On Sept. 25, the MidPoint Music Festival closed out its successful third year, living up to the promise of "bigger and better." The festival — which featured over 250 unsigned artists from Greater Cincinnati and all over the continent — drew around 40,000 music fans to Downtown's Main Street entertainment district (up from 25,000 last year). Clubs were often packed to capacity on Friday and Saturday nights and, while Thursday's crowds were smaller, MPMF co-founder Sean Rhiney says he was very encouraged that Thursday's attendance was up 20 percent from last year.
"I'm really tired and emotional," Rhiney says on the Monday after the fest. "I think I now understand post-partum depression. We all birthed a big, beautiful, bouncing baby this weekend. It was healthy, smiling and crying, making a beautiful ruckus. That's all I still hear ringing in my ears."
Besides the cavalcade of local and national musical acts on the stages at night, MPMF also featured a two-day industry conference at the Crowne Plaza hotel, where several eager-to-learn artists listened intently and asked questions of the experienced panelists. Art Alexakis of the multi-platinum Rock band Everclear gave a loose, amusing keynote address where he played a few songs (including the requested chestnut, "This Land Is Your Land") and chatted with the audience about both the craft and business side of music.
"The music industry as we know it is gone," Alexakis said in his speech. "The major label system is done. They are a part of the corporatization of America, (which) doesn't have room for objective culture." Alexakis complimented MPMF for its dedication to unsigned bands and musicians, adding that, while other fests like South By Southwest in Austin (where Everclear was "discovered") used to focus on the independent artist, they have now become mostly a promotional tool for labels. Alexakis was spotted out a lot each night — checking out bands like The Defrost Star, talking with members of The Ass Ponys on the street and making out with a woman in front of the BarrelHouse.
"What an amazing guy," Rhiney says about Alexakis. "No pretension, and (he had) a great interest in everything we were doing. He was accessible, friendly and very passionate about our little city, a great spokesperson for independent artists and our conference."
Like the music world in general, there were a lot of mediocre bands to wade through to find the good stuff. Last-minute cancellations, plus dealing with a makeshift venue (1120), kept organizers on their toes. And "crybabies" (as Rhiney calls them) complaining about things like time slots did their best to undermine the event. But Rhiney says his strong volunteer staff was indispensable in smoothing over the rough spots.
"There's always a million things that can and sometimes do go wrong ... most of which no one ever hears about," he says. "That's because we have an amazing team of problem solvers. (Volunteers) Susan Vitello, Doug Staab and Tara O'Donnell not only did their respective jobs, but handled everything so deftly — sound, staging, volunteer issues — that sometimes Bill (Donabedian, the fest's other founder) and I never have to hear about it. That goes for the 170-plus volunteers and sound engineers who answered questions and kept us all apprised of any issues, but addressed many of the little things that arise without a complaint."
Many music fans and bar owners were awe-struck by the attendance, some commenting that the Main Street area was the liveliest it's been in years. While cruising the venues, Sam Womelsdorf of the Cincy band Culture Queer said, "It doesn't even feel like Cincinnati." But MidPoint is what Cincinnati should feel like — culturally exciting and bustling with original music and the fans who love it. The many who enjoyed the fest would no doubt respond to some sort of monthly MidPoint-like showcase at the same clubs. Tie it in with the Final Friday art gallery hop and watch as Cincinnati's downtown area starts to resemble a real city's nightlife once again. And not just once a year. Let's hope the success MidPoint brought to the area and the attention it has given to local artists will extend year round.
Artist registration for next year's MPMF starts Feb. 1. Keep abreast of MidPoint activities at mpmf.com. For extensive post-MidPoint coverage, go to citybeat.com.