Williamson and Laudeman are a jaw-droppingly great rhythm section, while Singer’s guitar leads and solos are as attention-grabbing as the singers’ powerful vocal one-two punch.
Heavy Hinges host a free release party for the new album Saturday at 10 p.m. at Northside Tavern with DAAP Girls. Read CityBeat's profile of Heavy Hinges from early this year when the band was nominated in the "Best New Artist" category at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
Riff-tastic Cincinnati Hard Rock foursome Lift the Medium has only been a band for a year, but you wouldn’t know it listening to its accomplished debut full-length, Mastermind. The band celebrates the release of its rock-solid album with a show Saturday at MVP Bar & Grill in Silverton. The 9 p.m. show also features performances by Livid and Life After This. Admission is $10; the first 50 fans through the door score a free copy of Mastermind.
Though a relatively new band, Lift the Medium’s members have extensive experience; singer/guitarist Joey Vasselet spent time in Rootbound, a melodic band that craftily incorporated influences from several different eras of Hard Rock, while bassist Justin Kennedy, singer/drummer Jake Bartone and singer/guitarist Joe Bartone were a part of Atlantis Becoming, a group known for its exploratory, progressive approach.
The band members’ backgrounds give a good sense of Lift the Medium’s style. The songs on Mastermind are craftily structured — the winding riffs and rhythms are constantly in motion, subtly recalling the more exploratory sounds of Atlantis Becoming. But there’s no meandering — every movement is in service to the song, resulting in a more passionate and pointed melodic impact. There is also a lot of diversity throughout Mastermind, but it’s molded into a cohesive and contemporary sound the group can call its own.
Lift the Medium can at times remind you of Grunge-era superstars like Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, but flashes of the classic ’70s/’80s Hard Rock/Metal perfected by the likes Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne or Iron Maiden also bubble to the surface. The delicately ingrained Prog touches lightly recall groups like Tool, but Mastermind also sounds like it would be perfectly at home on Rock radio next to contemporary acts like Shinedown and Seether. The production on Mastermind is remarkably crisp and muscular, making it even more radio-ready.
It’s no easy feat to incorporate such a variety of styles without sounding like Rock tourists/time travelers, but Lift the Medium’s sharp songwriting skills and impeccable chops help bring everything together without sacrificing its own distinct personality, allowing the variance to keep things sonically interesting from start to finish, but never allowing it to overshadow the strength of the songwriting. Cincinnati’s Rock radio stations (and likeminded ones across the country) should be all over Mastermind. It’s a crowd-pleaser that works on numerous levels.
Find more info about Lift the Medium (and hear some more song samples) here.
Much has changed for the legendary Cincinnati live music venue the Blue Wisp Jazz Club over its 40-plus-year existence. Though it has consistently been the club for Jazz in Cincinnati over most of that period, the Blue Wisp has moved four different times over four decades. In its most recent locale at the corner of Race and Seventh streets downtown, the club owners also tried to attract more business by serving food and varying the types of music performed. But it wasn’t enough and the Blue Wisp has once again closed its doors (though various reports suggest it could find yet another new location in the future).
One thing that hadn’t changed at the Blue Wisp, at least since it began in 1980, is the Blue Wisp Big Band. The group of all-star local musicians has maintained one of the longest residency in the region, performing its skilled take on vintage Big Band Jazz like clockwork every Wednesday. The band is a Cincinnati institution.
When the Wisp shut down, the members of the Big Band were determined to not let their remarkable run end with a whimper. Instead, the Blue Wisp Big Band sought to continue its every-Wednesday residency at another venue. (In case you’re wondering, the group owns its moniker, so they can legally continue to use the “Blue Wisp” name.)
Veteran local Jazz pianist and Blue Wisp Big Band founding member Steve Schmidt says they’ve landed their new spot, Japp’s Annex on Main St. in Over-the-Rhine, and will pick up its Wednesday night shows beginning this week. Schmidt says the group will perform every Wednesday at Japp’s, at least through the end of July, when they’ll reassess the situation just to make sure it’s a good fit. The Big Band will again be playing two hour-long sets each Wednesday, the first starting at 8:30 p.m. The cover charge will be less than it was at the Wisp — just $5. (Parking is available in the lot on the corner of Main and Central Parkway, as well as in the garage behind the club on Sycamore.)
“We are excited about trying out this (Over-the-Rhine) spot and happy that the ownership and staff at Japp's is excited, too,” Schmidt says. “We are all thinking of ways to make it better for the customer and the band as we go along. The band wanted to start quickly, not to be dormant for too long.”
