CityBeat Blogs - Music <![CDATA[All Jazz Hands on Deck]]>

That old trope about doers doing and non-doers teaching holds no currency with saxophonist Dave McDonnell. The Chicago native relocated to Cincinnati six years ago to complete his doctorate Jazz studies at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, which ultimately led to positions at UC and the University of Dayton, teaching both music and music technology.

At the same time, McDonnell never abandoned his love for performance, composition and recording. Early in his Jazz career, McDonnell divided his time between waiting tables, teaching private music lessons and playing in an impossible number of bands; he even worked with Elephant 6 icons Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control (studio sessions with the former, touring with the latter).

Family life and academic rigors forced McDonnell to dial down his band participation — he currently works with Michael Columbia, Diving Bell and Herculaneum — but his reduced roles also provided him the impetus to resume exploring his own work, leading him to assemble a coterie of friends and bandmates from his Chicago experience (guitarist Chris Welcome, bassist Joshua Abrams, drummer Frank Rosaly, vibraphonist Jason Adaiewicz and cellist Tomeka Reid) and form the Dave McDonnell Group.

Utilizing a blend of crafted and precise composition and free-form improvisation, McDonnell created a masterful and acclaimed debut album, last year's the dragon and the griffin. The album was by turns contemplative and explosive, but always guided by the spirit of Ornette Coleman's similarly constructed pieces, where the tunes' purposefully written passages set the tone and established a foundation and framework for the band's circuitously invigorating spontaneity.

Just a little over a year and a half later, McDonnell and his Group (a version of which features Cincinnati players for area live shows) have returned, once again eschewing upper-case titling and stodgy tradition on the appropriately christened the time inside a year, his debut for esteemed Chicago Jazz label Delmark. While McDonnell adheres to his winning compositional-vs.-improvisational strategy on the time inside a year, he also adds a new wrinkle with a slightly older piece from his canon, namely his three-movement suite "AEpse," which grew out of his doctorate studies at CCM and which he debuted in Chicago two years ago.

"AEpse" stands in contrast to the grooves, shifting rhythms and dazzlingly intricate harmonics of the rest of the time inside a year. "AEpse," as a three-part, 11-minute piece of music, explores a chilly soundscape of electronic expanse, appointed by Reid's mesmerizing cello incantations, which drift through McDonnell's constructed atmosphere like smoke in a virtual opium den. But rather than present this sonorously beautiful piece as a whole, McDonnell chose to intersperse the three "AEpse" movements within his gyrational Bop tracklist, allowing them to serve as way stations along the album's journey.

And what an impressive journey it proves to be. Opening with the quietly propulsive "Bullitt," moving into the slinkily engaging and sensual "Vox Orion" and on to the jaunty "The Contract with Bees," McDonnell displays his considerable skills as both a powerful frontman and a generous bandleader, jumping to the fore with appropriately frenetic flurries of notes or delicately woven passages, or yielding the floor to Adasiewicz's fluid and enchanting vibraphone runs or Welcome's always brilliant guitar contributions, all of it made possible by the gymnastics of Abrams and Rosaly's limber and diverse rhythm section.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the swinging, shattering "Baker's Man," which begins and ends with the band in unison on the song's loping theme and fills its center with a dissonant Sun Ra/Zappa/Beefheart explosion of sounds and ideas. As atypical as it is sonically to the rest of the time inside a year, it perfectly points up McDonnell's incredible compositional skills and DMG's extraordinary ability to go completely off the map and then return to the radar in a fraction of a heartbeat.

Cincinnati has enjoyed a long and storied Jazz tradition, spawning some of the most profoundly talented and inventive players in the country, but even its most revered alumni must be sitting up and taking notice of the jaw-dropping accomplishments of Dave McDonnell and his innovative and musically curious Jazz collective. Clearly McDonnell's depth and breadth of experience informs every second of the Dave McDonnell Group's incredible output, but it is the application of that experience to his own work that is so consistently impressive. Two years and two albums in, and the anticipation of where DMG might head next is palpable and exciting.

THE DAVE MCDONNELL GROUP, with guitarist Brad Myers, bassist Peter Gemus and drummer Dan Dorff, plays Urban Artifact on Tuesday at 8 p.m.

<![CDATA[Ironfest Rumbles On ]]>

Greater Cincinnati is now home to several major music events. Summer festivals like Bunbury and Midpoint capture a lot of the public interest and fill downtown for days at a time. But for fans like me who prefer their music with a bit more bite, there’s really only one fest in the area that matters — Ironfest. The two-day event, now in its sixth year, is held at Newport’s Southgate House Revival to honor the late “Iron” Mike Davidson, a local musician whose passing inspired the festival’s creation. I may have gone to a Midpoint show or two this year (Jameson makes memories hazy), Ironfest is the one event that I truly look forward.

The founder of Ironfest, John Gerhardt, created the show to raise money for Davidson’s family and he is steadfast in his goal. Tickets for the event are $5 online or $10 at the door for each night, and I suspect that price will stay the same for years to come. With over 50 bands on the bill, the price-to-band ratio obviously can’t be beat, and that’s just how Gerhardt likes it. The low-price mantra even carries over to the merch. An Ironfest shirt will set you back $5 and items like hoodies and hats are also reasonably priced. Even the pizza that’s brought in to help soak up the booze is free, with only a donation requested.

While the fundraising tradition that built Ironfest continues, the festival itself has grown immensely over the last few years. Gerhardt works all year to bring together local and regional talent to fill the house’s three stages, and this year’s lineup was the most eclectic and vast group of bands fans have seen yet. Groups came from Cleveland, Dayton, Chicago and Boston to be a part of this year’s Ironfest, and the genre mix was as wild as ever.

The majority of the bands fell into the heavier genres of Rock & Roll, Punk or Metal, but this year saw Industrial music (Chicago’s Hide), an experimental string music (Kate Wakefield) and Electronica (Black Signal) represented, amongst many other styles. To say that a fest has a little bit of everything is an advertising trope nowadays, but having this kind of diversity in one house over a two-day period is pretty damn impressive. Especially when walking from one room to the other provided massive swings in sound each time you transitioned. The lineup was spread out in such a way that if you truly wanted to see every band (a daunting task to be sure), you could give each group at least some of your time.

As music journalist, Ironfest makes my job easy. With so many great bands onstage at once, there’s bound to be some that I haven’t heard or a young band who’s just starting out. Buying several CDs in one night may hurt my wallet, but my ears couldn’t be happier. Thanks Hide, Good English, Tiger Sex and The Skulx for all making one hell of a first impression on a grizzled veteran (which is a fancy way of saying the drunk guy whose neck is sore from head-banging this weekend).

That isn’t to say that returning bands were slouches this weekend either. There were a ton of amazing performances, but a few are worth a special mention. Valley of the Sun played its first show in months in Southgate House’s Lounge and promptly blew eardrums with a six-song set that featured three new tracks from the band’s upcoming release. The Honeyspiders released its highly-anticipated debut album in conjunction with their Ironfest appearance and offered something special for fans of the Harrison brothers’ previous band when they were joined onstage by former Banderas guitarist Jesse Ramsey (in town playing with his new band, Punching Moses) to perform an old Banderas track to round out the set.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the dirty elephant in the room. With Mainstay Rock Bar’s closing late last year, Cincinnati filth mongers Dandelion Death no longer had a place to hold its yearly show. So when the group were added to this year’s Ironfest lineup, there’s was much rejoicing. When the band took the stage to close out Saturday night in the Sanctuary, the room was full of people who had no idea what they were in for. But those of us who did got to see a Dandelion Death at its most ridiculous, with a stage large enough for the band and its female companions to actually fit on. While Mainstay’s center stage pole was sorely missed, it didn’t hinder any of the ridiculous Metal that only Dandelion Death can get away with.

While Ironfest may be built on a very Metal foundation, for many, it is about more than the music — it’s about community. For anyone plugged into Cincinnati’s Rock scene, Ironfest is akin to a high-school reunion, except everyone’s drunk and people are actually having fun. The sheer number of musicians in the house leads to tons of Rock & Roll run-ins with longtime friends. At times, it’s hard to go outside for a smoke or grab a drink at the bar because walking the 20 feet to either location involves stopping, saying hi to an old friend and catching up. By now, my friends know to just abandon me if I stop on the way to a destination; I’ll catch up eventually.

Ironfest started as a way for one friend to honor the life and memory of a fallen buddy and, at its core, that is what Ironfest still is. But in the past six years, Ironfest has grown into a massive beast that many music fans eagerly look forward to year after year. Those that knew “Iron” Mike speak of the man with nothing but the upmost respect and fondness. His passing truly rocked those who knew him and Ironfest’s origination becomes obvious if you hear just one of his friends speak about his legacy. While I never knew the man, every year I thank him, because his memory spawns an amazing event full of amazing bands and people, and personally brings me so much joy. So cheers to you, Mike; I may not have known you, but I really wish that I did.

<![CDATA[Nominations Now Open for Local Music Awards]]> The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, returning for its 19th year of honoring original local music-makers, is now accepting nominations from area music lovers. 

Click here for the online ballot and then write in the local music acts you feel had an especially great 2015 and deserve a CEA nomination. (More details are available on the ballot page.

