Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

MidPoint Music Festival once again raised the bar

Sep 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm
click to enlarge Lydia Loveless at Know Theater
Lydia Loveless at Know Theater

Last week there was a confluence of milestone events and anniversaries that all seemed loosely interrelated. R.E.M., one of the “godfathers” of Alternative music, announced its breakup. Nirvanamania re-swept the nation as the press and fans celebrated the 20th anniversary of an album that helped shove Alternative music further into the mainstream. And the 10th MidPoint Music Festival, Cincinnati’s celebration of imaginative music makers from across the globe, experienced its most successful year yet, seriously upgrading the Alternative music festival’s profile in the music world.

Even just on a local level, MPMF’s progress was apparent even if you didn’t make the fest. Cincinnati’s television news broadcasters were reporting on MPMF.11 without mangling the festival’s name or subtly making a “Whatever the hell that is” face while reporting on it.

MidPoint hasn’t reached R.E.M. or Nirvana status, of course, but early in the day Friday, my friend relayed a story that shows just how far local awareness has come. When an eager, friendly bank teller asked her if she had big plans for the weekend, she mentioned MidPoint, which resulted in a blank stare. But the instant the teller next to him heard the words “MidPoint Music Festival,” she perked up and began excitingly talking about the bands she was hoping to see over the weekend.

MPMF’s record-setting 10th festival might not have made the event a household name, but half the tellers at your local bank know about it now. In 2002, you’d have hit up a lot of banks to find just one.

MidPoint’s 2011 installment had a delightfully psychedelic edge. The word I’ve heard most about the MPMF.11 experience is “packed,” but a close second is “surreal.”

Those who drove down Central Parkway on the festival’s opening Thursday night got a glimpse of the trippiness right away as the street was decked out in colorful crotchet work, creatively wrapped around the trees and utility polls down the center island. Though not an official commission by MidPoint, it was a good example of MPMF inspiring creativity — the arts group The Bombshell’s Yarn timed the “yarn bomb” to the festival’s start.

From the bizarre yarn decorations and the new, equally eccentric MidPoint Midway to the day-glo colors of the Vitaminwater Room (The Hanke Building on Main, dressed up by the beverage maker for a string of events) and many acts that veered into psychedelic sonics, MidPoint 2011 often felt like a lively scene out of some lost Dr. Seuss book.

Not so fun but curiously coincidental fact: Last weekend also marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel. If there is a heaven, the good doctor was no doubt looking down approvingly.

Many of MidPoint’s new features were big hits and added a lot to the festival’s appeal. The aforementioned Midway created a cool, carnival-like atmosphere on 12th Street between Vine and Walnut streets, featuring local food vendors and lots of other playful distractions. With ArtWorks at the helm, several artists and local organizations took part in the box truck carnival, converting large moving trucks into their own little worlds. Those who climbed aboard were treated to everything from a concert-poster art show and mini-film festival to an actual play written for the occasion and a two-hole putt-putt course. Others indulged in the skate park truck, gliding up and down the ramps built onto the side of the vehicle. The Midway was a hotbed of action throughout MPMF.11.

Another new feature, the “Biore Strip,” was just off the Midway (and used to get a running start by some skateboarders). The Strip included the stages at Know Theater and ArtWorks, which were programmed to feature female performers and bands with a strong female presence. A nice tie-in, though with artists like Kaki King, Hunter Valentine, Mates of State, Vanity Theft and many other great acts with XX chromosomal makeup spread throughout the festival, it seemed little more than that.

The School for Creative and Performing Arts turned out to be a fantastic new venue, hosting packed showcases in its large Corbett Theater and smaller Mayerson Theater. The acoustics in both rooms were brilliant, the best place to actually listen to an MPMF performer, while the hospitality was also top-notch (no creepy bouncers or security guards checking IDs). The early start times and all-ages door policy (no overly drunk dudes taking their shirts off and yelling “Freebird!”) made for a peaceful, relaxed atmosphere, though powerhouse MPMFers like The Seedy Seeds and Toro Y Moi had much of their audiences standing and grooving along from start to finish.

The venues for MPMF.11 were all much more centrally located this year, with the vast majority housed in Over-the-Rhine — a small handful were a stone’s throw away in downtown proper — bringing more people back to the area that, thanks in part to media coverage, has a reputation for being a “bad neighborhood.” It’s been building for a while, but it’s safe to say that OTR is officially back as one of Cincinnati’s best, most vibrant parts of town. MPMF was the perfect time to show that off.

As it has since the second year of the festival in 2003, the MidPoint Music Festival once again topped itself. Bigger? Check. Better? Check.

Bigger and better is great news for the festival, but it has also raised the bar to daunting new levels. As the final notes echoed in the crisp autumn air, I was basking in the MPMF.11 afterglow wondering, “What’s next?”

This year’s MPMF featured some of the festival’s biggest acts yet and it also featured more “at capacity” shows than ever before (Cut Copy, Booker T. Jones and Deerhoof were just some of the blockbuster draws). On Friday and Saturday night, it was commonplace to see long lines form outside of venues, as fans waited for people to leave so a few more could squeeze in.

Some rolled with the punches and, if they didn’t feel like waiting in line, simply found another act to take a chance on. With the record-high quality of artists performing, chances were good that one could find something at least worthwhile, if not mind-blowing.

Other MPMFers vented their frustrations on Twitter and elsewhere online, with many wondering if there were any shows that weren’t at capacity. Some who used the Internet as a complaint box even accused MidPoint of poor planning (on par with not arriving early to see a band you know is going to be a big draw) because the venues were too small.

At this rate, MPMF.12 will have to held on the riverfront and use the venues down there. Mike Brown, mind if MPMF borrows your football stadium for a few days next fall?

For complete coverage of the 2011 MIDPOINT MUSIC FESTIVAL, start with CityBeat's music blog . Don't forget to check out nearly 1,000 photos from MPMF Thursday, Friday and Saturday. And find out more about who played where at CityBeat's MidPoint Central.