Several of the principal members of the Blue Wisp Big Band did a walkthrough several days ago to get a feel for the new space and were happy with what they saw (and felt).
“I got a very good feeling about the room,” Schmidt says, “both in terms of space — spacious yet intimate — and acoustics. I think the other guys felt the same way. (Founding BWBB anchor/drummer) John Von Ohlen rightly pointed out that there is a lot of wood — the floors and the large bar. As John said, in the fullest and most complimentary sense of the word, ‘It's a joint!’ It's what he had in mind when he formed the band and put it in the original Blue Wisp in O'Bryonville. He said he wanted a world-class big band in a beer tavern.”
“In a word,” Schmidt adds, “(the new space) has soul.”
This morning’s activities were as hectic as a hurricane as I jumped from one interview to the next in the Bonnaroo press compound.
Things started off nice and easy when I rendezvoused with a friend of a friend who is Lionel Richie’s stage manager. An industry veteran of many years, Sal Marinello has worked for Barbra Streisand, Metallica, Neil Diamond, Britney Spears and many more. Large festival stages like Bonnaroo are equipped with lights and sound, so Marinello’s workload and schedule today are not as demanding as a typical day on the road. Marinello and his crew arrived in the wee hours this morning with one truck instead of the usual seven. Main stage headliner Jack White’s line check completed and his gear rolled to the side of the stage by 8 a.m., Sal and his staff had Lionel’s gear in place onstage for their line check less than an hour later. (The rest of the day’s main stage performers will set up and perform in front of Lionel’s gear.)
The noon hour brought a flurry of activity that had my head spinning pretty much for the rest of the day. Nashville’s Wild Feathers returned on the red eye from St. Louis to do a three-song acoustic performance in the press tent that found the band looking ragged but sounding great as ever. Their material is strong, their performance was spirited, and their three-part whiskey tenor harmonies were crystal clear as ever. But they sure did look tired. Scheduled to play at noon, they were running late and had to jump right on the stage and burst into song immediately upon their 12:30 p.m. arrival.
Chatting with Ben Kaufman, Adam Aijala and Dave Johnston from Yonder Mountain String Band, I found the trio cautiously optimistic about moving forward after the recent departure of mandolin player and founding member Jeff Austin. Not that I expected them to be in a full-blown panic, but it was impressive to hear the calm in their voices as they discussed their future options with no apparent concern about securing a permanent replacement for Austin. Bluegrass legend Sam Bush joined Yonder for their 2:30 p.m. set on the main stage today. For their summer tour they’ll be joined by Jake Joliff on mandolin and Ally Kral on violin. (Yonder Mountain String Band plays Moonlight Gardens at Coney Island on the Fourth of July.)
The Flaming Lips brought a whole new freak rock spectacle to Bonnaroo this year and frontman Wayne Coyne was bouncing around the press tent talking to reporters for a couple hours yesterday. Spirits high and eyes aglow, Wayne happily made the rounds. The man loves to talk and this writer spent a dizzying 10 minutes with Coyne, discussing their brilliant new record The Terror. The band’s 12:30 a.m. set on the Which Stage was an explosive spectacle of lights, confetti, balloons, and dancers in costume, with the fiendish ring leader Wayne in the middle of it all looking like an evil super villain dressed in red tights with a shiny silver codpiece. (The band is one of the headliners of Cincinnati's Bunbury Music Festival this year.)
It’s not the first time I’ve seen Coyne dominate a press conference here; yesterday he spoke excitedly about The Flaming Lips’ desire to always bring something special to the Bonnaroo stage.
“If you’ve been here for three days and you’ve already seen 50 bands,” he said, “you wanna see something different. So that’s why (in 2007) we decided to land a spaceship here.”
Cool as a cucumber in spite of the summer heat penetrating the crowded tent during an early afternoon press conference, Derek Trucks fielded a question about the size of the Tedeschi-Trucks band. “An 11-piece band is a lot like herding cats.” Then he quietly mumbled the unintentionally Zen aside: “But it’s better than 30.”
Still buzzing from my conversation with Wayne, I scampered out into the crowd to catch Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke on the Which Stage. This was one of my personal Top 3 must-see bands of the weekend. It was gratifying to see the young Bonnaroo audience embrace a band that has more in common with their grandparents’ record collection than what many probably have on their current iPod playlist. I stopped to say hello to Blackberry Smoke singer and guitarist Charlie Starr after a 4 p.m. press conference and we discussed some of our favorite early Blues singers. I feel confident that he and I were probably among the very few here at Bonnaroo chatting about Ishman Bracey.