The annual celebration of Greater Cincinnati music opened up the nomination process to the public last year for the first time. The public nominations are compiled and top vote-getters make the “long list,” which is presented to the CEA nominating committee. The committee — a group of knowledgeable aficionados who work with local musicians on a regular basis (including radio hosts, writers, booking agents and beyond) — will consider the public input and come up with the “short list” of nominees in the various genre categories, as well as for awards like “New Artist of the Year” (for an act that either formed in the past year or just experienced its real breakthrough since November 2014), “Album of the Year” (for a release put out between November of last year and now) and “Artist of the Year.” (Those three categories are the critical achievement awards; the final winners are decided by the committee’s votes.) The whittled-down nominees make the final ballot, which will be available online in mid-December. 

The New Artist of the Year nominees (and other new acts) will be showcased at the Best New Bands concert in mid-January. The always-fun CEA ceremony (where the winners are announced and select nominees perform) is slated for Jan. 31. Artists who have graced the CEA stage over the past 19 years include Bootsy Collins, The Afghan Whigs, The Heartless Bastards, Wussy, Foxy Shazam, Over the Rhine and numerous others. Stay tuned for show details. Go here to read about last year's CEA show and here for content about some of the previous years.

CityBeat's Brian Baker also wrote a nice piece last year about putting the CEAs (and awards in general) in perspective.

The public nomination ballot is open until Nov. 30. 
<![CDATA[How Ass Were My Ponys]]>

The wholly unexpected announcement of a pair of reunion shows by one of Cincinnati’s greatest bands, Ass Ponys, inspired a sense of excitement within me that was matched only by the birth of my two children, the legal end of my first marriage and meeting the woman who convinced me to sign up for a 33-year-and-counting second hitch. 

You might think that's overstating a case, and I might think so as well, but the fact remains that I was beside myself at the thought of seeing Ass Ponys in action after a decade-long hiatus. And the reason was quite simple — I had never seen the Ass Ponys during their 17-year run.

As Ass Ponys frontman Chuck Cleaver has said many times since the reunion was trumpeted, the band was never nearly as popular here in Cincinnati as they were out in the wider, smarter world. That fact had nothing to do with the reality that I had never seen them play. I loved them before they'd recorded a single note of music.

My first exposure to Ass Ponys was their one-song appearance on WVXU's tribute to The Who in the summer of 1989, simulcast live from the station’s studios and appropriately dubbed “Who Cares.” Ass Ponys were among a stellar local lineup that included The Afghan Whigs, The Speed Hickeys, The Thangs, Human Zoo, Bucking Strap, SS0-20, Warsaw Falcons and many others. Each contributed a single song to the proceedings. Ass Ponys, accompanied by local guitar legend Bill Weber, roared through a Who rarity, "Glow Girl," an outtake that appeared on the 1974 collection, Odds & Sods. Having heard about them but never actually having heard them, the band’s R.E.M.-esque take on "Glow Girl" sold me in half a heartbeat. I taped all of the musical performances from “Who Cares” on that July evening (oddly enough the 20th anniversary of the moon landing — insert inadvertent Keith Moon reference here) and I cherish that cassette. Ass Ponys' rendition of the Who's archive gem remains a personal highlight.

Four months later, I took a job with a design/marketing firm and almost immediately began clocking serious overtime. Just over a year after that, I revived my freelance writing career as an adjunct to my full-time position, and hours that might have been used to see local shows dissipated like cigarette smoke in a cyclone. As much as I wanted to see Ass Ponys, the planet alignment of my ability to slink out into a night coinciding with one of their local appearances never occurred.

But I avidly followed the band’s recording endeavors. I bought Mr. Superlove and Grim upon release in the early ’90s, and my freelance writing activity earned me a contact at A&M Records, which resulted in Electric Rock Music and The Known Universe showing up in my post office box. I raged at the cosmos when Ass Ponys was dropped from the label's roster and exulted when they chimed with typical Cleaver "fuck it" bravado and re-blazed their independent trail with Lohio and Some Stupid with a Flare Gun.

Ass Ponys' catalog took on the gravitas of scripture for me, stone musical tablets engraved by the flaming finger of God and sent forth into the world to instruct the unwashed and convert the unconverted. They sang about loss and death and dysfunction and insanity with a cheerily twisted conviction that was infectious and transcendent, and I drank their bitter Kool-Aid with a smile on my face and their songs in my heart.

Obviously, just as the Ass Ponys blipped off area radar screens in 2005, Cleaver’s musical collaboration with Lisa Walker was blossoming, laying the foundation for a decade of Wussy brilliance (which continues next March with the release of Forever Sounds). Yet even as Wussy's star ascended, and the band's permanence was asserted, questions lingered about Ass Ponys' status. They had never regretted to inform their fans of their demise, never bid the faithful a teary farewell at the finale of a blaze-of-glory last show. Ass Ponys simply ceased to be, its members scattering to new situations and directions.

Maybe that's why the announcement of Ass Ponys' reunion shows at Over-the-Rhine’s Woodward Theater Nov. 6 and 7 was met with such an exuberant reception. As inauspiciously as the band retreated into the shadows, Ass Ponys planned their return with an equal lack of fanfare. But the loyal had little interest in allowing the band to shuffle quietly back into the spotlight. It was quickly apparent by way of social media posts that fans from around the country were already planning their Cincinnati pilgrimages to crowd the front of an Ass Ponys stage one more time.

With the Friday night show, after weeks of fairly intense rehearsals, the waiting came to an end and Ass Ponys steeled themselves to the task of presenting material that was, in some cases, close to a quarter-century old. Cleaver reported just prior to the show that he was likely the least nervous member of the band, revealing that bassist Randy Cheek had been up all the previous night thinking about their first show in over 10 years; presumably, guitarist John Erhardt (who plays with Cleaver in Wussy) and drummer Dave Morrison expressed similar signs of anxiety. But Cleaver also noted that the Woodward shows would be populated by the friendliest audiences Ass Ponys had ever attracted.

Friday's show began with a terrific set from Swim Team, which rocked a vibe that was part '60s-Pop melodicism, part Blondie-tinted New Wave edge and part Slits avant Art Rock eclecticism. Frontwoman Lillian Currens veered from a sweet Pop croon to a visceral Rock wail while the rest of the band provided an appropriately dynamic soundscape for her gymnastic vocals to pinwheel around in, creating a Riot Grrrl/Lana Del Ray mixtape. The quartet's brash and jittery opening set was the perfect introduction to what would prove to be an incredible moment in Cincinnati's musical history.

Given that I was an Ass Ponys stage virgin until Friday's glorious deflowering, I can offer no comparisons, no yardstick of performances past by which to measure the band's transfiguration into a contemporary unit. What I do know is that the four members of Ass Ponys have spent the last 10 years playing in some of the best and brawniest and most creative bands in recent memory, and that expansive breadth of experience couldn't help but elevate Ass Ponys' performance to an incredible new level in the modern context. Cleaver had noted during an interview on Class X Radio with Eddy Mullet and I the Monday before the shows that the band had discussed how to approach their material, with everyone agreeing it was best to relearn and rearrange the songs with their current expertise, rather than to recreate them note for note for the sake of some manufactured nostalgia.

The wisdom of that decision was proven with indelible and muscular versions of some of the best selections from Ass Ponys' powerful songbook. They went effortlessly from strength to strength, spitting and kicking and tearing through early classics ("I Love Bob," "Azalea"), A&M-era standouts ("Earth to Grandma," "Shoe Money," "Under Cedars and Stars") and late period wonders ("Butterfly," "Pretty as You Please," "Astronaut"), all with a renewed vigor and the hyper-electric jolt of pissing on an electric fence.

As usual, Cleaver was an engaging ringmaster. Three songs in, he noted in classic style, "Some things never change. I still sweat like a whore in church." He then recounted an observation made by a woman he overheard at an Ass Ponys show years ago: "I've never seen a man sweat that much without passing out." Throughout the night, people would call out unrehearsed requests which Cleaver fielded with a definitive "Nope." Cleaver explained the origins of songs ("This one's about a monkey …”) and kept up his standard patter-on-wry, but mostly he thanked the multitude for its dedication and passion, noting how humbling it was to see how many people drove and flew in from all over the country (rumor had it someone was coming from England) with the sole objective of witnessing the Ass Ponys' fresh splendor.

At the end, Cleaver announced — sarcastically and yet somehow lovingly — "This is the one that bought us our luxurious lifestyle," and the group launched into its MTV/college radio hit, "Little Bastard," the last in a long string of sing-along moments. If the show had gone on for another two hours, it would have seemed too short, but with the fading strains of "Little Bastard" ringing in my ears, I felt that my first and likely last live exposure to Ass Ponys was an overwhelming success and quite possibly an ecstatic religious experience.

As Wussy bassist Mark Messerly noted before the show started, the atmosphere at the Woodward was like a high school reunion "where you like everyone and you want to be there." 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott recounted how he had grown up down the street from Cleaver and had graduated with his daughter, ultimately crediting the Ass Ponys with sparking his interest in picking up a guitar and making his own music.

