Open Your Ears: A Locals' Guidebook to Greater Cincinnati Music

Whether you’re new to the city or a long-timer who wants to explore new avenues of the Cincinnati music scene, here are some ideal places to start your adventure, as recommended by some of our favorite local aficionados

click to enlarge Open Your Ears: A Locals' Guidebook to Greater Cincinnati Music
Photo: Spencer Imbrock
Does the lead up to the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards have you excited to explore the local music scene, but you don’t know where to start? Or maybe you’re interested in dipping your toes into a new genre, but don’t know who the major players in Greater Cincinnati are? Or maybe you’re new to town and want to learn about some great local venues? No matter the reason, we spoke with eight Cincinnati music experts to get their thoughts and help guide you along the path to all things musically wonderful in the Queen City.

Matt Scheer

Position: Owner/editor-in-chief of Cincinnati Hip Hop magazine DBLCIN

Best Local Venues for Live Music: Some of my greatest memories in live music are at the Madison Theater ( The recent re-opening of Top Cats ( has really put a little more juice into live music in Cincinnati, especially as an ally to the Hip Hop community.

Top Local Acts: Live music in Cincinnati would not be the same without Triiibe ( They perform seemingly every night — and not just in the same spots, they perform pretty much everywhere. There’s nothing like a Triiibe vibe. Several other artists who had a big year include D-Eight (,

click to enlarge Triiibe - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Devin Burgess (, Bla’szé and Oski Isaiah ( I can’t wait to see them get it.

Top Upcoming Local Acts to Keep an Eye On: If you pay attention to the Hip Hop community, Patterns of Chaos ( are impossible to miss, but they still have a lot to show us. Their debut, FREEDOM, followed months of the most energetic and enjoyable Rap sets that the city has to offer. The emcee-beatmaker-cellist trio are young, hungry and wildly talented. You have my attention.

Best Aspect of the Local Music Scene: Cincinnati is a huge small town. The size of our scene may not always work in our favor from a commercial standpoint, but it fosters an outstanding culture of creatives. Having a smaller scene than Atlanta or Chicago really allows everyone to be more accessible. A lot of us actually know each other simply from putting ourselves around music.

What Could Be Done to Improve the Local Music Scene?: Cohesion. That’s not to say we have none, just that we could always use more. The past few years have been the most cohesive that I’ve ever personally experienced, and the results speak for themselves. People are lifting each other up, and as a result we are growing.

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Fan: Start in the live setting. Local artists are sometimes limited in their resources to create at the level they are ultimately capable of. Live performances give them a chance to show you what they can really do, and (it) gives you a chance to be a part of the exchange of energy between the performer and the audience.

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Musician: You have to know how your genre maneuvers. The Hip Hop community has been bringing back open mics lately, which have expressly become a safe space that artists feel comfortable practicing new material. As shallow as it sounds, you also need to participate on social media. Conversations never really end anymore — they just continue online.

Warren Harrison

Position: Composer, producer and keyboard player (solo and with Jess Lamb and The Factory)

click to enlarge Lung - Photo: Natalie Jenkins and Rachelle Caplan
Photo: Natalie Jenkins and Rachelle Caplan
Top Local Acts: Lung ( Two talented humans; drums, cello and voice; raw, emotional power. Kate Wakefield ( of Lung is also a powerhouse as a solo artist. Moira ( Dreamy, electronic music with haunting vocals. Us, Today ( primarily instrumental, their music is diverse, invention and exciting. Triiibe: Positive and uplifting Hip Hop/activist trio whose talents spill into all areas of the city. Each member is true talent in their own right, and they are the perfect example of the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Top Upcoming Local Acts to Keep an Eye On: Anna Applegate ( Stellar singer/songwriter and powerful performer. Patterns of Chaos: Positive Rap music and ambassadors for the misfit kids. Their periodic event “No Cool Kids Allowed” at Revel OTR is always a good time. Elsa Kennedy ( Another great singer/songwriter that will stop you in your tracks.

click to enlarge Elsa Kennedy - Photo: Michael Wilson
Photo: Michael Wilson
Elsa Kennedy
Best Aspect of the Local Music Scene: The collaborative spirit. While there are still pockets of competitive nonsense, I’ve witnessed and been a part of some really strong collaborations and cross-pollinations in this city.