From there the day just got crazier, as the Saturday schedule was packed with stellar artists, including Valerie June, Drive-By Truckers, Phosphorescent, Lauryn Hill and Seasick Steve who boasted none other than Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass. Walking through the crowd I heard Cake play a spot-on cover of Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with the guitar solo section cleverly transcribed for the horn section.
After a late afternoon breather back at the campsite, I wandered through Bonnaroo’s famous archway entrance to catch some of Lionel Richie’s set. My timing was perfect. As soon as I walked through the gate he launched into the Commodores’ “Brick House,” a Bonnaroo performance I’d been looking forward to for months. Again I found it gratifying to see the young audience dialed into Richie’s performance as he pulled out one classic song after another. You can imagine how his ’80s gem “All Night Long” had the dancers moving. This was a moment of such heartwarming cross-generational bonding that it gave me goosebumps in the humid Tennessee night.
Last night’s main stage headliner Jack White nearly tore the stage in half, bringing an explosive thunder and fury that’s largely missing from Rock & Roll these days. One of the most highly-anticipated sets of the weekend, Jack and his crack band did not disappoint. A frantic and fiery performer onstage, he was straightfaced and serious, as if in character, throughout a bombastic set that stretched well over two hours. White has called Nashville home for several years now and he brought noise to these Tennessee hills last night like no one ever has before. An all-out stunner from the first song all the way through to the last note of several encores, this was unquestionably one of the most memorable performances in Bonnaroo’s 13-year history.
And believe it or not there is still more to come. Today is the fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014. Photographer Chuck Madden and I must bear in mind that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, as we endeavor to take in performances today by Lucero, Lake Street Dive, Okkervil River, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Broken Bells, Washed Out, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Avett Brothers and more. The legendary Elton John will close out the fest tonight.
Thanks to CityBeat for making this all possible! Chuck and I would like to extend a special thank you to CityBeat photographer Jesse Fox who was a big help to us this weekend.
Only 361 days ‘til Bonnaroo 2015!
The blazing two-guitar Indie Prog of White Denim’s midnight set on Bonnaroo’s That Tent stage absolutely floored Chuck and me last night. Those familiar with White Denim’s fabulous 2013 release Corsicana Lemonade might find it hard to believe that the band sounded even better on stage than on record. Drummer Joshua Block repeatedly whipped the crowd into a howling frenzy throughout a 60-minute performance that found the band shooting a virtual shower of sparks that led Chuck to conclude, “We won’t hear anything else that good all weekend.”
Rarely have I seen a band who had the crowd eating out of their hand like White Denim did last night. This performance was an all-timer for me, one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had watching a band on stage. (You can catch them for free Sunday at Southgate House Revival; read CityBeat’s interview with the group here.)
Blessed relief fell upon us in the form of an unexpectedly quiet first night in the Bonnaroo campground. My Friday began with an illuminating 30-minute chat with Jake, Joel and Chris from Umphrey’s McGee. I told them I was from CityBeat and before I could even turn on my recorder they began to rave about Cincy’s late, great Ray’s Music Exchange, citing them as one of their biggest influences in Umphrey’s early days.
“Those guys were so bad ass and adventurous,” said guitarist Jake Cinninger, “It made us braver and made us feel like ‘Hey, maybe we can do this, too!’”
Sometimes described as Phish’s evil twin, or rabid little brother, Umphrey’s is much more than this. Performing a different setlist every night, indulging in wild flights of improvisation, often not repeating songs for many days, Umphrey’s musicianship and sense of adventure onstage is peerless and unparalleled. Bonnaroo veterans since the festival’s first year, 2014 marks Umphrey’s first appearance on the main stage. This week the band launched their own Nothing Too Fancy record label with the release of their new Similar Skin album. Touring through the summer and on into the fall, Umphrey’s makes a stop at Kettering, Ohio’s Fraze Pavilion on June 28.
Backstage press conferences today featured comedians Hannibal Buress and Taran Killam. Both held court in the press area for over an hour, good-naturedly conducting spontaneous interviews and posing for photos. I caught a glimpse of rapper Danny Brown, dressed head to toe in black leather and sporting a Guns ’N Roses T-shirt and dark sunglasses, chatting with a female reporter in the press tent. Just a few yards away, the members of J. Roddy Walston and the Business were laughing and carrying on with members of the assembled press like it was a family picnic. Just a few hours later Walston and Co. restored my faith in Rock & Roll with a blistering set on the Sonic Stage that found Walston himself repeatedly jumping up from his seat at the piano and into the arms of the adoring crowd. At one point he leapt onto the shoulders of an unsuspecting photographer in the photo pit before climbing once again over the barricade to crowd surf.