A lot of Friday's attendees had a direct connection to Ass Ponys' past and present. Vacation/Tweens drummer Jerri Queen (who would be opening Saturday's show with Vacation) helped produce and engineer the new Wussy album (as did Swim Team guitarist John Hoffman). The Ready Stance guitarist/vocalist Wes Pence, now bandmates with Cheek, was a contemporary of Ass Ponys with his ’90s outfit Middlemarch. Afghan Whigs bassist John Curley produced or engineered the first four Ass Ponys releases. Tigerlilies guitarist/vocalist Pat Hennessey was fronting The Thangs back in ’80s and ’90s, and was in a Fairmount Girls lineup with Cheek. Jim and Darren Blase helped maintain the Ass Ponys' flame by releasing the 2005 two-disc retrospective, The Okra Years, on their Shake It Records imprint.

Blase, freshly relocated back to Cincinnati after several years in Cambridge, Mass. (stop into Shake It’s shop and welcome him home), rightly noted that while Ass Ponys' influence is far-reaching and pervasive, no one, from the time of their first rehearsal in 1989 to the Woodward show we were anxiously awaiting, sounds quite like they do, a sound Blase likened to "an Americana Pere Ubu." No truer words.

The two Woodward appearances could well be the last we ever see these members on stage together. There are still plans afoot to reissue the band's long out-of-print catalog, and several people noted that both shows were being recorded, suggesting a live record could be in the works. And since Cleaver never says never, he answered the point blank question from a fan after the show — “Will you guys ever record again?” — with a nebulous yet hopeful, "Who knows?" 

Whatever happens, however it shakes out, my first Ass Ponys show was a blast. If more crop up going forward, I'll be there, as well. But you never forget your first.

<![CDATA[Delmore Brothers Honored at Herzog]]>

In the fall of 1946, sibling Country (or “Hillbilly,” as it was dubbed) singing duo The Delmore Brothers came to downtown Cincinnati to record a session at E. T. Herzog’s studios (where famed sides by Hank Williams, Patti Page, Ernest Tubbs, Flatt and Scruggs and numerous other legends also recorded) on Race Street. Beginning their career in the ’30s, the Alabama-bred brothers had become well known for their stunning harmonies, incorporating Gospel, Blues and Folk traditions into their Country stylings. 

In the mid-to-late-’40s, Rabon and Alton Delmore’s sound began to shift towards something more innovative and modern. The duo was recording for King Records, the legendary Cincinnati institution that made (and, many say, changed) music history when it began releasing R&B records alongside its Country ones. The Delmores were a part of the bridge to this open blending of styles, something that ultimately helped lay the groundwork for the creation of Rock & Roll. 

Many consider The Delmore Brothers’ indispensable contributions to the genre dubbed “Hillbilly Boogie,” which blended bluesy rhythms and chord structures into the Country aesthetic, a crucial building block that helped pave the way for Rockabilly and Rock & Roll. 

Former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Jim Henke is quoted as saying, “‘Hillbilly Boogie’ by the Delmore Brothers directly anticipated the development of Rockabilly and, later, Rock & Roll. With their close-knit harmonies and their guitar playing, the Delmores influenced the Everly Brothers and countless other Country, Rockabilly and Rock & Roll artists.”

During the Cincinnati sessions at Herzog, the Delmores cut tracks like “Boogie Woogie Baby” and the seminal “Freight Train Boogie,” one of the most distinct precursors to Rockabilly (some even call it the first Rock & Roll record).

This Saturday at 7 p.m., several area musicians will gather at the site of those early recordings (811 Race St., second floor, now the downtown headquarters of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation) to celebrate their 69th anniversary and the Delmore’s huge contributions to music. The local musicians who will gather for "Delmore Day" to talk about and perform songs by The Delmore Brothers include Edwin P. Vardiman with Kelly Thomas, J. Dorsey, Big Bob Burns with Jeff Wilson, Margaret Darling, Joe Mitchell, Joe Prewitt and Don Miller, Elliott Ruther, Tim Combs, Mark Dunbar, Travis Frazier, David Rhodes Brown with Jared Schaedle and Ally Hurt. 

The event is open to the public (fans of all ages are welcome) and free. Here is the Facebook event page for more info.

<![CDATA[Pomegranates Offer One More Album, Two More Shows]]>

After a tumultuous period that included personnel change, a career lull, an identity shift and finally an unexpected and unfortunate dissolution, the members of Pomegranates clearly thought their time had come and gone. But now, in a story twist that is equally unexpected and exultantly hailed by even the most casual fan, the Cincinnati band is taking two final bows on stage at Newport’s Southgate House Revival this Saturday, and one final stab at studio redemption with the release of its fifth album, Healing Power.

Two years ago, Pomegranates played what they intended to be their last show. The quartet had toured relentlessly behind its fourth album, 2012's Heaven, and when the band finally dropped anchor, the members began work on what should have been their fifth album.

"We thought we were going to make a noisier Rock record and instead, overall, it seems pretty low key and way more chilled out," drummer Jacob Merritt says. "And it's pretty long, also, with more songs — I don't know if ‘sprawling’ is the right word."

When Pomegranates started shopping their new tunes around, they were more than a little dismayed at the lukewarm reception they received. The departure of multi-instrumentalist Curt Kiser and the arrival of the similarly-talented Pierce Geary infused the band with a fresh perspective, but the indifference to Healing Power flooded them with self-doubt. And with members Isaac Karns and Joey Cook thinking about solo projects, the quartet began to reconsider everything.

"We were a nominally successful, mid-level band and we had been for a few years," Merritt says. "We gave (Healing Power) to a bunch of labels and managers and no one seemed to care. There was this weird stigma, where people were like, 'You guys have been around so long (the band formed way back in the mid-’00s), and you get on all these great tours. Why aren't you more successful?' And no one wanted to take the jump to help us become more successful. Nothing seemed to happen, and the guys were getting tired of the slow, steady growth and the grind of being away for weeks at a time, so we were very disappointed. The lineup had changed with Pierce, and it didn't make sense to release the album as it was, and we were second-guessing ourselves because no new people in the industry seemed to be interested and we were like, ‘Maybe this isn't good.’ ”

Thinking that perhaps they needed to shake things up, with a personnel change representing a good time to implement just such a jostle, Pomegranates dropped their name and adopted the title of the new album as their new moniker.

"We wanted to call the album Healing Power but at that point, we were like, 'Let's turn a new leaf and just be Healing Power,’ ” Merritt says. "It seemed to confuse a lot of people, because we weren't doing anything differently. We were still Pomegranates, playing the same set, but there were people who were like, 'I don't know about Healing Power, I like Pomegranates.’ That was perhaps a mistake, if you want to call it that.”

Healing Power lasted for close to a year before the quartet decided to pack it in. The band's official last show came almost exactly a year ago at the request of one of its biggest fans in Virginia, who messaged the group through Facebook and asked if it would consider getting back together to play a wedding. They thought it was a nice way to go out.

"Our last show was a wedding in a bike shop," Merritt says. "We were like, 'Why not?' We just felt like it."

The reclamation of the Healing Power album began with Merritt's friend Ben Wittkugel, who had become interested in the music industry while a student at Indiana University. Knowing Pomegranates were sitting on an unreleased album, Wittkugel proposed an interesting idea.

"He wanted to start a cassette tape label to go hand-in-hand with a concert promotion company he was trying to get started," Merritt says. “He wanted to put this thing out and we were like, 'Sure. Whatever.’ ”

Wittkugel will release somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 first-edition cassette copies of Healing Power through his Winspear label, and the band has pressed up about 100 CDs — there's also a four-song vinyl EP of re-recorded tracks and one song that was dropped from the album ("I don't know why we were so adamant about not having it on the album because it may be one of the better songs …") — which will all be available at the Southgate House shows. The album and EP will then be available digitally when the limited pressings are sold out.

"Unless something that happens to people in the movies happens to us," Merritt clarifies with a laugh.

Merritt's description of Healing Power as sprawling is appropriate; the album has several propulsive moments, including the staggering, stuttering majesty of the seven minute "Hand of Death" and the tribal electric blast of "House of My Mortal Father." There is also a fairly diverse dynamic across Healing Power's 13 cuts, which careen from those spurts of high energy to atmospheric and moody Pop confections, like the gentle and aptly titled "Taking It Easy" and the melancholic reverie of "Morning Light," with the strolling bounce of the title track finding the middle ground between those stylistic ends of the spectrum. Logically, Healing Power stands as a natural progression from Heaven, which the band also thought would be louder and less constrained, and it also reveals Pomegranates' impending solo directions, as the majority of the album consists of songs that Karns and Cook brought to the band in more or less completed form.

"In the past, it was 80% Pomegranates, 20% their songs, and this time it's probably 40% Pomegranates and 60% their songs," Merritt says. “It's hard to know, because you perceive it differently than other people perceive it, because you're so close to it. In my mind, (Healing Power) seems less reverb-y and more introspective. Not that there's not a few moments that are a little more up-tempo."

Although Pomegranates splintered at the end, there's no hard feelings among the band members; they continue to work and hang together ("We've been in each other's weddings …"). Cook and Geary are working on Cook's solo project, Merritt runs the Sabbath Recording — where Karns also works, including on a recent project with Aaron Collins — and he keeps a busy schedule recording local bands like Dark Colour and The Yugos, as well as bands outside of the area.

Pomegranates' live return has generated a huge buzz, with the Southgate show selling out so quickly that the band added a second, earlier show to the slate (both of which will be opened by Keeps). That response begs the question of any possible consideration for maintaining Pomegranates as a side project going forward.

"I would say, ‘We'll see,’ ” Merritt says, diplomatically. "Obviously, we aren't opposed to things happening if and when the time arises to play a show here or there. Beyond that, I'm not really sure."

