n the future, 2012 will likely go down as a watershed year for the city of Cincinnati. We’ve been a city beaten down by outside perceptions that, at one point, weren’t too far off base. Today, they’re almost all misconceptions.
In terms of entertainment, we’ve so far had an incredible 2012, with our usually maligned (and usually rightfully) sports teams surprising everyone — the Reds are going into the playoffs this weekend as strong contenders for a World Series appearance, while even the Bengals have been shocking sports fans with their improbable string of victories.
Those good sports vibes, once the main/only subject of interest for most Cincinnatians looking for fun, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg this year, though. This summer, we’ve watched the once ghost-town Downtown area thrive, teeming with people when, at one point, it seemed like the neighborhood closed for business at 5 p.m. Concerts on Fountain Square drew throngs of music fans to the city’s core, as did the World Choir Games.
Then there’s Downtown’s once surly neighbor, Over-the-Rhine. The neighborhood came into its own in 2012, buoyed by the amazing transformation of Washington Park, the thriving businesses of the Gateway District and the return of the Main Street Entertainment District as an actual “entertainment district.”
This new energy was on full display during the 11th annual MidPoint Music Festival, which last week drew thousands of music lovers from across the region to an area that, just a few years ago, many people were certain would only lead to them getting shot in the face if they ventured in.
MidPoint (which is owned and operated by CityBeat’s events branch) has embraced Over-the-Rhine as its main headquarters, with a dozen venues hosting musicians from all over the world. Washington Park participated for the first time this year and offered “earlier” shows, allowing MPMFers not only a richer, but a lengthier experience (more akin to “all-day” events like Lollapalooza, only running later and with indoor stages). On opening day, Sept. 27, the park started filling up at 5 p.m. as eclectic Indianapolis Indie Pop band The Bonesetters played an engaging set to a gradually building audience.
Washington Park was an amazing addition to MPMF. Like the aforementioned Lollapalooza, it gave the fest a “big field” element, but the audiences were way more relaxed (if a little overly chatty at times). The stage was set up in front of the striking Music Hall, which provided a beautiful setting, as did the surrounding classic architecture. It also hosted some of the biggest bands at the fest — Grizzly Bear drew a mass of humanity for its Friday night show, a trippy, magnetic set drawn from the band’s entire discography, including the brand new Shields, which the band just found out days earlier had entered the Billboard album chart at No. 7. Andrew Bird was similarly mesmerizing and quirky as Thursday’s Washington Park headliner, his dynamic, orchestral Indie Folk Chamber Pop so dazzling, one Twitterer reported seeing a Cincinnati Police officer providing security for the concert excitedly purchasing one of Bird’s CDs afterwards.
The other MPMF MVP venue was The Emery Theatre, another beautiful Over-the-Rhine landmark being revitalized. The theater was packed for performances by the likes of wildly experimental rockers Dirty Projectors and Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, who played the Emery in his early years, about half a century ago.
The “new” Blue Wisp (at its new location on Race Street) also shined throughout the fest, hosting an eclectic lineup that ran from Hip Hop and R&B to Rock and Jazz. On Friday night, stellar Hip Hop artist F.Stokes had a small but fervent crowd in the palms of his hands, performing much of his set on the floor in the middle of the audience.
Performing in the audience and obliterating the line between fan and artist seemed to be a running theme at MPMF.12, as several acts ventured into the crowds to perform. At the Electro Dance parties put on by The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt and Canada’s multimedia mad scientist Rich Aucoin at Below Zero, it was sometimes hard to pick out the performer because they spent so much time pressed up against the elated fans in “the pit,” shooting confetti and covering the dancers with lighted parachutes. Both acts’ beat-heavy sounds were enthralling, but their interactive live shows made them more like an experience.
The MidPoint Midway — a blocked-off stretch of 12th Street between Vine and Main streets — was abuzz all weekend, helped by the relocation of lineups from the Hanke Building’s Vitaminwater Room to the large stage on the Midway at Vine. Top-shelf performers like Funk/Soul masters J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound electrified the big crowd that gathered (much more than what could have fit in the originally scheduled venue). The Midway stage was also free and open to all ages, which probably helped the draw.
The Midway Box Truck Carnival and other attractions (solid local food vendors and Powerhouse’s Poster Expo/Arcade, which gave visitors a chance to browse the impressive concert poster collection, then play some old school video games) seemed to be big draws in and of themselves. It seemed like plenty of folks camped out there most of the weekend.
The handful of venues in the Downtown area seemed to do fairly well, despite being “off the beaten path.” But it was surprising how few ventured to the Contemporary Arts Center. Even potentially big draws like Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab on Thursday drew somewhat meager crowds. Most acts that had smaller audiences made the best of the situation, but the CAC acts I saw seemed a little bummed by the lack of listeners. Making MPMF even more walkable (though many seemed to gradually take advantage of the free bike rentals) and keeping all venues in Over-the-Rhine seems like a no-brainer; but the fest would lose some great venues if Downtown was left out.
With MidPoint 2012, Cincinnati’s momentum was given another big push. And with the FotoFocus showcase just starting to get rolling, you’ll have even more reason to explore Cincinnati and its remarkable arts scene. And even more reasons to love our town.
Visit the music blog at CITYBEAT.COM for complete, in-depth coverage and photos of all three days of the MIDPOINT MUSIC FESTIVAL.