I attended my first South By Southwest festival in Austin, Tex., over 15 years ago to cover local Funk group SHAG's appearance at the festival for a much younger CityBeat. It seemed exciting back then that one of Cincinnati's biggest bands was invited to showcase at SXSW. This year, the amount of acts from the area performing is unprecedented — never has Cincinnati had such a presence at America’s premier music fan/industry showcase and conference (which starts a week from today).
And it’s not just performers. Representatives from local promo company The Counter Rhythm Group will be on hand in force, venture development group CincyTech is hosting regular chats as well as a Cincinnati hospitality headquarters and party in Austin and the progressive promotional/licensing machine The All Night Party is sponsoring both a tour centered around the Texas festival and its own showcase night at the event, a first for a local organization.
And, as we have most SXSWs over the past 17 years, CityBeat will have a reporter on the scene providing regular updates for this here blog. Be sure to check back often starting next week and see how are hometown heroes are doing.
Here’s an overview of just some of the Cincy-centric happenings related to SXSW 2012:
• The All Night Party presents the Midwest by Southwest tour (also sponsored by this summer’s Bunbury Music Festival and assisted by Counter Rhythm and Reveal Concepts) featuring, as the tagline reads, “Four Midwestern Bands — On A Mission to Rock.” The tour has Cincinnati bands The Sundresses (repeat visitors to SXSW) and Wussy, as well as Cleveland rockers The Whiskey Daredevils and Lexington’s Oh My Me. The jaunt begins Thursday at Mount Lookout’s The Redmoor. (Doors open at 6 p.m., showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $10.) MWXSW will hit several other cities before and after the ANP SXSW showcase Tuesday at the Soho Lounge. The Lions Rampant will appear on the bill in Austin, as well.
If you'd like to help the caravan out, there is a Kickstarter campaign with some cool perks you can check out here. (Quick, only three days left!) Here's the promo vid:
• R. Ring, the acoustic duo featuring local musician/engineer Mike Montgomery (thistle, Ampline) and Dayton, Ohio’s Kelley Deal (Breeders), will perform at a showcase hosted by the Misra label on March 15. Misra is releasing the twosome’s first single in a few months, with a full-length to follow.
• Ohio Knife, a new duo project from The Chocolate Horse’s Jason Snell, Andrew Higley and Joe Suer, is also headed to Austin and the local branch of branding agency Landor is tagging along. The company is hosting a travelogue website here so you can follow along at home. Ohio Knife plays a tour kickoff show Friday at The Comet in Northside. The band will hit other clubs in Tennessee and Texas along its way to SXSW.
• Local Indie Pop faves Pomegranates are now labelmates (on the Modern Outsider imprint) with fellow Cincy band Bad Veins. While the Veins won’t be performing in Texas (they’re preparing their own tour launch March 19 in Colorado), the Poms will play the official Modern Outsider SXSW showcase on March 14 at Trinity Hall.
• Indie/Folk/Electro/Pop powerhouse The Seedy Seeds took part in a SXSW launch party a couple of weeks ago. The band performs at the All Night Party showcase Tuesday.
• Eccentric breakout rockers Foxy Shazam are one of the headliners of a showcase presented by the huge booking company The Agency Group on March 15 at Latitude 30; the day before they’ll play an afternoon party.
• Cincy RCA Records recording artists Walk the Moon aren’t technically “showcasing” for SXSW, but they will be in Austin for the MTVu Woodie Awards ceremony and festival held in during SXSW, where they’ll be performing and hoping to score the Breaking Woodie award they’re competing for against acts like tUnE-YarDs and Lana Del Rey. Vote for the hometown boys here, where you can also watch a live stream from the March 15 festival.
If you attend tonight’s free MidPoint Indie Summer show on Fountain Square, you’ll not only have a chance to check out some excellent local bands (Buffalo Killers, The Guitars, Soapland and The Lions Rampant), but you’ll also be among the first to see the brand new Lions Rampant music video for the song “Crazy or a Liar?,” to be screened on the Square’s giant video board.
One of Cincinnati's all-time great turntablists, Tobotius (aka Tobe Donohue, member of DMC award-winning collective Animal Crackers), is preparing to release a solo album this February titled I, Tobot, but website The Untz posted the first leak from the record yesterday (click here for a free download). The track, "The Blox," is a collaboration with local Funk master, bassist Freekbass (aka Chris Sherman); the two local musicians have been working the national club circuit together as Freekbot. (They also collaborated on a modern "fight song" for Notre Dame's Fighting Irish called "We Are ND"; click here to view.) Check the hyped-up Tobotius/Freekbass track (fueled by a flurry of chaotic samples and scratches) below.