Favorite Local Music Secret: Sunight, Sunday night musical improv at The Comet (

Best Way to Learn About Local Music and Shows: My go-to source is Alessandro Corona’s “Now That’s Cincinnati” daily list on Facebook and Radio Artifact (

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Fan: Walk into MOTR on any given night and see what tickles your fancy. Some of my best audience experiences and band discoveries have happened, for me, this way.

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Musician: Visit one of the open mic nights around the city. MOTR and Urban Artifact ( have regular Tuesday nights and Fries Café's ( is Wednesdays. Even if you don’t want to get up and share, you’ll meet some great performers.

Steve Schmidt

Position: Veteran Jazz pianist

click to enlarge Bromwell's Härth Lounge hosts live Jazz downtown on the weekends - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
Bromwell's Härth Lounge hosts live Jazz downtown on the weekends
Best Local Venues for Live Music: The best Jazz venues are the Härth Lounge (, Caffè Vivace (, Schwartz’s Point (, Dee Felice Café ( and the Palm Court at the Netherland Hilton. These are full-time Jazz. The Northside Tavern ( and The Comet ( also both feature Jazz frequently.

Top Local Acts: My favorite local acts are the Blue Wisp Big Band (; Schmidt is the founding pianist of the legendary Cincinnati Jazz ensemble), The Original Farm League Big Band (, Spherical Agenda (, Dan Karlsberg (, Ricky Nye (, Tickled Pink Electric Trio (, Brian Lovely (, psychodots (, The Graveblankets, The Bluebirds, Us, Today, The Warsaw Falcons ( and The Faux Frenchmen (

Best Aspect of the Local Music Scene: Being from here and growing up in this music scene I didn’t realize at first, but now I know that we have a real historical tradition in Cincinnati of music and working musicians. People

click to enlarge Spherical Agenda - Photo:
Spherical Agenda
who travel more than I do would tell me they were in other cities of comparable or larger size and couldn’t find nearly the quantity or quality of music as they find here. The best thing about our city’s music scene is that there are a lot of places to find live music — of all styles — and a lot of musicians in town, and the best ones are working a lot. And all the players seem to appreciate one another and the city that we’re in.

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Fan: Find out where local music is played and go to these places, spend money and enjoy the music!

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Musician: Go to the places that people play, love the music that you love, introduce yourself to players that you like, be kind, respectful… and don’t be a drag.

Morrella Raleigh

Position: General manager of Newport’s Southgate House Revival

Best Local Venues for Live Music: I’m definitely biased on this one. At the Southgate House Revival (, we have three different sized spaces that allow us to do different types of shows — sweaty and crowded to quiet and seated. Actually, we are very fortunate for the size (of the) city we are (in) to have as many great local venues as we do. Besides us, I would say the Taft Theatre ( is a favorite spot for me. Urban Artifact ( is really doing great things. I really appreciate a venue that can present a consistent and diverse lineup the way they do, not to mention they make great beer and are giving us a much-needed independent radio choice.

click to enlarge The Tillers - Photo: Michael Wilson
Photo: Michael Wilson
The Tillers
Top Local Acts: For me, this question is kind of like asking a mother to name her favorite kid — there are so many and they’re all special in different ways: Calumet (; The Tillers (; 500 Miles to Memphis (; Wilder (; Frontier Folk Nebraska (

Best Aspect of the Local Music Scene: Definitely the way it brings people together. You can see that in the way the bands come together to make great benefits happen when there’s a need. It could be to cover medical bills for an individual to raising money to contribute to the rebuilding of the Rabbit Hash General Store (after a fire). These events have a direct impact on our community.

What Could Be Done to Improve the Local Music Scene?: I think more cross-pollination of bands/artists in different genres. Part of the beauty of our scene is that we have great artists in so many different genres of music, but oftentimes they’re only performing with artists in the same genre. As a music fan, I, of course, have my favorite genres but I enjoy hearing a variety, even within the same show. In addition, I think musicians and fans need to challenge themselves to listen to new things. It’s why I always recommend getting to shows early and staying late. You may be going to see one band you love and get turned on to another band you never would have known about.

click to enlarge Herzog Music - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Herzog Music
Favorite Local Music Secret: Herzog Music ( downtown — it’s a store with records and instruments, but it’s also connected to our City’s musical history which the fine folks there are working to preserve as well as being the last building that‘s still standing where Hank Williams recorded. Candyland Studios ( — Mike Montgomery is a true treasure of our scene, from playing in great bands like Thistle, Ampline and R. Ring to recording some of the city’s finest local bands.