The band's two shows will be structured the same, with older catalog material comprising the first half of the set and songs from Healing Power populating the second half, which will also be distinguished by an appearance from Kiser, who will join the lineup to play the new songs.

Given the fact that these two shows could represent the last time Pomegranates play together for the foreseeable future, though they also seem to be keeping their options open, there is both very little and potentially quite a lot at stake with the release of Healing Power. Still, the band members are happy to just live in the moment and cherish the memory of the impact they've had to this point.

"I know how difficult it is for a band to find their audience and to play music for people," Merritt says, philosophically. "To know that our music has meant enough to people that, if even 30 people showed up for one show, it's like, 'Cool, you guys still care.' But when you hear stories about people who were suicidal and they heard your music and it changed their lives and they credit you as a piece of why they're still alive — those sorts of things are really awesome. There's people coming from Chicago and Virginia and Michigan and North Carolina (for the Southgate shows). It's cool. We found people that our music really resonated with."

Tickets for Pomegranates’ 9 p.m. Southgate House Revival show Saturday are sold out, but some remain for the 5:30 p.m. show here

<![CDATA[WATCH: Alone at 3AM’s “I’m Dying” Music Video]]>

Over the past year or so, Northern Kentucky’s SofaBurn Records has risen to become one of the more notable independent record labels in the region. The imprint has helped draw national attention to locally-produced gems like singer/songwriter Jeremy Pinnell’s amazing OH/KY album, and it has also released various singles featuring area artists like Buffalo Killers and R. Ring (featuring Kelley Deal and Northern Kentucky’s Mike Montgomery). Tomorrow (Oct. 9), the label is putting out the latest from former SubPop recording artist and Kentucky native Daniel Martin Moore; you can listen to Moore’s Golden Age (produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James) now via the Wall Street Journal’s website

Another great local band that is part of the SofaBurn roster is Alone at 3AM, the soulful and melodic Roots Rock crew fronted by singer/songwriter Max Fender that has been kicking ass for the past decade and a half-plus with consistently excellent releases showcasing Fender’s compelling songwriting abilities. 

Alone at 3AM’s fantastic new album, Show the Bloodwas released by SofaBurn last month and it has already scored some glowing reviews, including one from Roots Rock/AltCountry bible No Depression, which called the LP “a superb album from the first to the last track.” 

This Saturday, Alone at 3AM is playing a free show at Northside’s Comet to support the new release. The 10 p.m. show also includes sets from Northern Kentucky’s A City on Fire and Joliet, Ill.’s Death and Memphis. 

Ahead of the show, the band has unveiled a new music video for Show the Blood track “I’m Dying,” a Heartland Rock ear-worm that Springsteen/Petty fans should instantly fall in love with. (The track was premiered on Guitar World’s website back in July.)  

The “I’m Dying” video is a no-nonsense clip shot in Northern Kentucky. "This video is just a little window into what life is like in Dayton, Ky., where I wrote the album,” Fender says. “(We) had lots of fun shooting it with Sarah (Davis, Alone at 3AM harmony singer and keyboardist).” 

After the show at The Comet, Fender is setting off on a European solo tour with labelmate Pinnell. Click here to keep tabs on the latest Alone at 3AM happenings. 

<![CDATA[Casino Warrior Unleashes ‘Centaur’]]>

Casino Warrior is a name that many local music fans aren’t aware of. So far, the quartet (bassist Kevin McNair, vocalist and guitarist Miguel Richards, guitarist Billy Buzek and drummer Chad Wolary) has only played two real shows, one of which was its recent EP release party. But rest assured, based on the strength of the band’s live performance and its new, riff-laden, five-track release, the name will become much more recognizable quickly.

Centaur EP follows in the same vein as other Rock/Metal hybrids that are currently dominating many a longhairs’ playlist. If the likes of Red Fang, Black Tusk, Orange Goblin or old The Sword cause your skull and brain to repeatedly high five, then the Centaur EP is right up your alley. Richards and Buzek’s guitar leads show considerable chops; there are enough riffs in these five songs to warrant several back-to-back play-throughs just to unravel the heavy layers. Guitar nerds will be overjoyed; the rest of us will just bang our heads until we get a nosebleed.

Of course, riffs are great, but unless the floor tremors and eardrums pop, the Metal equation is only halfway completed. That’s where McNair and Wolary come in. McNair’s low-end rumbles through the mix and sets up shop in your chest. Playing this record at a high volume (as if there was any other allowable setting) is liable to shake things off the wall. Beware of any loose china or pictures of grandma that you may have sitting around your sound system. Wolary’s skin work rounds out the quartet and he brings the thunder; at times, it sounds like Zildjian gave the Incredible Hulk a gear sponsorship. And Hulk definitely smashes.

Richards’ vocals walk a fine line between ’70s Rock clean singing and the current-day growls. Each chorus and verse is delivered with a ferocity that makes the lyrics even more hilarious. I cannot wait for more people to get their hands on the album, learn the words, and yell “Horse balls!” when Casino Warrior performs “Centaur” at its next gig. In fact, each song on the EP is as ridiculous as the last. When your subject matter involves chupacabras, pterodactyls and the aforementioned centaurs, things are bound to get a little weird.

Of particular note is the song that Casino Warrior closed its EP release show with — “Pig Roast.” The track starts with a tribal rhythm from Wolary that’s worthy of accompanying a Fury Road war party, along with a bassline gut-punch courtesy of McNair. Shortly thereafter, Richards and Buzek join in with an earworm of a riff and Richards’ beefiest vocal delivery on the record. His ode to our great city demands attention before the band transitions to an extended outro that allows Richards and Buzek to show off their soloing abilities. And, what do you know — they’re amazing at more than just riffing.

As a whole, “Pig Roast” exemplifies what Casino Warrior is capable of. The band has a rhythm section that lays a rock solid foundation of groove upon which the guitars build a temple to the Riff Lords of old. The songs are more than the sum of their parts — and their parts already have quite a few big numbers involved. The guys have created a rare release that is musically serious, but still fun; heavy, but still accessible. 

If you’re a Cincinnati Rock and/or Metal fan, do yourself a favor and jump on the Casino Warrior bandwagon now — it’s about to get much more crowded.

<![CDATA[Foxfire, Longstone Fests Spotlight Local Music and More]]>

With the summer music-festival season winding down and Cincinnati’s MidPoint Music Festival just two weeks away (did you pick up this week’s CityBeat for official guide, right? If not, you can find info here), you might think there’d be a music-fest lull this week. But two (very different) festivals northeast of Cincinnati are keeping the vibe alive this weekend — the Foxfire Freedom Festival in Morrow, Ohio, and the Longstone Street Festival in Milford, Ohio. 

The Foxfire fest, dubbed a “music and sustainability festival,” takes place Friday and Saturday at Morgan’s Riverside Campground & Cabins in Morrow, along the Little Miami River (you can even go canoeing if you’re up for it!). The $45 two-day ticket, available at the gate, covers camping Friday and Saturday night (one-day, non-camping tickets are $15). Foxfire will feature vendors and information related to being an environmentally-friendly citizen (the “sustainability” mention), with live music from several area Roots/Americana/Bluegrass performers, as well as acts that play other genres (or a fusion of several). 

Friday’s Foxfire lineup kicks off at 6 p.m. and features Dead Man String Band, Easy Tom Eby, Jared Schaedle, Joe Wolf, Heather Hamlet and Richard Cisneros. On Saturday, music begins at noo. The Saturday lineup features Common Center, Baoku Moses And The Image Afro-Beat Band, Lawson Family Reunion, Simply Dan String Band, Aaron Hendrick Trio, Black Mountain Throwdown, Adam Singer, Little Miami String Band, Allen Talbott, Blue Caboose and a songwriters-in-the-round session with Greg Mahan, Wolfcryer and Achilles Tenderloin. 

Click here for links to more info on all of the artists. 

More on the campground can be found here. And further info on the Foxfire Freedom Festival is available at the fest’s official site and Facebook page.

The Longstone Street Festival takes place Saturday along Main Street in Milford’s historic downtown district. The annual free event celebrates Milford with various food and arts and crafts vendors, plus a stage featuring a variety of musical acts all day long. This year, the music starts at noon with My Brother’s Keeper (featuring Andrew Hibbard). Other Longstone performers include Seabird, Harbour, Along the Shore, Taylor Shannon, Shiny and the Spoon, Daniel in Stereo, Static Wonder and a band featuring students from the School of  Rock Mason. 

For full details (including info on vendors, kids’ activities and more), visit The times the various performers are playing the Longstone Street Festival can be found at the event’s Facebook page, which also includes music and video samples of several of the artists. 

The Foxfire Freedom Festival and the Longstone Street Festival are both open to all ages and are family friendly.

<![CDATA[Cincinnati at the VMAs]]>

I tried to watch last night's Video Music Awards on MTV, but it was such an awkward and confusing clusterfuck, I couldn’t take much of it, flipping through for a few moments before moving on out of embarrassment for the people on the screen. I usually like when awards shows are a little chaotic (and the VMAs are known for their often-desperate attempts to be “not your mama’s awards show”). And I actually have always enjoyed the pop-culture pageantry of awards shows in general. But on last night’s VMAs, the annoyance factor was so high, I couldn’t even watch it on a “so bad you can’t look away” level. It made me anxious and uncomfortable, like watching someone fumbling over their words and breaking down while giving a speech in public (kind of like Kanye on last night's show). 