Fifteen years ago, if you heard about a young, new Ska/Reggae band releasing an album, you’d be forgiven for thinking the crew played some variation on so-called Third Wave Ska, the Punk-driven, Ska-tinged sound popularized by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and others. But if you subscribe to the belief that music lovers and makers often turn to more pure forms of music in times of societal uncertainty (as some say is the case with the Indie Folk movement), The Newport Secret Six’s dedication to the earliest forms of Reggae and the authentic sound they come up with should be no surprise. There are no distorted guitar or gang-vocal shouts on Licking River Rocksteady. It’s simply a fantastic modern Reggae album bustling with energy, soul, personality and tradition.
Younger local musicians and the music fans who love them might find it hard to fathom, but once upon a time, Cincinnati’s corporate Rock radio juggernaut WEBN was one of local music’s biggest allies, a wild, wooly and eclectic FM outlet as open-ended and freeform as any internet radio station or podcast. In the ’70s and ’80s, before inflexible, homogenized playlists made it impossible for even major label Cincy bands like The Afghan Whigs to get spins, the annual WEBN Album Project compilations gave major exposure to local and regional artists. Saturday at the Madison Theater, the WEBN Album Project Reunion Show flashes back to that era. In this week’s CityBeat, Brian Baker caught up with one of Cincinnati’s most popular bands ever (and an early Album Project participant), The Raisins, whose seminal lineup is reuniting for Saturday’s event, joining several other AP alumni. Brian also caught up with some of the other participating musicians to discuss the Album Project’s legacy. Below are their thoughts, as well as some vintage video clips from the era.
Music Tonight: Popular Detroit Psychobilly/Punkabilly/Powerbilly trio The Koffin Kats hot-rod it into Newport for a show at the Southgate House. While the band, which formed in 2003, has done the Psychobilly schtick, writing songs with Horror and Sci Fi themes, the Kats' more "real life" songs have always been around and, over the years, become more dominant in KK sets and on albums. That should be especially evident on the upcoming Our Way & The Highway, due in mid-January, which reflects what singer/bassist Zac Victor told CityBeat was a general move towards a "Bruce Springsteen approach more than a Dracula approach" and even more reflective of their broad musical influences. Read the entire interview with Victor at citybeat.com, then catch the band tonight at SGH with Dr. Bombay, The Returners, Vice Tricks and Switchblade Syndicate. Showtime is 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 ($13 for those ages 18-20). Below, check out the great, swoony track (anybody else hear some Smiths in there?) "The Bottle Called" from last year's "split album" with 12 Step Rebels called From Our Hands to Yours (it will also be on the new album).
I hate festivals. I hate that they’re always at the peak of a heat wave or in the middle of a tornado warning. I hate that 90 percent of festival goers don’t understand the concept of deodorant. I hate the rushing around to multiple stages and the trying to decide who you like best when two awesome bands are both playing at 6 p.m I hate that my friends hate festivals, too, and always refuse to go with me. And I really hate the lack of cold beverages.
And yet Saturday afternoon found me in the middle of the crowd at Bunbury falling hopelessly in love with some band called “Imagine Dragons.”
It began during the second song I heard after arriving late to the Bud Light Stage. The lead singer, Dan Reynolds, bounced from one end of the stage to the other. The crowd around me sang along to songs I’d only heard once before, throwing their hands above their heads, voices to the sky and adoration at the stage. They practically worshiped a guy I’d only seen once in a small picture on Wikipedia. My love deepened when Reynolds spoke with absolute sincerity about how much it meant to see so many people singing along to their songs. Imagine Dragons hadn’t even performed in Cincinnati until their stop at Bunbury.
Then, as it often does, my heart melted at the sound of motorcycle boots and a palm on the chest as they thumped out a beat. Finally, my mug o’ love filled with melt-y heart goo, overflowed when the drummer, Daniel Platzman, flung himself off the stage after their set and bequeathed drumsticks to his adoring fans. These guys were perfect. Their music was made for screaming and dancing and the band members seemed so genuine.Nothing gets to me faster than a shaggy-haired dude saying a heartfelt “thank you” to his fans.
Thirty minutes into my time at Bunbury and I was madly in love.