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Fan: This is easy — go to shows! In addition, be willing to pay to see local bands. Most local shows are $10 or less for two to five bands. What can you do that’s more affordable than that? When you’re at the shows, buy the bands’ merch. This is how they pay to record the next record or put gas in the van to go to shows.

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Musician: Open mics are a great way to get your foot in the door and we have a slew of them in town almost every night of the week — Sean Geil hosts one at The Crow’s Nest ( on Tuesday nights. I know that MOTR, The Ludlow Tavern ( and a whole lot of other spots have open mics weekly. Take lessons locally. A lot of our most talented musicians take on students — Travis Talbert, Scott Risner, Joe Macheret, just to name a few. The other way is to go to shows and network. Talk to the musicians playing and the fans in the crowd. As a general rule, people in the Cincinnati music scene — fans and artists — are very friendly and approachable.

Eddy Mullet

Position: Host of Kindred Sanction on ClassX Radio

click to enlarge Dawg Yawp performing at Urban Artifact - Photo: Emerson Swoger
Photo: Emerson Swoger
Dawg Yawp performing at Urban Artifact
Best Local Venues for Live Music: Southgate House Revival offers the most local exposure on a nightly basis. Bogart’s ( their general manager has been a supporter of Cincy artists for years. Woodward Theater ( Great sound, classy venue. Northside Tavern. MOTR, with Gary Shell workin’ the board. Urban Artifact: a cool, intimate room. And I can’t be the only one who misses the (downtown club) Mainstay, right?

Top Local Acts: How much space do you have? So many favorites, but here goes — Lemon Sky (, Arlo McKinley & the Lonesome Sound (, 500 Miles to Memphis, The Yugos (, Joesph (, 90 Proof Twang (, The Skulx (, Lung, Young Heirlooms (, Wussy (, Jess Lamb (, Krystal Peterson & the Queen City Band (…

Top Upcoming Local Acts to Keep an Eye On: Orchards (, Anna Applegate, Triiibe, Oids (, Danny & His Fantasy (, Lauren Eylise, Carriers

click to enlarge Lauren Eylise - Photo: CityBeat Archive
Photo: CityBeat Archive
Lauren Eylise

Best Aspect of the Local Music Scene: Passion and camaraderie. Everyone that I’ve met genuinely cares about and actively works with each other toward the cultivation and continued growth of the local music scene.

What Could Be Done to Improve the Local Music Scene?: When attending or playing a show, stay for all the bands! Not just your friends’ band. Also, bands, if you play early, stay for (at least some of) the other bands and tell your fans to stay as well. The artists playing last were likely there for your set, afford them the same courtesy.

Favorite Local Music Secret: Cincinnative ( in Northside, owned by Aaron Madrigal, vocalist/guitarist in Lemon Sky. The shop sells music and makes apparel for local artists in addition to hosting local and out of town bands on pop-up shows to help artists gain exposure in the area. You never know who will be hanging out or playing at Cincinnative.

Best Way to Learn About Local Music and Shows: CityBeat and Each offer concert calendars that are great tools for artists to submit their upcoming shows and for fans to track the musical happenings in and around the Tri-State area. Brian Baker’s 60 Second Minute Hour (and) Kindred Sanction (on Class X;, the CincyMusic Spotlight with Venomous Valdez ( and Radio Artifact all promote and play local music and discuss upcoming concerts.

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Fan: Go to live shows! Refer to any of the aforementioned concert calendars, throw a dart and enjoy. Not old enough (legally, anyway) to get into a venue? There are plenty of places to go — outdoor venues, house shows, etc. — and many are free. Share your musical discoveries with your friends!

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Musician: Again, go to live shows, play at an open mic, meet the club workers (and) musicians and make friends. Networking is key. One thing about the Cincinnati music scene is everyone is willing to share knowledge, advice and experiences. Introduce yourself, ask, listen, learn and thank them.

Matt Ogden

Position: Founder of local Electronic group Black Signal

Best Local Venues for Live Music: Southgate House Revival, Northside Tavern, MOTR, The Mockbee (, Urban Artifact.

click to enlarge Eugenius - Photo:
Top Local Acts: Relic (, Moira (, Founding Fathers (, Raised X Wolves (, Eugenius (

Top Upcoming Local Acts to Keep an Eye On: Dracula Wolf (, Lashes (

Best Aspect of the Local Music Scene: Community, good people, whole lotta love and a whole lot of support.

What Could Be Done to Improve the Local Music Scene?: The free venue model that many venues use produces a specific type of middle road, widely acceptable music and discourages more challenging genres.

Favorite Local Music Secret: I wouldn’t say it’s a secret, but is a great tool for musicians local and touring.

Best Way to Learn About Local Music and Shows: and any variety of local music groups on social media. Or just follow Alessandro Corona on Facebook.

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Fan: Grab a beer and go to a show!

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Musician: See above, with the caveat that music is only half the job. You have to get out and network!

Will Feiner

Position: Owner of Transplant Productions

Top Local Acts: Listing all the phenomenal local Metal acts would be quite an undertaking, so the following is a

click to enlarge War Curse - Photo:
War Curse
microcosm of what the scene has to offer. These bands are ones with a lot of hype or activity going on recently or in the near future in the Cincinnati Metal scene, no disrespect to all the great bands not listed: Valdrin (, Faithxtractor (, War Curse (, Verment (, Bloodgate (, Winterhymn (, Automaton (, Siegelord (

Top Upcoming Local Acts to Keep an Eye On: There are many great up-and-coming bands in our scene. Here are some of my favorites: Blessed Black (, Trash Knight, Crypt Seeker (, Jeffrey Donger, Nithing (, Casteless (, Hate Icon (, Open Container.

Best Aspect of the Local Music Scene: It’s incredible diversity! Even in a specialized/niche genre such as Metal, none of our local acts are very similar at all in style or composition. This allows for a wide range of creativity, and I truly believe that anyone with any musical preference can find a Metal band they like in this city.

What Could Be Done to Improve the Local Music Scene?: People need to go to shows and buy merch! Getting out of the house on that weeknight or going to the gig instead of the bar on the weekend can mean a huge shift in

click to enlarge Siegelord - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
the support our musicians receive, if we can get people trending this way as a movement. Artists only get funded enough to continue expressing art if you go to the shows and buy their products. This is crucial to the longevity of good local entertainment and encourages artists not to de-value their work.

Favorite Local Music Secret: Massive love and respect to Shake It and Everybody’s as the premier record stores for Metal, but everyone should go check out Torn Light ( sometime in (Bellevue, Ky.). Outstanding owners/employees, new renovations and they have a deep selection of Metal CDs, cassettes and vinyl. Also, Guitar Hero Cincinnati ( is a project put together by Luke Sackenheim, a local audio engineer. You can download and play numerous songs by Cincy artists and bands.

Best Way to Learn About Local Music and Shows:, Now That’s Cincinnati (on Facebook and heard on Radio Artifact), CityBeat, Facebook, The Super Satan Show ( Check out flyers when you see them hanging up on the street or in local businesses. This is one of the biggest ways that gigs can be communicated with the public without paying for expensive advertising online or via radio. Attending shows also will usually alert you to other similar events if you talk to musicians at their merch table or other fans at the event.

Dan McCabe

Position: General manager of Over-the-Rhine’s MOTR Pub and Woodward Theater

click to enlarge The Ophelias - Photo: Katerina Voegtle
Photo: Katerina Voegtle
The Ophelias

Top Upcoming Local Acts to Keep an Eye On: The Ophelias (, Lauren Eylise (, Speaking Suns (, JSPH (, Maria Carrelli (, Turtledoves (, Soften (

Best Aspect of the Local Music Scene: The Cincinnati original thought tradition continues. Our artists create adventurous, pioneering, genre-smashing sounds void of radio influence or industry appeasement.

What Could Be Done to Improve the Local Music Scene?: Our local music scene is Cincinnati’s finest natural resource. The city, industry leaders and arts boosters need to embrace our local music scene and music-making history as a major part of Cincinnati’s heralded arts and cultural output. Local music and our place in Rock & Roll history should be harnessed as an attraction for the new talent our corporations need to grow and compete. When recognized as a valuable resource, efforts to nurture and grow that resource can be achieved.

Best Way to Learn About Local Music and Shows: Go to the show and engage the performers that interest you or follow their social media outlets if feeling meek. Learn what local bands interest them.

Best Way to Enter the Local Music Scene as a Musician: Go to shows. Talk to performers. Cultivate opening gigs through the performers.

Favorite Local Music Secret: That’s the problem… too many secrets.

Nick Grever

Nick Grever has been a contributor for CityBeat since 2011. Nick began writing about the Cincinnati and NKY local music scene in college as a reporter and editor for UC’s student newspaper, The News Record, before making the leap to the big leagues post-graduation. A fan of all things loud and angry, Nick focuses...
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