It wasn’t really even the performances that made it so unwatchable (most were pretty solid for what they were). It was all of the in-between absurdity that made it so cringe-worthy.

Speaking of performances, some Cincinnati artists did well on the big stage. Walk the Moon has become so experienced with these kinds of high-profile appearances that it wasn’t surprising the band’s umpteenth performance of “Shut Up and Dance” was flawless. Airing during the opening of the pre-show “rainbow carpet” portion, I found myself thinking (as I do whenever I hear the hit on the radio), “You know, they have other songs, including a new single?” “Shut Up” was considered a “song of the summer” contender, though it’s been on the radio for like 15 years (OK, it was released as a single in September of 2014, but still). Then the band played the new single, “Different Colors”! And MTV promptly cut them off. (Even “Shut Up” was interrupted mid-song so the pre-show hosts could introduce the program, the clumsiness of which ended up being indicative of the overall mess the VMAs turned out to be.)

The weirder Cincinnati-related appearance came during Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ performance of their new single, “Downtown.” I was not aware of the guest artists on the song (OK, I was not aware they had a new song), so I turned it on just as Hip Hop legends Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz were rapping while walking down the street, thinking it was some cool old-school tribute the awards show was presenting. Then Macklemore came on and I reached for the remote, still unable to figure out what was going on. Then Eric Nally from late Cincinnati greats Foxy Shazam joined in, singing the chorus and doing some of his trademark stage moves and I officially thought I was just having a dream. 

Nally did a great job and he caused a lot of buzz online, mostly of the “Who was that guy?” variety (when the single was released last week, a bunch of idiots rehashed the “Eric Nally is racist” stories from back in 2013 when Foxy Shazam released the single, “I Like It.”)

It’s weird mash-up of a song, parts of which I like, while other parts I find tremendously aggravating. Which is kind of what the VMAs were. Is this the present state of popular youth culture? Throw a bunch of unrelated stuff together, put it in a blender and then just stare at the blender, not caring or knowing what the end result is? 

MTV/Viacom had something called the O Music Awards for a few years recently, honoring things like “Favorite Fuck Yeah Tumblr,” “Favorite Animated Gif,” “Best Tweet” and “Best Artist With A Cameraphone.” The O Awards ceremony seemed unscripted and filmed without any director whatsoever. It doesn’t appear the O awards are still a thing; perhaps last night’s VMAs were a sign that the network is turning its long-running awards program into the Os? 

The VMAs were largely just a big WTF moment that people would talk about/complain about/make fun of online. Which is probably exactly what MTV was going for and, scarily, perhaps the shape of youth-oriented entertainment to come. 

<![CDATA[Your Weekend Playlist: August Vibes]]>

Old, new, weird or blue – I can’t get enough. 

“Thunder Clatter” – Wild Cub

This hand-clapping, shoe-tapping goodness is by far one of the best new jams I’ve came across, making it impossible to skip when it comes up in my track library. It’s upbeat, it’s joyful, and you’ll find yourself singing the final phrase, “I feel it all in the center of it all, you’re the love of my life — the love of my life” over and over again because it’s so damn catchy. (Not to mention, sweet as a peach.) Wild Club is an American Indie group that defines itself by the brand of '80s-inspired Electro-Pop, with “Thunder Clatter” becoming their most successful track. Listen for yourself and see why.

“My Wrecking Ball” – Ryan Adams

Hands down one of my favorite artists of this lifetime. I first discovered Mr. Adams when I got stranded in Arizona after Cincinnati got hit with the blizzard of the century, and I couldn’t find a flight home. (Not complaining.) I gratefully sat outside in the desert air reading Brain On Fire, in which the author talks about how her best-kept memory was hearing Ryan Adams play. And I soon learned for myself about this man — not only known as a beyond talented musician, but his approach on stage is ridiculously comedic, with a touch of thought and wisdom. “My Wrecking Ball” live at Carnegie Hall is one of my favorite tracks to play. It’s a stunning song filled with so much life, and at the very end he draws a laugh from the audience after dropping his hands onto the keyboard and saying, “I really can’t fucking play this thing at all.”

“Nocturne” – Wild Nothing

I’m starting to notice this bouncy, '80s theme in a lot of contemporary music lately, and this song is perfect example of that exact vibe. It’s a track that’s meant to fade in and out of style, with pops of a deep, deep echoing voice flowing after each verse. Not to mention, the guitar is incredible. Lead singer Jack Tatum’s unique voice and song structure creates a sound that can almost be heard in any setting. I choose Wild Nothing for drives to work, writing at my desk or even when I eat dinner on my couch. No matter what the setting, this song easily fits.

“Drag” – Day Wave

If the artist Day Wave had to go by one phrase, it would read: “I fucked up but I don’t really care.” It’s a quick beat with softly voiced lyrics, giving off the vibe where you want to dance along but also emotionally feed into what they’re saying. Day Wave’s latest track “Drag” is easily heavy on the sounds, and although the lyrics are quick, they’re so simple to catch on to. It’s repetitive without driving you crazy. And sure, it ends before you know it. But that’s all the more reason to play it over again and again and again.

“You Really Got A Hold On Me” – She & Him 

Zooey Deschanel (She) and M Ward (Him) have seen individual success within their own careers, but together they turn out to be a surprisingly perfect duo. “You Really Got A Hold On Me” is one of the best examples of how these two artists compliment one another best as Ward’s voice echoes behind Deschanel’s elegant, classic sound so delicately. This song makes it easy to get swept away into a sway with someone you care for, and them swaying you right back. It’s meant to be her unhealthy yearning for him, and the lyrics go, “You treat me badly…I love you madly.” We’ve all been there…right?

<![CDATA[Your Weekend Playlist: Bootstraps]]>

With vocals as scratchy as sandpaper and an instrumental rock sound, Bootstraps are killing it with their soundtrack — their only soundtrack, to be exact.

Bootstraps are unique while maintaining a bit of what you’ve heard before. Lead singer Jordan Beckett’s voice is similar to Ray Lamontagne, while the overall sound resembles something along the lines of Coldplay. Explosions in the Sky’s strong yet delicate instrumentals play a part in the vibe this intimate band gives to their listeners.

Based in Los Angeles, Bootstraps’ admiration for California does not go unnoticed in their tracks. “OH CA” speaks for itself, while the rest of the jams have a majestic, passionate sound that carries you away to the oceans of Cali and the scenic roads that lead you there.

Personally, I’ve found Bootstraps to be a beautiful soundtrack for writing, reading and connecting deeply with your own emotions. (That’s right. ALL the feels.) My good friend Amanda with similar music taste commented on this newly discovered band and said, “I want to drink bourbon and sit and in a dark, rich, old bar while I listen to them.”

I couldn’t agree more.

My boyfriend pointed out that “their echo sounds like they are in the room next to you,” and although he wasn’t a fan of that, I absolutely was. If a band can prove to the listener that they sound that good in a live setting, then they are one hell of an artist, filled with the kind of talent that lacks a heavy amount tweaking. 

Bootstraps made their mark in my book. Even though their songs remain at a mostly slow pace, I still find myself turning them on even at my happiest moments.

They’re just that good.

<![CDATA[Your Weekend Playlist: Volcano Choir, <i>Repave</i>]]>

If I could choose one album to listen to for a month straight (because, let’s be honest, the whole “rest of your life thing” is far too unrealistic), I would choose Repave by Volcano Choir.

A buddy of mine showed this album to be about eight months ago. He was going through some pretty tough stuff at the time, and he couldn’t get enough of this album filled with sorrow, power and beauty altogether. Repave consists of tracks that can almost make listeners feel as if it was written specifically for them, and I understood immediately why he was so drawn to it.

Justin Vernon (best known as Bon Iver) took a different turn with the Volcano Choir project, breaking away from the sound of his album For Emma, Forever Ago, and the more tranquil sound Bon Iver brings to the table. According to a Pitchfork interview, Volcano Choir is supposed to be “fun.” This concept immediately causes me to smile, because as deep and emotional a man Vernon is in comparison to his previous work, it just makes sense.  

Although I said I would choose to listen to this album for an entire month straight, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be going through a tough time in your life to enjoy it. It’s beautiful in an elegant way, when the (sound) waves crashing into shots of orchestrated sounds that rise up as the track time elapses. Their album cover of a rocky ocean simply speaks for itself. Although it isn’t clear whether or not the dark skies symbolize before or after a storm, I personally imagine it as both. These songs begin with slow rhythms, delicate strummed guitars and a light tapping on the drums. Some even begin with a voice alone. But at some point, it escalates. It kicks your ass, emotionally. And just like the worst things we may face in life, the storm ends. And it slowly, but gracefully, falls.

Whether you’re a Bon Iver fan or not, this album is nothing like what you’d expect, yet, everything you’d expect. Play it over and over again. Face your storm. And rock the fuck out when you do.

<![CDATA[MidPoint Music Festival Adds More Acts, Venues]]>

The 2015 edition of the MidPoint Music Festival (owned and operated by CityBeat) is less than two months away, returning to various venues in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown Sept. 25-27, and this morning organizers announced the release of the schedule and a few additional performers. 

