Locals Only: : Cincinnati Goes Down

Bands and other music-minded folks help spread the Cincy gospel at this year's South By Southwest music conference

Mar 26, 2003 at 2:06 pm
Doug Trapp

Thee Shams

This was not a banner year for Cincinnati musicians at South By Southwest, the four-day festival (March 12-16) in Austin, Texas. Only two bands — Spindle and Thee Shams — made the trip, half as many as last year. But a couple of self-proclaimed music nuts did think of a new way to raise the profile of Cincinnati's music scene.

Many SXSW bands suffer from venue mismatch, but cock-rocking Spindle looked at home in Austin's Hard Rock Café. Singer Grant Arnow even drew applause when he mentioned the band's home city.

"We've been around the world," Arnow said. "We've learned how to dance."

Then he launched into a series of swaggering moves Mick Jagger would have been proud of. Bass player Chris Rebholz's T-shirt summed it up: "Our Rock Will Fuck You." Spindle's very early set — you can't get any earlier at SXSW than 8 p.m. on Wednesday, the opening day of the music side of the event — wasn't an advantage, but the few dozen people who were there seemed to appreciate their opening to a night of Hard Rock acts.

On a somewhat more subdued note, Thee Shams played the Iron Cactus, another fishbowl-like venue across the street from their fishbowl-like SXSW venue last year. However, they netted a better time slot than Spindle — 11 p.m. on Saturday. They also seemed more energized this time with the presence of band co-founder and lead guitarist Adam Wesley, who couldn't make it to SXSW last year.

Wesley bounced around the foot-tall stage, standing so close to the edge that he nearly bonked a fan with his guitar. Singer/guitarist Zach Gabbard, the other co-founder, even moved around a bit and took a few risks, such as briefly using a bow to elicit some odd noises from his guitar. A little of that goes a long way.

I had to wonder: Has three years of SXSW gigs helped the band?

"I'm sure it does," Wesley said. "A lot of people hear us who've never heard of us." Gabbard felt the same about it, although neither one sounded 100 percent convinced. But it's probably better than not playing.

Tara O'Donnell, a local promoter/publicist with the new Goes To 11 Promotions and for the local, like-minded MidPoint Music Festival, also journeyed to SXSW. O'Donnell was networking for Goes to 11, but she picked up many "good tidbits" for MidPoint, according to MPMF co-founder Sean Rhiney. MidPoint, which was originally to be named Mid By Midwest (nixed following legal threats), is slated for late September this year, following last year's successful inaugural event.

"Though MPMF will continue to grow, keeping it on a smaller scale, with very selective, very high standards for panelists and bands, will be how it earns prominence in the music industry circuit," O'Donnell said upon her return from Austin. "One difficulty with SXSW is that it is easy to get lost in the crowd. Panelists are swarmed with people vying for attention the moment the seminars are over. The intimacy of MidPoint allows for very real, very effective music industry networking."

There's no shortage of unflattering national press about Cincinnati — especially concerning the arts — but live music nut Jeremiah Evans says the city's musical reputation isn't that bad.

Evans, an estimator for Impact Graphics, and buddy Charlie Padgett, a Barefoot Advertising employee, came down for SXSW with two goals in mind: see as many bands as possible and give the good bands a crash course on playing in Cincinnati.

They printed 150 fold-out business cards with contact information for Cincinnati clubs, WOXY-FM, CityBeat and other vital outlets in an effort to bring bands to Cincinnati. Evans thought of the cards, and Padgett designed them.

"It went great. Everybody really responded well," said Evans, who gave cards to about 30 bands he talked to personally. It turned out to be a great way to meet people, he said.

On the return trip, Evans shared a plane with Wendy Case of Detroit's The Paybacks, so he chatted her up and gave her a card. Case said she wanted to play Cincinnati and that she "loved" the place, according to Evans.

That's a phrase I wouldn't mind hearing more often.

Before SXSW, Evans dropped a few of the cards off at CityBeat, so I handed a couple of them to my favorite SXSW acts, including the Trachtenburg Family Slide Slow Players and the Yuppie Pricks. Here's hoping the word spreads. I had to agree with Evans; the cards went over well.

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