Cover Story: Orchestrating the Eruption

Adam Rosing and Cinypunk Fest Strive To Highlight Cincinnati's Dynamic Musical Community

Mar 21, 2007 at 2:06 pm
J.D. Cutter

Cincypunk Fest Comes of Age and its All About the Power and Glory of Rock & Roll

Try to pick him out of a crowd. Just try.

It's a more difficult task than it might seem.

He's an enigma. A wallflower. If you've frequented local music shows and feel decently integrated within the Cincinnati scene, there's probably a good chance you've run across him.

Yet you probably wouldn't really know it. And guess what? He likes it that way just fine.

He's Adam Rosing, a self-proclaimed recluse of sorts and orchestrator of one of the city's premiere local music showcases.

He's quick to heave all of the attention and praise onto the acts he books and even quicker to find his solace in the shadows lingering behind the scenes as he spies on the product he's helped build.

That product is Cincypunk Fest, which over the past few years has become a local marvel teeming with several of Cincinnati's most talented, dynamic bands. Although he might have trouble maintaining eye contact in a conversation, Rosing is not shy in pouring praise on the city's music scene.

The recent success of Cincypunk Fest only helps affirm that his dedication and attention to a burgeoning juggernaut of local bands is well warranted.

"I've always believed that Cincinnati's music scene is underrated and doesn't receive enough credit," Rosing says. "I love this place. It's my home. I want to do as much as I can to support its musical development because I see both the scene's potential and the camaraderie it promotes."

Rosing, 24, lauds the close-knit community of bands as he describes each night of the upcoming Cincypunk Fest VI. Even while I applaud him for constructing stellar lineups of musical acts over a four-day period, he instinctively brushes off the compliments in order to focus his attention on the music he promotes.

"I mean, look at Saturday night for instance," Rosing comments as he turns his laptop toward me. "The Turnbull ACs, Arms Exploding, Alone at 3am, Death in Graceland, Banderas, Junior Revolution and Seven Orchids — all of those bands rule. That'll be a crazy night."

(Full disclosure: Besides being a regular CityBeat contributing writer, I'm the bassist for Death in Graceland.)

As he continues to nervously fidget with his computer and detail the event's other evenings, Rosing's timid demeanor begins to transform into unbridled excitement. The swift flashes of enthusiasm only underscore the enjoyment he receives from the organization and manipulation of the event.

While he'd rather hand off the praise to anyone else so that he can avoid having the spotlight blind him, Cincypunk Fest is his baby.

The backstory
"I have no musical influences," Rosing explains. "In fourth grade they brought in instruments to start a middle school band or something. All I remember is picking up a saxophone, playing it and being told by my teacher never to pick up a musical instrument again. So I figured that I should probably focus my efforts on other things."

Although Rosing, a life-long resident of Northern Kentucky, might not have been encouraged to take the stage and pursue music, he does understand the cascading sensations that a thriving music scene can evoke from both a crowd and a community. Recollecting his earliest encounters with the local scene, he particularly describes the intimate setting constructed by both the bands and the venues.

"I remember going to the old (all-ages Punk Rock venue) Void on Short Vine a long time ago," Rosing says. "It was practically a basement, but I was just drawn in by the closeness of the environment. I refuse to go to arena shows because I want to be 5 feet from the bands. The passion and energy are so much more accessible that way. I want to recreate that kind of atmosphere with the shows I promote."

Since graduating from Northern Kentucky University in May 2006 with a double major in journalism and history, Rosing has been succeeding in recreating that kind of intimate musical atmosphere. Aside from doing freelance work for the Community Recorder newspapers since August 2005 and maintaining aspirations for a career in writing or editing, his focus has been on promoting not only local shows but the city in general.

While he reluctantly admits that his career plans are "up in the air," he makes sure to note that his fervor for the Cincinnati music scene has been at an all-time high since he began working on the Cincypunk Web site (now at during his freshman year at NKU. The site is a frequently updated mix of local music news, show listings and well-written reviews and interviews spotlighting area bands as well as national artists.

"A friend of mine named Zack Zimmerman started Cincypunk, but I took over the responsibilities after the second fest because of a conflict of interests," Rosing says. "Cincypunk Fest III in early 2005 was the first show I ever booked, and I've felt hooked into the scene ever since. I know I'm not the most outgoing person, but booking shows has helped me meet people, and a lot of my close friends are a direct result of my involvement with both Cincypunk Fest and the Web site."

Right after discussing the friendships he's built through Cincypunk, however, Rosing must feel that he's divulged too much information about himself. He again begins to redirect questions back to the particulars of the fest.

The atmosphere of the interview doesn't sit well with him. He perches on a nervous edge throughout the course of our discussion because he's simply not used to being the focal point. He'd much rather be talking about the event's lineups and its overall cause.