New artists added to this year’s 14th annual event include The Besnard Lakes, Heaters, The Moth & The Flame, Alberta Cross, The Glazzies and Left & Right. A few more local acts — Mad Anthony, Bulletville and Culture Queer — were also added to the roster. Widely-acclaimed Cincy-area rockers Buffalo Killers will also perform at this year’s MidPoint. You can catch a preview when the group headlines a free show tonight on Fountain Square, part of the MidPoint Indie Summer series. The band is joined by Ohio Knife, Pop Goes the Evil and Go Go Buffalo for tonight’s 7 p.m. concert. 

The festival also announced new venues for this year’s fest. Woodward Theater and Maudie’s, plus an outdoor stage at the corner of 14th and Sycamore streets, join previous venues Washington Park, Taft Theatre’s Ballroom, The Drinkery, Mr. Pitiful’s, MOTR Pub, Christian Moerlein Brewery and Arnold’s to host this year’s 120-act lineup. 

Get a look at the schedule so far right here. Tickets are available here. And more info on today’s announcement can be found here. All details can be found at

<![CDATA[Your Weekend Playlist: Throwing it Back]]>

Even if you weren’t around for Mick Jagger when he became a Rock & Roll legend, or to hear Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” at Woodstock Music Festival, you still most likely know about it. The '60s and '70s were two of the most influential music decades of all time — a time we still appreciate this many years later, and will continue to during the years to come.

Much of my appreciation for music today comes from what I’ve heard from the past. (Thank you, Mom and Dad.) Knowing where you are often relies on knowing where you came from — a totally cheesy saying that is completely relevant to the development of music as much as your own life.

But seriously.

John Mayer’s biggest influence was Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. Kings of Leon was inspired by Neil Young, CCR and The Allman Brothers Band. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) was fascinated with the lyrics of Bob Dylan, believing his voice paired as a good sound with his words.

Almost every great artist can root back to what inspires them, and sometimes we overlook that little detail which makes them our favorite contemporary musician.

This playlist is filled with just a handful of my favorite artists I wish I could travel back in time to see with my own eyeballs. But cranking up the volume extra loud and dancing in my kitchen will have to do for now.

Led Zeppelin because Robert Plant is the man. And for crying out loud, why NOT?

Pink Floyd because everyone needs a little dose of psychedelic. Or a lot of it.

The Rolling Stones because Mick Jagger has been kicking ass since he was 15 years old. 

Creedence Clearwater Revival because you may have seen the rain, but who will stop it?

Elton John because he’s my favorite human being that ever lived. “Tiny Dancer” makes me want to be Penny Lane from Almost Famous, singing my heart out on a bus with a band and their groupies. (But that’s just me).

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers because they’re the perfect blend of driving in the summer and smoking weed in your basement.

*Notice there are no Beatles on here. Sure, they began the “British Invasion” after breaking into the U.S. music scene in 1963, causing one of the wildest movements in music history. However, they get enough credit almost everywhere else and don’t necessarily fit into the Rock & Roll I’ve chosen for this playlist.


<![CDATA[Your Weekend Playlist: July]]>

Everyone gets hooked on a handful of songs they can’t seem to skip over during a period of time. Well, these are mine from the month of July.

“Crystals” – Of Monsters and Men

This song kicks complete butt. The heavy drum intro leads into the crashing of symbol waves throughout the entire track, while lead singer Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir’s voice carries the powerful lyrics along the melody. This entire album is unique to their previous style, developing lyrics on a more honest and open level. Seriously, listen for yourself.

“Red Eyes” – The War On Drugs

This retro Indie Rock band from Philly wraps their beat around modern-meets-’80s music, especially their on this, their most popular jam. The impeccable beat is bob-your-head worthy, in addition to the powerful voice of the longhaired lead singer Adam Granduciel. Such a cool dude.

If you’re taking a long drive through the night with flickering highway lights passing your cracked windows and a chill in the air blowing through ever so slightly, you’ll easily feel like you’re racing back through time. It rocks so hard you’ll find it hard to skip.

“Soul Is Fire” – Elliot Root

I dare you to play this at your desk and try not to tap your foot (I tried, and it’s pretty impossible).  Scott Krueger’s upbeat and unique voice is enough to turn any song into a party, especially this particular jam. It’s catchy, it builds and it’s just plain fun. Elliot Root got their own roots in the heart of Nashville, Tenn., but they’re not what you’d expect from the South. Give them a listen and dance around with your shoes off. It won’t be hard.

“Delilah” – Florence + The Machine

Delilah” is one of Florence + The Machine’s many singles sung by the beyond-badass Florence Welch and those incredible pipes of hers. This single, and two others that were released prior, are now featured on their latest album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The entire album just continues to follow up with Welch’s tough-as-nails attitude and lyrics, giving women the sense of ability and power they should all possess. Not to mention it makes you want to dance.

“Wolves” – Phosphorescent

We all remember 2013’s “Song for Zula,” right? Turns out Phosphorescent has other hidden gems, and I choose to listen to this gentle tune before I close my eyes for the night. It’s simple, genuine and repetitive in a way that doesn’t feel that way. The unique use of a ukulele as a long introduction pieced together with a soft, electric guitar and the thick sounds of an accordion subtly enter into the center of the song. Matthew Houck’s sad and sincere voice has that “cabin in the woods” vibe to it, similar to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. It’s overall a beautiful piece, even if it took me this long to discover it.

<![CDATA[Growing Up with Bogart’s]]>

Though it hasn’t always been a loving relationship, Bogart’s has been a part of my musical life since the ’80s. I’m slightly older than the venue. I was 5 when it opened. But in less than 10 years, as my music fanaticism truly took hold, Bogart’s would become a place of awe to me.

It began when I entered junior high. I went to a school just a few blocks up Vine Street. It was commonly known as Schiel, but I attended during a brief period when it focused on foreign languages and was called the Cincinnati Bilingual Academy.

My fellow musically-obsessive friends at the time loved to hang out on Short Vine. The record stores were a big draw, as was the arcade, Jupiter and Beyond. So we spent as much time as we could in the area after school and on weekends. Bogart’s sat right in the middle of it all, but it was this magical, mysterious entity to us. Because the venue was yet to have “all ages” shows, we’d never seen a concert there. But we would stand out front and marvel at the posters in the window, wishing we could go see some of these very bands with which we were becoming deeply obsessed.

At some point, we discovered the alleyway that ran behind the club and realized that was where the artists entered and loaded in. So we began a ritual that lasted through high school. A few friends and I would linger around the backstage door before shows by artists we loved, hoping to see our heroes and maybe get an autograph. We would also sometimes be able to hear the musicians doing soundcheck, and every so often during our early high school years we’d be there late enough that we could actually hear some of the concert through those back doors.

There I got to meet some artists who were favorites of mine then and remain important to me to this day. Guitarist Andy Summers of The Police stopped at Bogart’s on a solo tour. The Police were by far my favorite band at the time, so it was incredibly exciting to say hello to Summers (who is a tiny, tiny man) and have him sign the pickguard  I yanked off of my cheap acoustic guitar. I also got to meet the members of L.A. Punk legends X. Billy Zoom, the band’s blonde-pompadoured guitarist, was hilarious. He chatted with us briefly and then when we asked for autographs, he happily obliged, pulling a silver paint pen from his leather jacket. It must’ve been a new acquisition because he couldn’t get the cap off, so he handed it to me for help. Nervously, I got it off, but also broke the pen in the process somehow. Zoom started giving me shit and I was horribly embarrassed, but later realized he was likely just busting my chops and having fun with me.

When I was just starting junior high, British Ska/Pop band The English Beat played Bogart’s on its 1980 tour. The Beat were second only to The Police to me, but the show was during a time where we could only longingly look at the gig posters in the front windows. Later, while in high school, with our back door ritual in full swing, General Public — which featured the Beat’s frontmen Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger — were booked to play Bogart’s, so we made plans to try and meet Dave and Roger. We arrived a few hours before the show and noticed that a few upperclassmen from our high school were there hanging out as well. It was a cold day and Roger and Dave came hurriedly around the corner towards us, huddled up in coats and trying to stay warm. Dave saw the five or six of us hanging around and instantly invited us in out of the cold. This was my first time inside of Bogart’s and it felt like I’d just entered a sacred temple. I had to leave (Mom was waiting for me), but we got to make that climb up the stairs from the backstage, walk across the stage (where the band members were messing with equipment), then through the big hall and out the front doors. It was a highlight of my life up to that point.

I also camped out around back when Adrian Belew and The Bears (featuring local musicians Rob Fetters, Bob Nyswonger and Chris Arduser of The Raisins) were making their Bogart’s debut in 1985 (it was the start of the band’s very first U.S. tour). I was a huge fan of Belew’s solo albums and work with King Crimson and The Raisins were one of my favorite bands. The Raisins were the first “local band” I truly fell in love with and anytime the group played an outdoor, non-club, all-ages show (in a park usually), I was there.

Belew finally was making his way into the club as we approached, accompanied by a man we didn’t recognize. It was Arduser, who was actually the drummer during an earlier period of The Raisins, not during the time when I’d go to see them constantly. As Belew jotted down autographs for me and my friends, he introduced Chris with a silly joke I’ll probably never forget: “This is Chris Arduser, also known as Chris Our Drummer.”

Years later, when I started my writing career, several of these moments connected and came full circle. While living in New York City, I had the chance to interview X’s frontpeople Exene Cervenka and John Doe in their record label offices (I didn’t bring up the Zoom/exploding-pen incident). I did an extensive phone interview with Belew. And through writing about and interviewing Arduser and Fetters over the past 20 years, I think if they saw me on the street they’d recognize me and say, “Hello.” Just being able to talk to those guys (and Nyswonger), considering my fanaticism over their bands from a young age, was and is pretty amazing.

A few years ago, I got to sit backstage at Riverbend with Dave Wakeling when The English Beat opened for 311. He was the kindest “Rock Star” I’d ever met and he actually hung out with me and a few other people I was with before and after the show. (When he let us into Bogart’s, I was convinced it was because one of the older high school girls was very cute, but I’m now more convinced he was just being a cool guy.) At one point, I was standing next to Wakeling at the side of Riverbend’s stage watching 311 play. At one point, he leaned over and said in my ear, “I think me and Roger (who no longer performs with The Beat; Wakeling is the only original member) will get back together at some point.”

If my 13-year-old self would have been told that any of those moments would happen several decades later, he would’ve fainted.

At some point in the ’80s, Bogart’s began experimenting with having all-ages show. My very first show at the club was to see Violent Femmes (I believe in 1986), but, in the early stages of this experiment, Bogart’s herded us under-agers up into the balcony. I remember loving the show and being in the club, but I more vividly recall looking down on the club’s floor and noticing what a small audience there was. While the balcony had hundreds of kids smushed together and barely able to breathe, it seemed like there were only a couple hundred people below us. Still, I’d made it into Bogart’s! Not long after, I made it to the floor-level when the club was hosting high school cover bands for all-ages shows. The Complaints (who also did some originals I really liked) were the big band at my high school at the time and I remember the club being packed with teens for their show. (Fun fact: The Complaints’ drummer was Michael Meisel, who later became a big-time music manager for several popular artists, including Nirvana.)

The club kept expanding its all-ages policy over the next few years. Punk Rock matinee shows were very popular; I fondly remember seeing some of my favorite local Punk acts, like SS-20, The Edge and Human Zoo, thrashing around on the Bogart’s stage. It seems like a weird dream now, but there were also Punk shows that featured wrestling — an actual ring was installed in the middle of the floor and local Punk icon/radio host/Bogart’s employee Handsome Clem Carpenter not only MCed (I believe), but also wrestled.

Another early show I saw was True Believers, Alejandro Escovedo’s early punk-ish band. I remember this show because it was the first time I actually was served beer at the club. My teenage friends and I were sitting at a long table and a waitress came up to take our order; she didn’t flinch when we ordered a pitcher of beer. So, of course, we ended up ordering about 20 pitchers of beer throughout the night.

Around this time, I played my first shows at Bogart’s, something almost any young musician will tell you is a pretty special feeling. My Punk band was added to a few bills by a gracious promoter or fellow local band. I remember being so nervous at those first shows that I could barely play my instrument, partly because I was thinking about all of the famous musicians (U2, Prince, R.E.M.) who had stood right where I was standing. I ended up playing there many times over the years with various bands (opening for bands like New Model Army, Prong, Matthew Sweet and Fugazi), but the early shows were the most memorable. When my first band opened for 7 Seconds, we started to get heckled by a gaggle of skinheads in the crowd (we mixed Rap, Funk and Post Punk into our sound, which offended their purist tastes apparently). Our singer started taunting them so they approached the stage; as one started to climb up, I punched my combat boot directly into his face at the lip of the stage. After our set, the club provided us with a couple of security guards so that we could walk back up and watch 7 Seconds. We were told some skinheads were waiting for us outside, but by the time we got out, they were gone.

By the time I reached college, I was a regular at Bogart’s. I even started befriending some of the staff, dating a couple of bartenders and even marrying one. These were the days when I saw certain bands right before they graduated to “arena rock”-levels of success, like The Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys and Marilyn Manson. One of the more memorable shows was a weird 1995 package tour headlined by Mike Watt and featuring Hovercraft (which included Eddie Vedder on drums, right as he was at his Grunge God peak with Pearl Jam) and a new band fronted by Nirvana’s Dave Grohl on guitar and vocals. Grohl was road-testing his new group, which you may have heard of (rhymes with Doo Righters). Watt headlined the show and was backed by Vedder, Growl and Germs/Foo Fighters/Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear for his set.

As mentioned above, I haven’t always loved Bogart’s. The sound has ALWAYS been hit or miss, often frustratingly. I can only imagine it’s best explained by the set-up of the club (basically a big, long brick shed). There was period when the staff was almost universally rude, with harsh pat-downs at the door (at one point, if you tried to bring in anything that could remotely be considered dangerous — a lighter! A pack of cigarettes! A chain necklace! — it was often just tossed in the trash) and overly-aggressive bouncers roughing up kids who were perhaps dancing a little too hard. About 10 years ago, I got an assignment from U.K. weekly music paper NME to review an Insane Clown Posse concert at Bogart’s. During the pat-down, the door person grabbed the pen I needed to take notes and he tossed it into the garbage. I know ICP crowds can be rowdy, but, even after explaining the pen’s purpose, the doorman just blank-stared me, seemingly convinced that I was just the type to go on a serial pen-stabbing spree during the show.

I loved the ICP show, by the way. The band is a Bogart’s staple and that was my first time seeing them. The music isn’t really up my alley, but the duo’s ridiculous showmanship is truly something everyone should experience at least once. I’m convinced the two ICP dudes know they’re more a comedy act than anything — and probably chuckle at the fans who take them way too seriously —  and that makes me appreciate what they do. It was like a surreal circus show gone awry and I had a smile on my face the entire time. Though afterwards, I felt really bad for the Bogart’s clean-up crew — SO. MUCH. FAYGO. I wonder which show was more dreaded by the janitors — ICP or GWAR?

The Bogart’s of today is strikingly different and in the best shape it’s been since I started going there. I remember several years ago writing a rant about the club (probably after the ICP incident) and pointing out that, in the decades I’d been going to concerts there, the venue had made absolutely zero notable improvements. Sure, they’d upgrade the sound system from time to time (usually without much noticeable improvement to the sound), but the club never seemed to improve conditions for the customers (good Lord, those bathrooms approached CBGB levels at times). Maybe it was a money issue or maybe management felt there was no reason to upgrade, since people were coming anyway. And, besides, where else would they go to see these particular acts?

But the days when going to Bogart’s felt like entering a prison yard are long gone. A few years ago, I remember going to a show and being stunned at how different it was. It was right after some upgrades and, while nothing drastic, it changed the whole vibe of the club and the experience. The staff was friendly. The front-door inspections were respectful. The bathrooms were clean. It was suddenly customer-friendly in a way I never remember it being.

There is no way I can remember every show I saw at Bogart’s, memorable or not. There have been several hundred. But a few stick out. There was the 1990 show when on-the-rise bands Faith No More and Soundgarden opened for cult Metal group Voivod; by the time the tour got to Bogart’s, the openers were blowing up on MTV and radio, which meant that less than half the large crowd stuck around to watch the headliners. Another time, when I started my writing career, I had a pre-show interview with the guitarist for Blind Melon at a restaurant next door to the club. As we chatted, late singer Shannon Hoon (who’d later put on a great show) and the other band members threw food at each other and acted (endearingly) like 12-year-olds.

Another favorite memory was a weird Red Hot Chili Peppers/Faith No More show in 1987. This was when Hillel Slovak (who later died from a heroin overdose) was still playing guitar with the Peppers (a favorite band of mine at the time), and Faith No More featured Chuck Mosley on lead vocals (well before Mike Patton took over the mic). Faith No More opened and ran through most of the material from the We Care a Lot and Introduce Yourself albums, its only releases at the time. Then things got weird and Mosley started telling the sizable crowd that the Chili Peppers weren’t going to show. Then the band started doing jams and weird covers, playing for well over an hour. Mosley did an acoustic version of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka.” By the time guitarist Jim Martin began to do a solo Hendrix-esque rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” it felt as if Mosley may not have been kidding.

Faith No More was clearly vamping and trying to fill time. Then, in the middle of a song, four heads started weaving towards the stage from the back of the room. The Chili Peppers hopped onto the stage with Faith No More and jumped up and down for a few minutes, then headed backstage. They put on a great, incredibly energetic show (they said their tour van — a VW Beetle Bus with bullhorns on the front that my friends and I saw in the parking lot afterwards — broke down on the highway, but we all suspected something drug-related caused the delay). For their encore, the Peppers came out naked except for the tube socks on their dicks (part of their schtick at the time) and looked nervous as hell, glancing over their shoulders constantly. Apparently they’d been informed about Cincinnati’s low-tolerance for anything sexual in public (remember, this was the ultra-conservative ’80s, when Cincinnati was most associated with shutting down “obscene” art exhibits and hassling Larry Flynt) and were fearful of being arrested. The band played one or two short, fast songs and then booked it off stage. (It’s just a rumor, but I’d heard the police were indeed there and going to arrest them, but the band escaped in a fan’s car and stayed at their house playing video games all night.)

