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Friday night, after spending the evening riding car shuttles up and down Main Street for four hours, I returned home and searched around online for some MidPoint Music Festival feedback.
I’d just been blown away by the turnout and quality of music I’d seen and wanted to make sure I wasn’t being biased because I happen to work for CityBeat, which has taken over MidPoint for this, its seventh year. After checking some music message boards and discovering that a lot of people were having the same experience, I came across an article in the Northern Kentucky University student newspaper about a young local singer/songwriter named Jasmine Poole, who has been playing around town for the past several months as Wonky Tonk.
In the article, Poole enthused about the festival and being chosen to perform. In a video clip, Poole’s enthusiasm was even clearer.
“To be able to say that I played a festival with those people,” Poole says in the video, with genuine wide-eyed awe, “… I can die now.”
It’s the kind of enthusiasm that, as organizers of the event, we dreamt about when putting it together. (Poole, by the way, played a great acoustic set at Mexican restaurant Javier’s to a very receptive audience, despite the early start time.) While CityBeat added signed, more widely known artists this year, the festival was still mostly about new,unsigned acts eager to participate in, learn from and have fun at MidPoint.
Local and regional music fans also seemed to have an amazing time at the event; thousands flocked downtown and to Newport over the fest’s three days. While the Southgate House hosted big-shot shows by Robert Pollard and Mates of State, the festival was mostly based in downtown Cincinnati, a part of town that has seen many ups and downs, in terms of entertainment, over the past seven or so years. By concentrating on venues a little further in to town, on and around Main Street, the obligatory panhandling feeding frenzy of past MidPoints was largely eliminated.
Scion, one of the event’s biggest sponsors, provided a fleet of “shuttles” that allowed fest-goers to quickly dart from one end of the festival to the other, making it easier for fans to catch more acts. The shuttles — inspired by the proposal for a streetcar system in Cincinnati — were a huge hit.
The quality of music at this year’s MidPoint also seemed to be at an all-time high. Part of that was the addition of nationally-known acts, but many of the independent, unsigned artists — from both Cincinnati and out of town — provided highlights.
While Robert Pollard debuted his new band, Boston Spaceships, at the Southgate House Thursday, a five-piece Indie Rock band from Cleveland called Scrimshaw was crammed into a corner at downtown restaurant Buddakhan’s Classic Rock Café, playing some intense, visceral Afghan Whigs-inspired sounds that sucked in a few of the small but faithful crowd (including, of course, the obligatory drunk couple stumbling around the front of the “stage” in an effort to “dance”).
This scene repeated itself all weekend: Popular bands drew massive crowds and less popular ones drew well, too (every venue was at or near capacity the whole weekend), bringing their A-games so perhaps they could do the same next year. Not that there weren’t complaints.
Non-U.S. bands like Lonely China Day (from China) and The Mocks (from Mexico) received mixed reactions. On Thursday especially, time slots had to be shifted around due to last-second cancellations, meaning fans were waiting around certain venues for bands that weren’t showing up and other artists had to play earlier, confusing the matter even more.
At The Subway, the amazing Punk Funk trio The Read played a short, blazing set almost an hour early, due to a car wreck on the way to the fest by Columbus’ Blastronauts (they’re OK; their van is totaled). A small crowd saw The Read deliver another typically intense set, but most of their fans showed up at 10 p.m., missing them by about a half hour. Suggestion for next year: sandwich boards outside every venue with the updated schedule posted. Maybe smoke signals?
On Saturday night, Know Theatre grew more and more packed in anticipation of a “secret show” at midnight.
Superb Hip Hop artists Yoshi (Ann Arbor) and God Made Me Funky (Canada) kept the venue hopping. Even Funk legend Bootsy Collins stopped by.
When Radio 4 was announced as the secret band from the stage, there was a mix of “Who?” murmurs and instant recognition. Even those disappointed that the secret wasn’t quite special enough had to admit that Radio 4’s Go-Go/Gang of Four/Clash-like take on Funk and Dance music was a great way to close out the fest. But the highlights definitely outweighed the lowlights.
Without further ado, here’s this year’s edition of the MPMFYs, spotlighting some of the best moments from MidPoint’s seventh year.
Best Immigration Reform Commentary
It was quick and cute, but The Mocks — an Electronic duo featuring a bassist, laptop beats and singer Ely Mock — introduced themselves as “from Mexico,” and then Ely added with a smirk, “We come in peace.” Don’t worry, Ely, you’re always welcome in Cincinnati (Butler County might be a different matter).
Best Pre-Fest Press
Despite some internal worries about being a media outlet trying to get the attention of other media competitors, Cincinnati’s TV, blog and print media were fantastically supportive of the festival. All four local TV networks did coverage and even our fellow weekly paper, Cin Weekly, did a giant spread previewing the event. But the best sign that CityBeat is going in the right direction with MidPoint? Over at the Neus Subjex message boards — the most snotty, Punk Rock message boards in the land — a thread was started that was titled, “MidPoint actually decent.” We have officially arrived (even if someone did humorlessly say that the festival was “like the Mad Frog exploded all over Cincinnati”).
Best Nightlife Juxtaposition
Because of the deficiency of live music venues in downtown Cincinnati, several unexpected clubs took a chance on MidPoint. At the Inner Peace Center, the smell of incense made for some nice aroma therapy throughout the event, while Javier’s provided delicious burrito relief. But at dance club The Lodge and party-bar Cadillac Ranch, the clubs’ regulars made for some bizarre culture clashes. At the Ranch, a bachelorette party (complete with giant inflatable penis) gathered around the club’s mechanical bull while bands from as far away as Israel did their best to ignore the mayhem just a few feet away. Alas, it was all quite peaceful, and both clubs should be commended for supporting the event.
Best Place to Escape
The “black box” theater at the Aronoff Center, as it was often referred to, was properly nicknamed. A small black box with a stage. When the lights went down and artists like Wussy, The Purrs, Why? and Headlights played, the back of the crowd was lost in the darkness. Someone could have been making a hydrogen bomb in the back of that place and no one would have known.
Best Marathon Set
Bob Pollard loves the Southgate House (his favorite venue in the country!) and he always brings the Rock when he plays there. Despite debuting a brand new band, Boston Spaceships, he still managed a two-hour-plus show that lived up to the Guided by Voices legacy (he even played a couple of GBV faves for the faithful at the end). Why this didn’t sell out I’ll never know.
Best Improvised ’80s Cover
Knoxville MPMF vets The Rockwells were impressive at the New Stage Collective on Thursday night. The band — known for their perfect Pop Rock and slaying sense of humor — were setting up their gear when Men at Work’s “Overkill” came over the P.A. One by one, the members started playing along, ending with a full chorus before returning to soundchecking.
Best Touching Moment
The members of Chicago's Oh My God haven't been in Cincinnati since they were involved in a near-fatal car accident last year on the way to a show here at The Gypsy Hut. During their anticipated set Thursday, the feeling of "Ain't it great just to be alive" pervaded the band's fiery performance. At one point, singer Billy O'Neill reached over and grabbed the hand of a super-fan who had been standing close and singing every song. A spine-tingling testament to the healing and uplifting powers of music.
Best Working Title
At Wussy's Saturday night set at the Aronoff Center, the band played a few new songs on their new album (which will be out locally by the end of the year). Singer Chuck Cleaver announced one new song as "CEA, Here We Come," jokingly referencing the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (the band has won several).
Best Kept Secret (Mostly)
Some were in heaven and some were bummed about the "secret show" band being Brooklyn's Radio 4. The secret was kept pretty well (some fun guesses: Gang of Four, MGMT, Does it Offend You, Yeah?) but by Saturday word had spread. There were a few people shocked (for better or worse), but it's hard to keep a secret like that in this crazy cyber age. The secret show will be back next year!
Best Adaptive Band
The U.K.'s Spectrum played Thursday at the Blue Wisp and, knowing the band's connection to Spaceman 3, many were eager for a wall of sound shoegaze set. But the Blue Wisp is a Jazz club and the owners weren't too keen on a loud blast of PsychRock. So Spectrum simply turned it down, turning their trippy soundscapes into trippy little muted Pop songs. Maybe not the best thing for newcomers to the band, but fans truly got a rare experience.
Best Reason to Do This All Again
Where to begin? Let's just say, from my completely unbiased perspective (wink), MidPoint is the best time of the year for music fans. The party will be back in 2009, bigger than ever.