"I actually kind of enjoy the anonymity of it all," Rosing admits. "For some reason even hearing and seeing my name thrown around in public irks me. I know that sounds strange, but I'd rather go by a moniker or something. Working behind the scenes suits me better."

While the quirky uneasiness of Rosing's personality might not attract a much notoriety and press, he's succeeded in building and maintaining what he describes as "community, friends and the DIY ethics that Punk Rock was built on."

Still, Cincypunk Fest is in the process of becoming a kind of local phenomenon, and it's going to be harder and harder for the altruistic Rosing to deflect the praise. The success of each subsequent fest will soon begin to devour the shadows shrouding him, and he might be forced to step up and take some of the credit he rightfully deserves.

The event
"Over the past couple of years, the fest has kind of been blowing up," Rosing says. "We definitely try and cater to everyone, which includes allowing fans of all ages to attend and experience a kind of party atmosphere with some of the city's most talented acts."

Cincypunk Fest was launched in April 2003. The first fest consisted of 10 bands in one night at the now-defunct venue known as The Void (at its subesquent site in Northside). In August 2003, the night ballooned into an all-out adventure consisting of three stages and more than 40 bands.

More than 800 people attended the first two fests, and when Rosing took over the management and organizational responsibilities prior to Cincypunk Fest III the event was already a popular entity on the Cincinnati music scene.

"Cincypunk Fest III was a kind of baptism for me," Rosing says. "We only had 15 bands play, which was a significant decrease from (Cincypunk Fest II), but it was just a nerve-wracking, exhilarating night. (Local Punk heroes) East Arcadia reunited for the show, which was awesome, and we ended up raising around $2,500."

One of the primary differences from the previous events was that Rosing donated all of the money raised from the Cincypunk Fest III to Lighthouse Youth Services. He says he believes in using the funds to support an array of charitable organizations in and around the community; neither Rosing nor the bands make a dime from the door.

"I have a vested interest in supporting local charities," Rosing says. "I want to help out charities that are helping people in my own community. With this year's fest, we will definitely pass the $10,000 mark for overall donations since the fest has been in existence. I'm extremely proud of that."

This year Cincypunk Fest VI will focus its efforts in supporting Camp Ernst, a youth development camp located in Burlington, Ky. Stuart MacKenzie, lead singer/guitarist with Burlington's The Lions Rampant (who will perform at this year's Wednesday kickoff), works at Camp Ernst as a program coordinator and strongly touts its "life-changing" abilities.

"Each summer, the YMCA Camp Ernst scholarship program provides over 250 low-income children with a residential camp experience where they can grow in spirit, mind, body and friendship," MacKenzie says. "One week at the camp can make a difference in kids' lives by building their self-esteem and exposing them to positive role models, ideas and activities."

Along with Camp Ernst and Lighthouse Youth Services, Cincypunk has made charitable donations to both the Mental Health Association and Women's Crisis Center of Northern Kentucky. Because of that, many musical acts are quick to jump at the opportunity to take part in Cincypunk Fest.

And so the enormity of last year's fest was unparalleled, consisting of five nights and 68 bands performing on two separate stages at The Poison Room downtown. The magnitude of the event, however, only affirms that Rosing isn't working alone to affect the Cincinnati music scene.

"Last year may have been a bit of overkill. I think I got a little ahead of myself," Rosing quickly admits with a slight smirk. "Given that, I don't think I've ever had any band confront me with a problem. I just feel like a more concentrated effort this year will yield even better results."

Beginning with the kickoff evening sponsored by Chipotle (yeah, that's right, free burritos!) Wednesday at The Poison Room, Cincypunk Fest VI promises to be a vibrant, eclectic reflection of the local music without any preservatives or filler. The four-day spectacle will be peppered with both seasoned and fresh Punk, Rock and Indie acts such as Thistle, Northern Southern, The Read, Crybaby, Kill City, Arcarsenal (last show ever!), Caterpillar Tracks and The Seedy Seeds just to name a few.

The fest also includes a few out-of-towners, including Japan's The Spunks, whose frequent tour stops in Cincinnati have made them something of a "local" sensation. (See box on page 19 for the full schedule.)

"I try to choose bands that are involved in the scene and take an active part in its development," Rosing says of his choices. "Most of the bands are pretty familiar with one another, and that only helps emphasize the kind of musical family/community we're trying to promote."

When describing the upcoming weekend of festivities, Rosing's cautious demeanor again begins to melt away. You can tell he's feeling the event's impending assortment of thrills. He's as excited and restless as an expectant father.