I’m not a big fan of huge crowds, so sold-out Bogart’s show always put me in panic attack mode. But I’ve braved several and I’m glad I did. When Bob Dylan decided to play some smaller clubs in 1999 and chose Bogart’s as one of them, I proudly took my dad to see him. I’ve seen Dylan numerous times over the years and more often than not I’ve left disappointed. But at Bogart’s, he sounded amazing and played inspiringly. I also took the love of my life to an over-stuffed Bogart’s in 2003 see her favorite band of the time — The White Stripes — when she was several months pregnant with our child (if she’d given birth, the baby would have had to have been passed to the exit, crowd-surf style, because it was so packed).

Bogart’s has admirably supported local and regional artists since as long as I can remember. Locals were given opening slots for big-time bands often. After my first band played a crazy set at one of the club’s battle of the bands (competing mostly with straight-forward Hair Metal bands), Dan Reed, manager at the time, came up and asked if we wanted to open for Jane’s Addiction. We very much did, but Jane’s took off and ended up playing Hara Arena in Dayton instead. The aforementioned local Punk shows were always a blast. And I have fond memories of 97X’s old 97Xposure band contests. The club’s “battle of the bands” events (which I mostly attended as a guest judge after my competitive years were over) could sometimes be painful, but I always enjoyed watching the younger bands exhibiting that same awe that I felt the first time I played there (and it was fun to play “Spot the Parents”). The club also hosted a couple of benefits for local community radio station WAIF that were a lot of fun, one featuring a ton of local bands playing Christmas songs (my band decided to perform in just Christmas underwear — briefs! — which must’ve been horrifying) and one with local groups playing David Bowie songs. And I spent many great New Year’s Eves at Bogart’s when the great Columbus, Ohio band Royal Crescent Mob played there every year. I seem to remember The Afghan Whigs taking the slot a few times, too. (The many Whigs shows I’ve seen at Bogart’s, including their most recent one a couple of NYEs ago, have been some of my all-time favorites.) In recent years, CityBeat has hosted a new band showcase at Bogart’s — the staff has always been great and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the shows.

I wouldn’t say Bogart’s is my favorite club — I prefer smaller venues, in general. But I’m very thankful it exists. It has been the one constant, reliable place to check out live music of every sort in Cincinnati ever since I was a teen, and its mid-size has made it possible for mid-level acts to play the Queen City instead of skipping it altogether. More or less, my musical life has revolved around Bogart’s, and it’s hard to imagine what it (or Cincinnati’s concert scene, in general) would have been like without it. Thankfully, we don’t have to.

CityBeat celebrates the 40th anniversary of Bogart's with this week's issue. Check out Brian Baker's overview Cover Story on the club's rich history and promising future, plus sidebars on Brian's favorite moments, the view from John James' nearby record stores, Prince's surprise visit in 1984 and the infamous Heavy Metal Wheel of Sex.

<![CDATA[‘American Originals’ Pops Concert Recording Due in September]]>

Back in January at Music Hall, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, under the direction of conductor John Morris Russell, presented its unique “American Originals” concerts. During the performances, the orchestra collaborated with several local and national Folk/Americana artists to perform and celebrate the music of Stephen Foster and other early songs that are the foundation of the “Great American Songbook.” 

Read CityBeat’s cover story on the project here.

Rosanne Cash, Aoife O’Donovan (who recently returned to join the Pops for its Fourth of July concert at Riverbend; read our interview with her here), Dom Flemons (formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Joe Henry joined Cincinnati area artists Over the Rhine's Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, members of the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars and others to perform specially arranged versions of Foster compositions like “O! Susannah,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Camptown Races” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” as well as traditional numbers like “Red River Valley,” “Kumbaya” and “Amazing Grace.” 

A live recording of the concert featuring 17 songs will be released on Friday, Sept. 11. (You can pre-order it now here from Amazon.)

Here is the detailed track listing for the American Originals release (via

1) “O’ Susannah” (written by Foster, arranged by Chris Walden and with Joe Henry on vocals)

2) “Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair” (written by Foster, arranged by Rob Mounsey and with Aoife O’Donovan and Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine on vocals)

3) “My Old Kentucky Home” (written by Stephen Foster, arranged by Rebecca Pellett and featuring Rosanne Cash on vocals)

4) “Amazing Grace” (traditional, arranged by Pellett and featuring Aoife O’Donovan and the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars)

5) “Rolling River: Sketches On Shenandoah” (composed by Peter Boyer) 

6) “Why, No One To Love?” (written by Foster, arranged by Pellett and featuring Over the Rhine’s Bergquist on vocals and her OTR partner Linford Detweiler on Rhodes keyboard)

7) “Old Folks At Home” (by Foster, arranged by Timothy Berens and featuring Dom Flemons on vocals and harmonica, Timothy Berens on banjo and Paul Patterson on fiddle)

8) “Kumbaya” (traditional, arranged by Berens and featuring Timothy Lees, Kathryn Woolley, Gabriel Pegis and Scott Mozlin on violins and Richard Jensen on djembe

9) “Slumber My Darling” (by Foster, arranged by Chris Walden and featuring O’Donovan on vocals and guitar)

10) “Aura Lee” (by Foster, arranged by Pellett and with Henry and Ed Cunningham on vocals)

11) “Foster's Folly” (by Foster, arranged by Berens)

12) “Ring, Ring The Banjo” (by Foster, arranged by Walden and featuring Flemons on banjo and bones
 and Cunningham on fiddle)

13) “Red River Valley” (traditional, arranged by Berens and featuring the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars)

14) “The Battle Cry Of Freedom” (composed by George Frederick Root and arranged by Berens)

15) “Beautiful Dreamer” (by Foster, arranged by Mounsey with Cash on vocals)

16) “Hard Times Come Again No More” (by Foster, arranged by Berens and featuring Over the Rhine, with Bergquist on vocals and Detweiler on guitar)

17) “Camptown Races” (by Foster, arranged by Mounsey and featuring the Comet Bluegrass All-Stars, as well as Cash, Flemons, Henry, O’Donovan and Over the Rhine on vocals)

<![CDATA[Your Weekend Playlist: Road Trippin']]>

Anyone with an adventurous bone in their body naturally loves road trips. It’s the quickest way to embrace your passion for exploration by simply hopping into your vehicle and hitting the road filled with destinations and opportunities. And what’s the ultimate source of entertainment during your long trip? Music.

I took a different approach while selecting these particular artists/songs. Playlists don’t always have a major theme to them. It’s not always necessary, and road trips are the best time for these types (or non-types) of soundtracks. As quickly as the double yellow line flickers along the street below, sometimes, so does your mood. There’s the beginning and the end of the drive when you’re nothing less than sitting out of the edge of your seat, the mid-drive mood when you need a bit of a change-up, and the nighttime (my absolute favorite part) when you’re chugging your gas station coffee, munching on beef jerky and letting the jams take you away — father than your car ever will.

This playlist meets all these moments in a road trip. Just by looking at it, it’s like I reached my hand into a pot full of weirdness and grabbed whatever I could. In reality, I selected these babies for a reason.

There were a ton of artists I considered putting on here. Candidates included Mumford & Sons, Hozier, John Mayer, and those other mainstream, super-duper talented artists we already love. Instead of giving you something you already know, I wanted to introduce you guys to some folks that may be potentially new to your music library. There’s no better time to indulge yourself in new music than driving in a car for hours, watching your view from the window change in the blink of an eye.

It’s totally OK to have it all. Ya dig? Now grab your keys and get going.

<![CDATA[MidPoint Music Festival Announces More Artists]]>

The MidPoint Music Festival today announced a third wave of artists scheduled to perform at the 14th annual event this fall.

Locals Heartless Bastards will headline Friday night's shows at the Christian Moerlein stage, touring in support of their new album, Restless One. The band will join Purity Ring and Matthew E. White on Friday night's schedule, with Saturday performers including Ride and Sylvan Esso. Iron & Wine and Tune Yards highlight Sunday's slate. 

MidPoint, which is owned and operated by CityBeat, is scheduled for Sept. 25-27 and once again will take place in and around Over-the-Rhine. The full schedule will be released in the coming weeks.

The festival expects a total of around 125 total artists to perform. So far, the following have been confirmed: Heartless Bastards, Nick Diamonds, Good Graeff, Heat, Nick D' & the Believers, Roadkill Ghost Choir, Ona, The Eagle Rock Gospel Choir, Alanna Royale, Sphynx, Charles Walker Band, EZTV, Miracles of Modern Science, Bailiff, The Ghost Wolves, Wild Ones, Big Scary, Mothers, Xoe Wise, Turbo Fruits, Young Empires, Grandchildren, Forest and The Evergreens, Great Peacock, Kinky Love, Elk Creek, Ancient Warfare, What Moon Things, Bones Jugs N Harmony, Little Racer, GGOOLLDD, No/No, Kid Runner, Chrome Pony, Dirty Fences, Rose Quartz, Jackson Scott, Eclipse Movement, MULTIMAGIC, Sweet & the Sweet Sweets, Dawg Yawp, Gran Bel Fisher, Automagik, Coconut Milk, Jane Decker, Orchards, Kate Wakefield, Little Lights, DAAP Girls, The Yugos, Marcus Alan Ward, The Harlequins, yler Childers & the Food Stamps, Young Heirlooms, Us, Today, Public, Holiday Mountain, The Almighty Get Down, Noah Smith, Leggy.

Weekend passes will be available at a discount rate ($10 off) at the MidPoint Indie Summer concert at Fountain Square this Friday. Saint Motel, The Modern Novas, Grenades!? and Jane Decker will perform. More artists will be announced in the coming weeks. More info: