Six Cincinnati Music Fests to Appeal to Listeners of All Genres, Attention Spans and Interests in Camping

The sounds of summer

Jun 5, 2018 at 3:14 pm
click to enlarge Warped Tour - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
Warped Tour

A roundup of Cincinnati summer music festivals in 2018 looks a lot different than one from 10 years ago. A decade ago, outdoor music events were a sign that summertime was upon us, something you’d long for in the cold season — like Putz’s Creamy Whip ice cream cones. But they’re becoming less characteristic of summer, with festival season now beginning not long after the final chill of winter (like this year’s Homecoming festival) and bleeding into fall (like the long-running MidPoint Music Festival).

There are also many more music festivals around Cincinnati, and it’s only partially due to the huge uptick in major fests nationwide — a trend to which larger events like Bunbury and the new Bellwether festival are certainly connected. A pair of this summer’s indoor festivals — No Response and the first-time Overcast fest — are the result of local music lovers of very specific genres (Experimental sounds and Hip Hop, respectively) filling a niche in Greater Cincinnati that intense music fans wanted to see filled.

Elsewhere, the legacy of the ’90s traveling music festival is represented by a longtimer saying farewell (Warped Tour’s last jaunt) and a newcomer just getting started (the Americana-filled Outlaw Music Festival). Rounding things out is the granddaddy of all Cincinnati music festivals, now fittingly called the Cincinnati Music Festival, which would have been a part of a summer music festival roundup not only 10 years ago, but also five decades ago.

No Response Festival

June 21-22 • Woodward Theater

Cincinnati’s annual No Response Festival returns in June and once again features some big names and influential artists from the Experimental music world.

Last year, the event (founded by longtime experimental arts promoters Jon Lorenz and John Rich) brought to Cincinnati influential creators like Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) and Japanese Noise pioneers Hijokaidan.

For this year’s festival at Over-the-Rhine’s Woodward Theater, Kim Gordon and Bill Nace’s Body/Head (Gordon’s primary musical outlet since the dissolution of Sonic Youth in 2011) will headline opening night on June 21. Gordon and Nace are readying a new Body/Head album for release on Matador Records in July. Gordon is also reportedly working on her first solo album.

Joining Body/Head at No Response on June 21 is Ikue Mori, drummer for early No Wave group DNA who went on to do innovative work with drum machines, electronics and samples, along the way collaborating with artists like John Zorn, Mike Patton, Kim Gordon and many others. L.A. duo Joe & Joe and Circuit des Yeux’s Haley Fohr round out that night’s lineup.

On June 22, No Response is headlined by Keiji Haino, the longtime Japanese sound sculptor noted for his inventive work in Drone, Noise and other boundless styles. Joining Haino is avant-garde collective To Live and Shave in L.A., Noise/Industrial artist Robert Turman and composer and multimedia collagist Olivia Block. Visit for tickets and more info.

Outlaw Music Festival

June 22 • Riverbend Music Center

The Willie Nelson-headlined Outlaw Music Festival Tour began two years ago as a one-off event in Scranton, Pa. featuring Nelson, Neil Young, Sheryl Crow and others. It became a “tour” in 2017 and included the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Church and The Avett Brothers. The tour returns this year for a nine-city run that includes a Cincinnati stop.

For the local date of this year’s Outlaw Music Festival, Nelson is joined by modern Folk, Americana and Country favorites like The Head and the Heart, Old Crow Medicine Show and Sturgill Simpson, all of whom could (and do) pack theaters on their own merit. Packaged together and with Willie topping the bill, the Outlaw shows seem a safe bet to sell out. Visit for tickets and more info.

Vans Warped Tour

July 19 • Riverbend Music Center

The Vans Warped Tour stood tall for nearly a quarter of a century, as every other big “traveling music festival” (Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair, H.O.R.D.E., OzFest, etc.) either reconfigured to become “destination” fests or collapsed completely. With low-cost tickets and an egalitarian philosophy that de-emphasized the power and prowess typically allotted a festival headliner, Warped Tour remained an anomaly on the summer concert scene, thrilling generations of young music fans (and, certainly, a few older ones). And with its mix of Pop Punk, Metal, Hip Hop, Hardcore and various other styles, it has also served as a breeding ground for some of the biggest names in music — Paramore, blink-182, No Doubt, Katy Perry, Green Day and Eminem all cut their teeth on the Warped circuit. After this year’s tour, that will come to an end. Founder Kevin Lyman announced last fall that 2018 would be the final summer Warped would travel coast to coast (leaving open the possibility of it sticking around in some form going forward).

When Warped returns to Riverbend, a regular stop over the past 24 years, the lineup will include Story Untold, The Amity Affliction, The Interrupters, Bowling For Soup, Less Than Jake, Broadside, Tonight Alive, The Maine, Twiztid, Mayday Parade, Unearth, Motionless In White, We The Kings, Palaye Royale, 3OH!3, Every Time I Die, Real Friends, Reel Big Fish, Four Year Strong and Silverstein, among many others. Visit for tickets and more info.