It happens all the time, my falling in love at festivals In 1998, it was Hanson at a radio station festival in Miami. In 2001, it was a boy named Justin at the Buzz Bake Sale. Last year, it was The David Mayfield Parade at Appalachian Uprising and Avett Brothers at Memphis in May. This year I fell in love with Ben Howard at Bonnaroo and Imagine Dragons at Bunbury.
That feeling you get when you realize you’ve happened upon something amazing is pretty rare. Festivals, though, are like breeding grounds for that sensation. I’m certain that while music fans think festivals exist so they can see all their favorite bands at once, their organizers think festivals exist only for the purpose of making people gain new favorite bands.
Study any festival schedule and you’ll see what I mean. At some point during the day there will be about an hour of time where there will be three bands playing and you won’t have heard of any of them. You’ll call that, “dinner time.” However, as you wander along, looking for the perfect supper, you’ll also shuffle past three stages of random music. Almost inevitably the sound from of those stages will catch your attention and pull you across the grass to the barricade. Forty-five minutes later, you’re buying the band’s EP and mass texting your friends to tell them to check out this new band you just heard.
On Saturday I saw, among others, Manchester Orchestra, Gaslight Anthem and Weezer. (Weezer!) They were awesome, just as I’d expected. I flew from stage to stage, trying to catch as much of everything as possible. But the show that held my attention for the longest time was on the smaller stage and it lured me in while I was looking around for something to drink other than beer. The performance I’ll remember years from now won’t be Weezer, whom I’ve waited so long to see. It will be Imagine Dragons and it will be a memory of yet another time I fell in love.
In the words of James Hetfield (Metallica, y’all), “Nothing else matters.”
However, I’m supposed to report on the entire festival. So, here’s how the rest of my evening went something like this: I had Taco Azul for dinner and they were yummy beyond belief. I left for a bit to make my first ever walk across the Purple People Bridge to score photos of the fest from afar and I don’t regret that decision.
I spent a very long time wandering from one end of the park to the other in search of cold soda/pop, found none and I spent a hot second hoping that my poor editor thought to bring his Diet Pepsi from home. So, I bought a warm beer and immediately regretted that decision. I refused to use the porta-potties. I wandered by a DJed stage and considered how much better that section would be if it were more like Bonnaroo’s Silent Disco where everyone listened to music through headphones instead. Also, I briefly questioned the logic of scheduling the festival on the same weekend as a Reds game and the World Choir Games.
It was an awesome day. Fell in love, lost five pounds from sweating so much, and saw (here it comes, again) Weezer! And you know what else? I still don’t smell like a hobo.
I first started writing about the fine artists making music in Cincinnati in the early ’90s, just before The Afghan Whigs released their breakthrough Gentlemen album on Elektra Records. The timing of my unexpected entry into "music journalism" coincided with the unexpected rise of the Cincinnati music scene's national profile. Today, my pal David Pescovitz (who actually made my unintentional career as a writer/editor possible) sent me a YouTube clip that brought back a rush of memories from that time period. Below you can take a look for yourself at the MTV News piece about the Cincinnati scene, a weird and telling moment in contemporary Cincy music history.
One of the coolest, more unique musical experiences to be had in Cincinnati is at the concerts presented by The Loft Society, an on-the-down-low, speakeasy-like venue housed in the top-floor loft of an apartment building on Calhoun Street in University Heights (next to Mayra’s restaurant). Programmed and hosted by Al Williams, the Loft has been featuring artists on the more exploratory side of Jazz (with occasional guests from other genres) for the past two decades. The atmosphere is relaxed and communal and set up as a great listening experience first and foremost (obnoxious chatter during performances is strongly frowned upon). If you’ve yet to visit, Saturday’s “A Tribute to MLK” concert is a great place to start.
Music Tonight: Hailing from the same Tulsa, Okla., suburb (Broken Arrow) as singer/actress Kristin Chenoweth, Saturday Night Live comedian (and South Park writer) Bill Hader and Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Warren Spahn, singer/songwriter JD McPherson's upbringing found him youthfully exploring the music of Nirvana and The Stooges right alongside Carl Perkins and Buddy Holly, a signal of things to come. Today, McPherson (now based in the Chicago area) is making a name for himself with songs that reflect the influence of Rock & Roll's breakout period. McPherson performs tonight at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. The free show also features an appearance by like-minded locals (although with a bit more of a Honky Tonk stride) Straw Boss. Showtime is 9 p.m. Check out this potential Northside anthem, "North Side Gal," and dig McPherson's incredibly soulful and authentic ’50s vibe: