A 'Point of Pride

2009 MidPoint Music Festival persevered and thrived despite the rain

QUICK LINKS: Brian Baker's MidPoint coverage from Thursday, Friday and Saturday; C.A. MacConnell's coverage from Thursday, Friday and Saturday; multimedia shows from Thursday, Friday and Saturday; photo galleries from Thursday, Friday and Saturday; a report on Thursday's "flash dance" on Fountain Square and Deke Dickerson at the Southgate House; CityBeat's MidPoint Central.

[Pictured: Erika Wennerstrom at Heartless Bastards' show Friday at Grammer's. Photo by Sean Hughes.]

Several years ago, in an interview with CityBeat, MidPoint Music Festival founders Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian were asked what their biggest fear was concerning the upcoming fest. Unequivocally, they both answered the same way: Rain, they made clear, was MidPoint’s kryptonite.

Now in its eighth year (and run by CityBeat for the second year), MidPoint 2009 faced rain each of its three nights. But, in a testament to how much the festival’s reputation has grown since its inception, attendance hardly seemed impacted by the grey, wet weather. Even on the Thursday opening night (traditionally the “slow” night of the event), a steady drizzle didn’t stop local and regional music fans from packing the clubs, tents and makeshift venues.

Thursday's light rain was sort of like a giant “mist-tent” at a large, hot summer outdoor fest. Friday and Saturday’s intermittent downpours were more like instant showers; still, the masses came out, staying dry by hopping into the Scion shuttles, which taxied fans to all the venues, with Grammer’s giant tent stage being the furthest north and the Mainstay Rock Bar the furthest south (with the exception of Newport’s Southgate House, which didn’t have shuttle service).

Two of the other big storylines from the three-day weekend were even more downbeat. The first was downright tragic.

Chicago “Chamber Pop” band The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir was involved in a serious highway accident on the way to its MPMF show Thursday at the Contemporary Arts Center. Locals The Seedy Seeds, playing to a packed room in the slot right before SYGC's, said a few words about the accident during their set (and played a little longer, to the disappointment of no one) and the news hit the media in the band’s hometown and all across music sites on the Internet.

The band's van blew a tire on I-65 in Indiana and reportedly rolled over several times. Every member had to go to the hospital — three were treated and released (mostly for head trauma and broken bones), and Mark Yoshizumi reportedly suffered serious head trauma and internal injuries (he was airlifted to Chicago for surgery and at last report was still in serious condition). Mary Ralph is thought to have suffered a broken pelvis and Elia Einhorn had a large gash in his head stitched up.

(Anyone interested in helping the band members out with what are sure to be costly medical bills — not to mention the loss of all of their equipment — the band's label has set up a site for donations through bloodshotrecords.com.)

The other sour note of the fest occurred Saturday night, when participating venue Cadillac Ranch (also a participant last year) was unhappy with the opening band and the plug was pulled on all MPMF performers for the night. The club’s management cited a drop in bar sales as the main reason for the pull-out.

But MidPoint again proved its resilience as all of the bands canceled at Cadillac Ranch were quickly rescheduled at other venues. Brooklyn-based Indie Rock foursome In Cadeo seemed to have a blast during its rescheduled set at the Inner Peace Center, playing for a small but very enthusiastic crowd. Singer/guitarist Jared Scott drove the band with an excitable, energized glee, despite the fact that he had literally just returned from some time overseas in Istanbul. Jet lag and all, In Cadeo embodied the “all in this together” spirit of MPMF.

A "flash dance" broke out Thursday on Fountain Square between MPMF acts, rewarding those who braved the rain. Photo by Cameron Knight.

But MidPoint wasn’t entirely about that spirit — or controversy, tragedy or weather issues — it was about the music. And thousands of music lovers got more than a small dose of great music from around the world.

Social media was also a big storyline this year. Screens throughout the fest featured text messages from fans and bands sent from all over the event with updates and reports on shows (and the occasional obscene remarks). And Facebook and Twitter buzzed about the festival all three days.

My favorite thing about MidPoint is that is gives me an opportunity to check out some local bands that I've long been meaning to see yet haven’t had a chance. Cincinnati’s Charlie Hustle — named, for you kids out there, after Reds great Pete Rose’s nickname (pre-banishment) — was my favorite unexpected local treat this year. With some wild, creative rhythms and a big guitar sound with shades of The Afghan Whigs and Placebo, the band’s opening night show at The Subway was an overall highlight.

Wussy played to a packed house Saturday at Know Theatre. Photo by Sean Hughes.

MidPoint is also a good chance to check out a lot of venues downtown and in Over-the-Rhine that don’t regularly host music but probably should. There is a wealth of cool spots in our city’s center that go largely underused. The aforementioned Subway is a great Rock club waiting to happen (dark, gritty, etc.), while Know Theatre, Javier’s Restaurant, Madonna’s, Grammer’s and even the Inner Peace Center (among other spaces) would make a good start to a revitalized, thriving downtown music scene. Bands and musicians: Call the club’s owners, make your pitch (mention how well MPMF worked for other bands) and get to work building something special in the city’s core.

There seemed to be a better overall sense of diversity to the bookings at this year’s MPMF. Although still heavy on Indie and Pop Rock, other genres were well-represented and, best of all, there were also plenty of bands that seemed to defy easy categorization.

On Thursday night, the ghost of Frank Zappa seemed to hover over the festival. I caught a series of bands that let their freak flags fly, pumping out some deliciously creative and eccentric sounds. Aficionado was an eight-member octopus of a band that never seemed to stop moving and whose songs never seemed to stop shifting as they mixed Yes-like Prog with Modern Rock, Hard Rock, Punk and Pop, falling into the freak-scene league of bands like Mr. Bungle or Cincy’s own Foxy Shazam.

At The Segway Room — a tiny retail space that sells those odd stand-up scooters you see cops riding a lot these days — Wisconsin’s The Daredevil Christopher Wright put on an amazing display of sparse Twee, kind of like Belle & Sebastian turned inside out. The songs hovered and the 50 or so people crammed into the small space ate it up. Another Wisconsin band (is Wisconsin the new Seattle/Chapel Hill/whatever musical hot spot?), John the Savage, blasted out some rousing Chamber Punk, sounding like Tom Waits jamming with The Clash and Man Man.

Some of the better-attended shows were at two new MPMF venues, Grammer’s and the Contemporary Arts Center. The giant circus tent in the Grammer’s parking lot was practically full all weekend, as headliners like Jason Isbell and The Heartless Bastards left everyone satiated. Electro Indie Pop band Chairlift (which has a song in an iPhone commercial apparently) played a strong set that was about to wrap up when Saturday’s torrential rain burst hit. Being the last band of the night, the group decided to play an extended encore instead of sending fans out into the rain. The “above and beyond” move was fervently received by the audience.

Chairlift kept everyone dry and happy under the Grammer's tent Saturday. Photo by Emily Maxwell.

The CAC — which hosted the Lite Brite festival, a mini independent film and music event that was worked into MPMF this year after several years at the Southgate House — was also basically overflowing with people each of the three nights. Electro Folk poppers The Seedy Seeds had one of the best crowds of the fest on Thursday, turning the dark theater into a sweaty disco. Saturday, French/Finnish Electronic band The Do also had the crowd transfixed with its inventive spin of Indie Pop. The film portion of Lite Brite (with flicks shown in the CAC’s lobby) seemed hit or miss. Only a few people at a time grabbed seats and watched the shorts and indie features.

The Blue Wisp Jazz Club also seemed especially packed throughout the event. At Friday’s “All Night Party” showcase — celebrating the new music collective in town — it almost felt like people were stacked on top of each other to the ceiling as bands like Detroit’s sizzling Garage group Magic Shop and Cincinnati’s blazing Roots/Post Punk/Indie faves The Sundresses offered face-melting sets. Toronto's God Made Me Funky closed MPMF to a packed house Saturday.

God Made Me Funky Saturday at the Blue Wisp, and MidPoint made me tired. Photo by Kurt Strecker.

The communal spirit of the event was on display during the Saturday afternoon industry panel discussions, as musicians playing the fest hob-knobbed with each other. With more practical panels than in MidPoints past, including topics like new distribution methods and local scene building, the attendees seemed a lot more engaged. Chicago/Cincy label datawaslost and Indiana’s Standard Recording Company — both of which hosted well-attended showcases — threw late afternoon/early evening parties that also showed the sense of community MidPoint fosters.

Every year MidPoint seems to get better, and given the overwhelming success this past weekend — on every level — MPMF10 is looking to be a beast of an event. By the fest’s 10th anniversary, don’t be shocked if musicians across the country start saying, “South by South who?”

Find complete coverage of the 2009 MIDPOINT MUSIC FESTIVAL (including daily reviews and hundreds of photos) here.

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