This writer spotted Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips walking through the crowd on Friday afternoon — but it was Toby from Dr. Dog, who I shamelessly ran after to get his autograph for my girlfriend back home. The first serious mob scene of the weekend gathered in front of Which Stage for Dr. Dog’s 2:30 p.m. performance. Unquestionably one of the most talented and promising bands of the past decade, their set was heavy on tracks from their stellar 2013 release, B-Room.
Our Friday was another typically schizophrenic zig zag around the festival grounds as Chuck and I took in sets by Neutral Milk Hotel, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Andrew Bird and the Prog Metal thunder of Animals As Leaders. There seemed to be a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air for Kanye West’s headlining set on the main stage. But, at the same time, the most frequently spotted T-shirt at Bonnaroo yesterday said, “FUCK YOU KANYE”. I heard someone in the crowd say, “If Kanye’s such a genius, he should sell those shirts himself.”
Since being released nationally in early May, Cincinnati rockers Wussy’s amazing latest album Attica! has been scoring an insane amount of neon-glowing reviews from many high profile outlets. Pitchfork, Pop Matters and Spin, among many others, have all given the album high praise (Spin also recently named it one of the Top 50 album releases of the year so far, alongside long-players by Beck, Pharrell and The Afghan Whigs). The band’s new record was also the inspiration for a remarkable essay by Charles Taylor for The Los Angeles Review of Books.
Give a listen to the new album below, then hit “buy” to grab your own copy:
Wussy is playing its only local show until at least this fall tonight, as the group keeps busy on the road throughout the summer, crisscrossing the country in support of Attica! The band’s upward trajectory that has been kickstarted by the new album shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Check out CityBeat's recent interview with Wussy here.
Wussy joins The Tigerlilies, Honey & Houston and students from the School of Rock Mason (check the clips below for samples of each) for a free show tonight on Fountain Square as part of the MidPoint Indie Summer series (grab your MidPoint Music Festival passes in person at the MPMF booth or sign up for a chance to win some). The show starts at 7 p.m.
Cincinnati’s King Records and its various subsidiary labels have been widely celebrated for its vital contribution to the development of popular music in the 20th Century. The legendary label’s groundbreaking, integrated roster of Roots, Bluegrass, R&B and Funk artists gave the world recordings that were integral to the development of Rock & Roll, Pop, Country and, though perhaps less obvious to some, Hip Hop.
Musical icon James Brown was King’s most well-known artist and without Brown’s Funk genius, it’s likely that Hip Hop wouldn’t sound the same today. Brown’s work is some of the most widely sampled in Hip Hop and one song in particular provided the backbeats for innumerable Rap songs over the years. That song, “Funky Drummer,” was recorded at King’s studios 45 years ago in Cincinnati’s Evanston neighborhood.
Samples of Clyde Stubblefield’s drum break on “Funky Drummer” have powered classic Hip Hop tracks by the likes of N.W.A. (“Fuck the Police”), Boogie Down Productions (“South Bronx”), Public Enemy (“Bring the Noise,” “Fight the Power”), LL Cool J (“Mama Said Knock You Out”), De La Soul (“The Magic Number”), Ice-T (“O.G. Original Gangster”), Dr. Dre (“Let Me Ride”) and countless others. That break’s influence has never waned, as Nicki Minaj, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def and many more producers and artists continue to find inspiration from the funkiest of funky beats. (And its influence extends beyond Hip Hop, having been featured on The Stone Roses’ classic “Fool’s Gold,” and tracks by everyone from Sinead O’Connor and George Michael to Aphex Twin and Korn.)
Tomorrow (June 7), some ’80s/’90s Hip Hop greats will honor the 45th anniversary of Stubblefield’s recording of that beat with an outdoor concert/block party near the site where it was recorded (in the 1500 block of Brewster Ave. in Evanston). The Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, along with Eastwood Entertainment, Lando Chapman, City of Cincinnati and the Bootsy Collins Foundation, have joined forces to bring “The Alumni Tour,” featuring a variety of old-school Hip Hop greats, to town for the special event, dubbed “Lando’s Old School Block Party.”
The concert will feature performances by Kwame, Dana Dane, Special Ed and Chubb Rock, each of whom understand the power and influence of “Funky Drummer.”
Saturday’s celebration will also feature appearances by the JB-approved “Young James Brown,” King artists Phillip Paul and Otis Williams and the Funkmaster General himself, Bootsy Collins.
Showtime is 7 p.m. (gates open at 5 p.m.). Tickets are $25 and can purchased in advance here. (Only those 21-and-up are permited.)
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation’s ongoing efforts to draw attention to and preserve the legacies of Cincinnati’s rich musical past. The organization continues to do great things to honor downtown’s former Herzog Studios (where Hank Williams and many others recorded iconic tracks) and the group is currently supporting efforts to save and preserve the original site of King Records’ facilities and also attempts to have a permanent marker placed at the site of the old Riverfront Coliseum (now U.S. Bank Arena) in memory of the 11 fans who lost their lives in 1979 trying to get in to see The Who perform (a tragic event that led to the betterment of concert safety procedures throughout the industry).
The annual MusicNOW festival, founded by Cincinnati native and guitarist for Indie Rock superstars The National, returns to various venues in Over-the-Rhine this March for a celebration of the festival’s 10 successful years. The event will utilize Music Hall and Memorial Hall (past MusicNOW venues), as well as the new Woodward Theater (the Contemporary Arts Center will also host a related music/art installation March 11-20). Heavy on collaborations again this year, the shows will run March 11-15.
Highlights from MusicNOW 2015 include a collaborative performance featuring The National and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The CSO will also perform “Songs from the Planetarium” with MusicNOW vets Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly and Dessner.
Here is the full lineup announced this morning:
Wednesday, March 11th
Woodward Theater - 1404 Main St, Cincinnati, OH
Thursday, March 12th
Woodward Theater - 1404 Main St, Cincinnati, OH
concert:nova with Jeffrey Zeigler
Friday, March 13th
Cincinnati Music Hall - 1241 Elm St, Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, The National with the CSO and new commission by Caroline Shaw
Saturday, March 14th
Cincinnati Music Hall - 1241 Elm St, Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Songs from Planetarium featuring Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly & Bryce Dessner with the CSO, new commission by Daníel Bjarnasonand So Percussion
Sunday, March 15th
Memorial Hall - 1225 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH
Perfume Genius, The Lone Bellow, Mina Tindle
Contemporary Arts Center- 404 E. 6th St, Cincinnati, OH
An ongoing Installation (see video below)
"Many of my most significant memories as a musician have taken place in Cincinnati during the MusicNOW Festival over the last 10 years," founder Bryce Dessner says in the press release. "When we started, we were driven to create an intimate music festival that was as much a creative refuge for the artists as it is for the audience to partake in intimate and rare performances. We have celebrated works in progress and new commissions, new collaborations, and detailed music of all kinds regardless of genre or popularity."
One of Cincinnati finest Hip Hop artists, Buggs Tha Rocka, is making his new album, Scattered Thoughts of an American Poet, available for free starting today on various outlets across the internet (it’s already generated fairly widespread buzz, including write-ups from the U.K. and France).
Buggs recently spoke with CityBeat’s Brian Baker (who called the new LP a “masterpiece”) about the new release (which features guest spots from Donte from MOOD, Moxy Monster, Tanya Morgan, Aida Chakra and Cool Kids’ Chuck Inglish among others) and his progress in the Hip Hop world.
“The type of Hip Hop I do has always focused on technicality and emotion,” Buggs said. “I take pride in being a wordsmith. That’s where the ‘American poet’ came from. And ‘scattered thoughts’ is really what it is. It’s everything I’ve been through, things I’m seeing in the news, a little bit of everything. My ups, my downs, my life in one CD. Instead of putting on a facade and an image, it’s really organic and natural.”
You can read Baker’s full interview with Buggs here.
Buggs is hosting an intimate release party/performance this Friday at Over-the-Rhine club Maudie’s. Showtime is 9 p.m., admission is $7 ($5 in advance here) and Buggs will be joined by MOOD’s Donte (and probably other guests?) at the show.
Buggs has unveiled several videos (made in conjunction with Alvin Jordan and others) for various tracks from the album leading up to the release. Here’s a clip for “Angel of Death” featuring Piakhan:
Here’s the clip for “Bad Habits”:
Here’s Buggs and Pappadon in the clip for “OuterXSpaceXLove”:
Here’s “Rapture” featuring Phoenix Aphrodite:
This is the clip for “My$tery”:
And here is the newest clip, for the track “Religiously,” which was released today:
Visit Buggs’ official site here for the latest info and to download the album. You can also click below to check out and grab a copy of Scattered Thoughts of an American Poet.
Alabama-born Hip Hop artist Yelawolf plays Newport’s Thompson House tonight at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25.
Yelawolf began making waves in 2005 after self-releasing his debut album, Creek Water. The gifted MC landed a major-label deal with Columbia within two years, but the deal fizzled out and Yelawolf returned to working the underground. By the start of this decade, Yelawolf’s signed with Eminem’s Shady Records.
His debut for the label, 2011’s Radioactive, featured guests like Killer Mike, Lil Jon and Kid Rock and was a chart and critical success. More track releases, mixtapes and collaborations kept fans occupied after the 2012 announcement of his second Shady Records album, Love Story, which will materialize next year. Yelawolf has been selling out shows all over the country, so you might want to call ahead or show up early.
Vibe recently posted an interview with the MC about his latest goings-on. Check it out here.
• Fantastic modern Americana trio The Lone Bellow plays the 20th Century Theater in Oakley tonight. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $20 at the door.
The Lone Bellow broke through with last year’s self-titled debut album and the trio’s forthcoming LP, Then Came the Morning — due January 27 and produced by Cincinnati native/The National guitarist Aaron Dessner — is drawing a lot of buzz already thanks to the release of a pair of singles. Here’s the video for the most recent one, “Fake Roses”:
Read Brian Baker’s full preview of tonight’s show from the most recent CityBeat here.
Louisville Electro Pop artists The Pass, who’ve become popular with local audiences thanks to repeated visits to the Cincinnati area (providing highlight sets for more than a couple MidPoint Music Festivals), performs a free show tonight at Over-the-Rhine’s MOTR Pub. Local trio JetLab (which just released its self-titled debut last week) opens things up around 10 p.m.
The Pass’ show tonight is the start of a tour in support of the band’s new EP release, High Road, which follows the release of four 7-inch singles at the start of 2014 and comes out this Tuesday. “Take You Out,” a track from the new release, was debuted on the website We All Want Someone to Shout For yesterday. The site says the track "deliver(s) a world of glossy synths, love-sick vocals, and a feel-good atmosphere that you can’t shake anywhere else but the dance floor. With so many electronic groups relying heavily on computers and other effects these days, it’s great to see The Pass deliver such groovy tunes as a full live band. It truly separates them from the rest of the pack."
• Nashville-based Americana artist Nora Jane Struthers and her band The Party Line play Newport’s Southgate House Revival tonight. Mike Oberst of local Folk faves The Tillers opens the show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.
Struthers was born in Virginia and raised in New Jersey, getting her first taste of the musician’s life as a tween fiddler and traveling to festivals and conventions with her father (a banjoist). Struthers decided to pursue a career in teaching, but after a few years she switched her focus back to music, inspired by watching Tim O’Brien perform at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Her 2010 debut solo album showcased her stellar lyrical abilities and mastery of traditional Americana and Bluegrass sounds. She hit her stride with last year’s Carnival, bolstered by her full-time band, The Party Line.
Struthers is gearing up for the release of her new album with The Party Line, Wake, which is due in February of next year. The album is said to be more eclectic and nods in a more Rock direction, inspired by her love of recent albums by Hayes Carll and Jason Isbell.
NPR’s Ann Powers recently interviewed Struthers about the new album (read it here) and unveiled the new album track, “The Same Road.”
• According to B-105 FM’s website, tonight’s Toys for Tots benefit show at Toby Keith’s I Love this Bar and Grill is sold out (the bar’s website says there may be “limited tickets” available at the door tonight). The 8 p.m. concert features headliner Easton Corbin, plus up-and-comers Maddie & Tae and RaeLynn.
Veteran metallers Every Time I Die play Bogart's in Corryville tonight. The Ghost Inside, Hundredth, Architects and Backtrack are also on the bill. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets are $26.27.
ETID's creative approach has earned them fans outside of just the Metal world (though they don't seem to have suffered the wrath of purists like Deafheaven or other act that dare to stray from the imaginary blueprint). Here's what Brian Baker had to say about the band's most recent album in his preview for this week's CityBeat.
Every Time I Die's latest album, From Parts Unknown, is the band's third album for Epitaph and seventh overall, and stands as a stylistic scrapbook of their best qualities — full bore Metalcore anthemics, songs both howled and sung, scathingly focused lyrics and guest appearances from Coalesce's Sean Ingram and the Gaslight Anthem's Brian Fallon. From Parts Unknown may also be the most lavishly praised album in Every Time I Die’s estimable catalog. The title of a song from the new album may provide the best description of the Every Time I Die live experience: “If there is room to move, things move.”
• Another monster of the Metal world, pioneering Bay Area Thrash crew Exodus, is also in the area tonight. The band plays Covington's Madison Theater at 6:10 p.m. Tickets are $25 and the show is open to all ages.
Emerging from the same scene that produced Thrash kings like Testament and Metallica (Kirk Hammett was an original member of Exodus), the band has been tearing shit up for the past 34 years (with a break-up, reunion and then full-time reformation sandwiched in the middle). This past October, Exodus released its 10th album (and first in four years), Blood In, Blood Out.
• If brutal Metal is not your thing, Newport's Southgate House Revival has Texas-born/Georgia-raised/Nashville-based singer/songwriter Lera Lynn tonight in the Revival Room. Locals Wilder open the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door.
Lynn is usually found in the Folk/Americana section of record stores, but she also sprinkles her endearing sound with a variety of other influences (Jazz, Rock, Pop, Country and beyond). Here's Lynn's soulful, rootsy take on TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me," for example:
Lynn's 2014 album The Avenues has been drawing favorable reviews. Here's what NPR's Meredith Ochs had to say:
Long before you figure out exactly what lyrics Lera Lynn is singing, you'll feel the melancholy and mystery in her music. Wistful melodies and the cry of a steel guitar are set to gentle, meditative rhythms. Even the song's sonic spaces suggest loneliness. With the music alone, Lynn creates a tone poem of romantic uncertainty.
Pennsylvanian Folk/Americana trio The Stray Birds perform tonight at Newport’s Southgate House Revival. Australian Indie Folk singer/songwriter Jordie Lane opens the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.
After self-releasing their debut album in 2012, The Stray Birds scored wide-spread acclaim (NPR put it in its Top 10 of Folk/Americana albums released that year) and began to build a following on the road. The hard work (and engaging music) paid off in the form of contract with the esteemed Yep Roc label (home to artists from Nick Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock and Paul Weller to Fountains of Wayne, The Rev. Horton Heat and The Apples in Stereo), which released the band’s Best Medicine album in October.
Click here to read Brian Baker’s full preview of the show from this week’s CityBeat.
Here is the title track from The Stray Birds most recent LP:
Masterful Cincinnati Funk musician Freekbass and his band The Bump Assembly debuted their new music video for the track “Never Enough” this past weekend during a show at Newport’s Southgate House Revival (which also featured a reunion of Freekbass’ old crew, SHAG). This morning, the clip made its public debut.
The groovy video is the third one released from the most recent Freekbass album, Everybody’s Feelin’ Real (which you can stream/purchase here). The video was directed by Gary Templeton and features a cameo from Jennifer Hartswick, the singer/trumpeter for the Trey Anastasio Band, who provided vocals on “Never Enough.”
The hard-touring Freekbass and The Bump Assembly (who play Brooklyn tomorrow night and a special unplugged session for Relix Magazine in New York City tomorrow afternoon) don’t currently have any local shows scheduled (though they will be in Louisville and Lexington right after Christmas), but keep an eye here for the latest show announcements.
Veteran Cincinnati band Wussy saw a huge boost of its national profile (and sales) over the weekend when the band was featured on CBS This Morning on Nov. 29. The band’s network TV debut included an entertaining and funny interview segment, spliced with live footage (including shots filmed at this year’s MidPoint Music Festival, where the band opened for The Afghan Whigs in Washington Park). The featurette also showed band members Chuck Cleaver, Mark Messerly and Lisa Walker at their day jobs in Cincinnati and Shake It Records (the Northside record shop whose label branch releases Wussy’s albums) also makes an appearance.
The band’s appearance also included a performance of “Teenage Wasteland” from Wussy’s latest album, Attica! A bonus performance of another song from the album, “Beautiful,” was also filmed. Watch everything below.
The appearance had an immediate impact on Wussy’s sales. CBS’s Anthony Mason (who conducted the interview) tweeted that Attica! entered the iTunes album chart at No. 89 after the airing. Amazon sold out of its stock of Attica! CDs.
Wussy’s next local show in on New Year’s Eve at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine. Find out more about Wussy here. And check out CityBeat's most recent profile of the band here (and our very first feature on the band, in 2002, here).
For the 2015 edition of CityBeat's Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (to be held in late January), the public now has a chance to be involved in the process of choosing the nominations from Greater Cincinnati’s amazing music scene. Previously, nominations came directly from the nominating committee, which consists of a variety of local music aficionados (writers, bloggers, club owners, etc.). The nominating committee members still have final say in who gets nominated, but for the first time ever they will be presented with your feedback before making their final decisions.
The ballot will close on Dec. 5. Here are some basic guidelines from the nominations ballot:
For the first time ever, fans will have input into the nomination process for the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards. For each genre category, please enter the name of the performer you feel is deserved of a CEA for their work in 2014. Recordings released publicly between November 2013 and November 2014 are eligible for Album of the Year nominations. The New Artist of the Year category is for artists who have emerged in that same time span (they don’t have to have formed in that date range, just broken through for the first time).
Nominations are reserved for artists from Greater Cincinnati making original music. Please, no straight-up cover bands. You may only fill out one ballot per email address; additional ballots will be discarded.
A list of the top vote getters in each category will be presented to the nominating committee members. The members will not be restricted to voting only for artists nominated by the public, because some deserved acts may not actively campaign for nominations and the CEAs honor output and accomplishments and not just who has the biggest Facebook friends list or the most followers on Twitter. But the “long list” compiled from public votes will get more artists’ names in front of the nominating committee and help their chances for making the final “short list” of nominees.
Once the nominations are compiled, the final ballot will be placed online for public voting.
Be fair. Be nice. And happy voting!
Cincinnati is host to a great number of music festivals and it feels like every season adds another one. Midpoint is becoming nationally recognized for its ability to draw in heavy hitters, Bunbury has exploded in popularity in just a few years and Buckle Up had a great inaugural year this past summer, just to name a few obvious examples. It’s a great time to be a music lover and music journalist in this city.
But for this music journalist, there’s only one festival that gets my money, year in and year out: Ironfest.
Whereas most of Cincinnati’s festivals focus on the city’s vast assortment of Folk and Pop influenced artists, Ironfest is awash in the loud, angry and just plain aggressive side of local music. John “Black Arm” Gerhardt, the organizer of Ironfest, puts in a massive amount of time and effort to assemble a legion of acts that are all a little left of center, but still eclectic enough to bring in all types of fans. There’s only one place in town that you can see the darkened Electronic soundscapes of Black Signal alongside 500 Miles to Memphis’ Country Punk and Moonbow’s raucous brand of Heavy Metal, all under one roof, and that’s at Ironfest.
Nov. 14 and 15 marked Ironfest’s fifth year. It was founded as a celebration of the life of “Iron” Mike Davidson, a mainstay in Cincinnati’s music scene before his untimely passing. While this is still the case, Ironfest has grown beyond a simple memorial. In fact, many of the attendees nowadays didn’t even know “Iron” Mike — myself included. But if Davidson had so many talented friends in so many awesome bands, I’m sad that I didn’t.
Gerhardt has a knack for getting a great mix of bands together to take over Southgate House Revival’s three stages and this year’s iteration was no different. At any time, you could check out the bands listed above, along with the likes of Valley of the Sun, Smoke Signals, Martin Luther and the Kings, The Dopamines, Honeyspiders or out-of-towners like OC45 and Punching Moses (featuring ex-Banderas guitarist Jesse Ramsey), among many more.
While each year’s lineup is undeniably star-studded, Gerhardt also always seems to have one band on the bill that stands out above the rest and this year’s edition was no different. Closing out Saturday night was the reunion of Oxboard Drain, Iron Mike’s old band, with Valley of the Sun’s Ryan Ferrier filling in for the late bassist. I had never heard Oxboard Drain before that night but I got the distinct feeling that I missed something special. When a band still draws fans out that sing along to every word years after their dissolution, you know they made an impact during their tenure. Seeing Ferrier, Gerhardt and the rest of the band honor their friend by ripping through a powerhouse set was something to behold.
While the music at Ironfest is amazing and honoring Iron Mike’s memory is important, neither is the real reason I have attended the past three years. I go for the community that Ironfest celebrates and all of the people it brings together. My roommate attended this year’s festival for the first time this year; at the end of the show he commented that I seemed to know half of the attendees that night. While estimate may have been a bit of an exaggeration, the point is valid. For fans of the scene such as myself, Ironfest is almost like a high school reunion that you’d actually want to attend. New bands mingle with established acts, old bandmates and friends reconnect with each other, and the past and present of Cincinnati’s alternative music scene is celebrated over a weekend.
That’s what makes Ironfest so special. All of the other festivals that Cincinnati hosts every year celebrate the music and musicians contained within them. Ironfest celebrates the community itself that spawns around the music and musicians. It’s a two-day period where we can fondly recall the good memories of days gone by while still creating new memories for the next time we all converge at that old church.
It’s only been just over a week since Ironfest V wrapped up and I already feel like I’m in withdrawal. That much music, that many friends, that much fun in the photo booth (and, yes, that much booze) all adds up to a weekend that’s talked about until the next one rolls around. For many, “Iron” Mike’s passing was a horrible loss but his passing spawned an event that has kept people coming back for five years straight. And for that, I have to say, “Thanks ‘Iron’ Mike, and I’ll see you all next year.”