Cincinnati Music Festival

July 26-28 • Paul Brown Stadium

Founded in 1962 by Dino Santangelo and legendary Jazz promoter George Wein as the all-Jazz Ohio Valley Jazz Festival, Cincinnati’s popular “Jazz Fest” has gone through a lot of changes in its 50-plus-year history. It has moved locations from the original Carthage Fairgrounds to Crosley Field and then Riverfront Stadium before shifting to its current home at the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium. Before claiming the Cincinnati Music Festival name a few years ago, it had undergone numerous name changes over the years, largely reflecting sponsorships, like Ohio Valley Kool Jazz Festival, Coors Light Riverfront Stadium Festival and the Macy’s Music Festival. 

Though early on it began to feature a mix of Jazz and R&B — for example, 1972’s event included everyone from Ike & Tina Turner, The Staple Singers and B.B. King to Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderley and Nina Simone — Jazz eventually took a backseat to Soul and Funk. Still, to this day, it’s most commonly referred to as simply “Jazz Fest.”

This year, Cincinnati Music Festival’s lineup is especially strong. After an opening night that features MC Lyte and DJ Jazzy Jeff, the fest presents the kind of performers that have become the event’s bread and butter, with legacy acts Boyz II Men, Charlie Wilson (of The Gap Band), After 7 and Xscape. Day 2 includes fest favorites like The O’Jays and Keith Sweat, as well as Hip Hop/Neo Soul pals The Roots, Common and Jill Scott. Cincinnati’s own Bootsy Collins also performs on the fest’s second day. Visit for tickets and more info.

Bellwether Music Festival

Aug. 10-11 • Renaissance Park (Waynesville, Ohio)

click to enlarge The Flaming Lips headline the Bellweather Music Festival - Photo: George Salisbury
Photo: George Salisbury
The Flaming Lips headline the Bellweather Music Festival

Our region is getting a new music festival this summer, and this one has a twist — it’s an Alternative Rock/Pop fest that encourages camping in the great outdoors (à la Bonnaroo). The Bellwether fest is slated for Aug. 10-11 at the home of the Ohio Renaissance Festival in Waynesville, about 40 miles north of Cincinnati in Warren County. The location and camping amenities (various camping packages are available, which eliminates the need to leave the grounds for a hotel after the first day of music) should help Bellwether draw from Columbus and other cities throughout the region.

The event’s Facebook page describes Bellwether Music Festival as a “two-day, two-stage alternative rock music festival with camping located near Caesars Creek State Park in Ohio.” The event is the latest endeavor of Bill Donabedian, who is an irrefutable legend of Cincinnati’s festival scene, having founded two of the city’s bigger music events — MidPoint Music Festival and Bunbury Music Festival — over the past two decades.

The inaugural Bellwether fest features some pretty big AltRock headliners, including The Flaming Lips and MGMT (which both have performed at Bunbury), as well as pioneers of the genre like Echo & the Bunnymen and Psychedelic Furs and strong-drawing bands like Dr. Dog, Whitney and Local Natives. Visit for tickets and more info.

Overcast Hip Hop Festival

Aug. 31-Sept. 1 • Urban Artifact

Beginning in the mid-’90s, Cincinnati’s Scribble Jam grew to become a marquee event for indie and underground Hip Hop lovers. And not just among local fans: the fest attained iconic status within underground Hip Hop circles far and wide, attracting massive crowds every year with its blend of established and up-and-coming performers, its various “battles” and a focus on other forms of Hip Hop, like graffiti and dance. Several Scribble performers went on to have successful careers, including Atmosphere, Lyrics Born, MURS, Brother Ali and Eminem (who competed in — but ultimately lost — one of the event’s famed Emcee Battles), but the festival itself was the draw. 

At the dawn of our current decade, that beloved event ceased to be. While it will never be duplicated completely, the spirit of Scribble Jam will live on in the Overcast Hip Hop Festival, which debuts this summer at Northside brewery/venue Urban Artifact and features a dynamic array of artists who represent the music’s progressive and sometimes experimental side.

One of the top-of-the-poster performers at Overcast is Cincinnati Hip Hop legend Mr. Dibbs, who formed the DJ crew 1200 Hobos in the early ’90s and went on to work with artists like Atmosphere and El-P. Oh yeah: Dibbs was also a co-founder of Scribble Jam. Along with Eyenine and Dope KNife (a Georgia MC signed to Strange Famous Records, the label founded by Scribble vet Sage Francis), Dibbs is joined at the top of the Overcast poster by another performer whose roots wrap around the base of the Scribble Jam family tree — Columbus, Ohio’s Blueprint. 

The rest of the inaugural Overcast lineup is heavy on local Hip Hop artists. Greater Cincinnati performers include Raised X Wolves, Haskell, Trademark Aaron, Sons of Silverton, Eugenius, K. Savage, Watusi Tribe, Audley, Devin Burgess, Evolve and Triiibe, among many others. Visit for tickets and more info