2007: Odes to Joy

The Stories: MusicNOW, Scribble Jam, MidPoint and CEAs, issues of April 4, Aug. 8, Sept. 26 & Nov. 14, 2007

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One of our favorite words at CityBeat is “emerging,” probably second only to “alternative.” Third place goes to “fuck.”

We love writing about emerging music, arts, food, political and social scenes in Greater Cincinnati — it’s sort of the whole point of CityBeat. We’ve seen a lot of scenes emerge over the past 20 years, none more amazing than what local musicians have crafted.

We could have highlighted any of the past 20 years as a music-centric period, but 2007 was especially noteworthy.

Native son Bryce Dessner, who formed The National with his brother and other ex-Cincinnatians, staged his second MusicNOW festival in April, showcasing Chamber Rock musicians from around the world. Writer Brian Baker interviewed Dessner about why he chose to keep the event in Cincinnati rather than hold it in his new hometown, New York City, and previewed performances by Sufjan Stevens, Dessner’s Clogs side project, Iceland’s Amiina string quartet and others.

Scribble Jam was considerably more established, as 2007 would be the 11th annual version of what was billed as America’s Largest Hip Hop Festival. Weekend performances featured veteran MCs Jaz-O and Wise Intelligent, whom writer Midred Fallen interviewed in CityBeat, as well as a host of side shows: breakdancing, beatbox and DJ contests; graffiti art exhibitions; and even a closing barbecue picnic.

MidPoint was established as well, although co-founders Bill Donabedian and Sean Rhiney faced a host of issues as they prepared for their sixth annual event in September: fewer venues in Over-the-Rhine, lack of sponsorship funds, an all-volunteer staff and a rainy forecast. They pushed ahead with new ideas, including pre-parties with national acts and music business panels and a mini-recording studio at the Contemporary Arts Center. CityBeat published detailed descriptions of all 240 acts.

The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards celebrated the music scene for the 11th year in November, offering nominees in 19 categories. Bluesman H-Bomb Ferguson, who had died a year earlier, was to be inducted into the CEA Hall of Fame, and writer Brian Baker interviewed his widow, bandmates and music friends to tell the pianist’s long, strange story.

Excerpt:

“ ‘The whole thing is as much about the artist as it is about the audience for me,’ Bryce Dessner says about MusicNOW. ‘There’s a lot of collaboration working with different artists, so there’s a chance that they can take something away from it that they might not take away from the humdrum of a tour.’ ”

“ ‘I’m saying to the mainstream MC, the gangsta, the thug, the baller, the player, he don’t have to be soft to say something socially or politically relevant,’ Wise Intelligent says about his new album. ‘He don’t have to be soft to read a book.’ ”

“ ‘It’s like getting married and bringing along 16 kids to the marriage,’ Sean Rhiney says to downplay suggestions about moving MidPoint away from struggling Over-the-Rhine to a more stable part of town. ‘Bill and I are the single spouse and bring along a lot of baggage.’ ”

“ ‘When we went to England, they treated him like Elvis Presley,’ says Lance Boyd, guitarist in H-Bomb Ferguson’s last band. ‘He was signing autographs, and, because I was with him, they were asking me for autographs. It was sad that he’d come back to Cincinnati and he was just another band.’ ”

Today:

Three of the four festivals profiled in 2007 are still going strong.

Dessner continues to surprise and challenge audiences at MusicNOW — this past year’s collaboration with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra featured two world premiere compositions. The 10th annual festival is scheduled for March 13-15.

This fall’s MidPoint was the festival’s best ever in terms of attendance and weather. It’s firmly re-established in Over-the-Rhine, using Washington Park as its main stage, 12th Street as the MidPoint Midway and two new stages at the Christian Moerlein brewhouse. Run by CityBeat since 2008, the 14th annual MPMF returns next September.

The CEA nomination process starts in early December with public voting and music critics’ input. Winners will be celebrated at the 18th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards bash in January.

Unfortunately, Scribble Jam pulled the plug after its 2008 festival. Supporters opened a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year to raise funds to resurrect Scribble Jam but fell far short of their goal. Hey, there’s always next year.

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