Music: Pedal Or Die

Local musicians who love bikes pitch in to help new MoBo Bicycle Co-op

Sara Yaste

Canadian Owen Stewart-Robertson of progressive, avant Jazz troupe Make A Circus began working with MoBo after relocating to Cincinnati in January.

Bike culture is spreading to every corner of the earth. What might have once been considered an antiquated mode of transportation has grown into a full-fledged beast, dealing with issues like the power crisis to creating and sustaining community values. Community leaders of Northside are bringing bikes to anyone who wants one. The only catch is that they have to build it. And so the MoBo Bicycle Co-op was born.

Inspired by the late Justin Morioka's love of bikes, MoBo is spreading the cycle. The founding members are hosting an all-ages benefit concert Saturday to raise funds and kick-start their membership drive. In addition to food, drinks and prizes, internationally renowned Indie "Jazz" band, Make A Circus, will be coming from Montreal to make their Cincy debut. Local bands performing include Peter Adams and the Nocturnal Collective, Matt Shelton, The Dandybeards and SKYBEAST.

One of MoBo's founding members, Owen Stewart-Robertson, 27, who's also the guitarist for Make A Circus, knows that riding bikes brings people together in a way that riding in cars simply can't.

He wants to create a culture of bicycling, to have a safe city for everyone to bike around in.

"There's no excuse (for anything less)," he says.

Originally from New Brunswick, Canada, Stewart-Robertson started playing piano when he was 4 years old. Picking up the guitar when he was 14 opened up even more musical doors, eventually leading him into the realm of improvisation.

"It's not so much the sound (of Jazz) but more the idea that I could play and make things up on the spot," says Stewart-Robertson. "That's why I've never been good about sticking to tradition. I was probably never a good student either."

Despite these unconventional methods of learning and playing, Stewart-Robertson attended McGill University in Montreal, earning his master's in Jazz performance. The university setting brought him across the paths of other like-minded musicians, as well as the future members of Make A Circus — Adam Kinner (sax) and Liam O'Neill (drums).

Because the trio wanted to get away from the Jazz aesthetic incurred by years of studying music through academia, Make A Circus started pouring other influences into the standard Jazz mix. They take cues from the Brooklyn Jazz scene, which boasts underground legends like Jim Black, John Zorn and Chris Speed. They blend semblances of Eastern European and American Folk music, Grunge and even a little Scandinavian Hardcore, for good measure.

Stewart-Robertson says that all these influences simply coalesce into a greater understanding of music around the world. He knows that Jazz serves as a universal language for many musicians, since so many have studied it and can easily read it. He also knows that Jazz musicians are some of the best improvisers in the world.

Making decisions on the fly comes in handy, especially when Stewart-Robertson decided to move from Montreal to Cincinnati back in January. Making things up as he goes along also helps to inform the process of running a bicycle co-op, something he's never done before.

Although he understands that bikes can sometimes be viewed as complex machines that are hard to maintain, he insists that they are actually incredibly simple and anyone is capable of fixing their ride themselves.

Another founding member of MoBo (there are four of them), Lucia Palmarini, 23, says that the idea of the co-op focuses mainly on education and community values: "(We're trying to) do something that honors life." Throwing a party where anyone and everyone can get together — bike enthusiasts as well as the average citizen who enjoys a leisurely ride through the neighborhood — is pivotal. Maintaining workshops that teach people and their children how to fix bikes themselves, as well as providing parts and materials, is also huge. They've got the right formula, the space and the passion. Now all they need is a few more bands to finish off the crowd.

Austin Brown greets me with three of his grandfather's hand-made golf clubs in his hand. His granddaddy whittled them himself and would always beat the pants off his rich clients who were wielding their rich clubs. This DIY aesthetic carries over to his involvement with MoBo.

Frontguy for Staggering Statistics, Brown's newest musical endeavor, SKYBEAST, sounds like "internal-organ rattling controlled feedback-oriented purposeful madness — with a little bit of math," he says with a laugh, rubbing his hand (which looks broken and is wrapped in duct tape). The SKYBEAST lineup also includes Eric Cope on drums and Gabe Molnar on guitar. Brown holds it down on bass.

"That's where we play rhythms people don't understand," he explains, still laughing and clutching a pint of Christian Moerlein.

Brown says he wants to play the event largely due to MoBo's founders.

"The people that are involved have always been selfless, community-minded people," he says, "and it's easy to get behind people like that."

Brown rides his bike as much as he can, but living through Cincinnati winters can sometimes make it hard. He admits to being a fair-weather friend of bikes.

"If I keep talking you're just going to be mad at me," he finishes.

Other musicians playing at the MoBo party offer different perspectives. Local singer/songwriter Matt Shelton looks forward to what this organization will do for the neighborhood and the world at large.

"With an inevitable gas crisis looming closer on the horizon than most people are willing to accept, I am sure that bicycle co-ops like this one will become an increasingly important part of communities everywhere," Shelton says. "Bikes might be considered an old-fashioned mode of transportation, but I believe organizations like this are among the most forward-thinking around."

MOBO BICYCLE CO-OP ( hosts a benefit show at Off the Avenue Studios (1546 Knowlton Ave., Northside) this Saturday at 7:30 p.m., featuring Make A Circus, Matt Shelton, SKYBEAST, Peter Adams and the Nocturnal Collective and The Dandybeards.