The plan
Having already entrenched himself within the Greater Cincinnati scene, Rosing aspires to remain here and have a continued effect on both the nurturing and development of local music. The vehicle with which he wishes to accomplish such an arduous task, though, remains up in the air.

"I know that professionally I should try and pursue something that pertains to my degree," Rosing says. "In actuality, though, my dream is to open up my own venue. My ideal venue would be a kind of replicate of one of the Northside venues like The Comet or The (Northside) Tavern — a smaller place with free admittance where you pay the bands from the bar. I just think Northside has created a solid niche in the city that really works well in promoting local music."

If Rosing's 10-year plan does come to fruition, he'll likely generate an even greater amount of positive feedback from the city's growing music scene. His coyness has never prevented him from demonstrating a keen business sense when it comes to both organizing and promoting shows.

The positive metamorphosis of Cincypunk Fest from a fledgling mini-showcase to a colossal eruption for the senses has helped heighten Rosing's devotion to the event. He has no plans of slaying the beast that's rightfully defined his worth as an essential pillar in the city's scene.

"I wouldn't mind eventually passing the Web site onto a younger kid who's passionate," Rosing admits. "But I don't see myself giving up on Cincypunk Fest anytime soon. We're actually probably going to condense it down and have it take place just once a year, which I think will make it even more effective and powerful. I mean, how could I even stop doing it? I love it too much."

Rosing then slightly breaks character. He almost appears to be at ease, shedding his nervous exterior for just a moment.

It's kind of peculiar to see someone so entranced with Cincinnati and its music scene, because too many are quick to dismiss both as being average and trite. And while Rosing's restrained jubilation over his event is admirable, it also makes me want to push him toward the center of the stage for once so he can politely prove the critics wrong.

That, however, would be completely out of character.

"I try not to worry about all the naysayers who think this city is dead," Rosing responds. "I'll just keep on doing what I enjoy, and in the process hopefully I can show that the Cincinnati music scene is a mix full of innovative and creative gems. That's really what the fest is all about."

Amen. I say give that man a well-deserved pat on the back next time you see him.

Well, that is if you can find him.

Just look around for a minute, though. He's there.

Cincypunk Fest Schedule

The Poison Stage (downstairs)

8:40 p.m. Gill Green

9:20 p.m. The Seedy Seeds

10:10 p.m. Atomic Johnny

10:55 p.m. The Lions Rampant

11:40 p.m. Covington

12:25 a.m. Kicks of Passion


The Poison Stage (downstairs)

8:30 p.m. Thee Alliance

9:15 p.m. Down Hill Luke

10 p.m. Hats Off

10:45 p.m. Lourds

11:45 p.m. The Starkweathers

12:30 a.m. Straw Boss

1:15 a.m. Duppy a' Jamba

The Toxic Stage (upstairs)

8:45 p.m. The FiveNineties

9:30 p.m. Margin of Error

10:15 p.m. Team Stray

11 p.m. The Epidemic

12 a.m. Eighty Sixed

12:45 a.m. Cohorts and Accomplices


The Poison Stage (downstairs)

7 p.m. Good Morning Gladys

7:45 p.m. Sayonara Tiger

8:30 p.m. Crybaby

9:15 p.m. Caterpillar Tracks

10 p.m. Kill City

10:45 p.m. The Spunks

11:45 p.m. Thistle

12:30 a.m. Sweet Ray Laurel

1:15 a.m. 500 Miles to Memphis

The Toxic Stage (upstairs)

7:15 p.m. The Catalinas

8 p.m. Periscopes

8:45 p.m. The Frankl Project

9:30 p.m. Lost Hands Found Fingers

10:15 p.m. A Voice Like Rhetoric

11 p.m. ArcArsenal

12 a.m. Knife the Symphony

12:45 a.m. Eatafetus Trio


The Poison Stage (downstairs)

7 p.m. Defaced Humanity

7:45 p.m. The Read

8:30 p.m. The Pinstripes

9:15 p.m. Northern Southern

10 p.m. Turnbull ACs

10:45 p.m. Ampline

11:30 p.m. Alone at 3am

12:30 a.m. Shotgun on Blonde

1:15 a.m. To Be Announced

The Toxic Stage (upstairs)

7:15 p.m. The Proles

8 p.m. Corruption of Blood

8:45 p.m. Arms Exploding

9:30 p.m. Silver Bridge Disaster

10:15 p.m. Junior Revolution

11 p.m. Death in Graceland

12 a.m. Seven Orchids

12:45 a.m. Banderas

All performances are at The Poison Room, 301 W. Fifth St., Downtown. Tickets are $3 for Wednesday and $6 for each of the other days; a four-day pass is $15. See updates at

CINCYPUNK FEST ( runs Wednesday through Saturday at The Poison Room, 301 W. Fifth St., Downtown.