They're All Big

By all accounts, last weekend was pretty special in Cincinnati. Five hundred thousand people again showed up for Oktoberfest, Chicago Cubs fans overran Great American Ball Park, the Ohio Classic fo

Sep 22, 2004 at 2:06 pm

By all accounts, last weekend was pretty special in Cincinnati. Five hundred thousand people again showed up for Oktoberfest, Chicago Cubs fans overran Great American Ball Park, the Ohio Classic football weekend returned to town and the Bengals hosted a nationally televised game.

Crowds congregated and intermingled downtown under the kind of gorgeous September weather we should bottle and sell. Peace, love and understanding ruled.

No drunk people drove their cars into Oktoberfest crowds. The Cubs bullpen didn't attack Reds fans along the right field line. There were no confrontations between police and Grambling and Bethune-Cookman supporters. An inexperienced Bengals quarterback didn't implode on national TV. And both Kerry and Bush stickers were handed out with no fistfights. Success all around.

Plus someone gave the weekend a brand name: Queen City Fusion. Word is all the events pumped $6 zillion into the local economy, enabling a property tax rollback, an extra wing on the convention center and elimination of all panhandling.

Ever eager to give a civic bandwagon that final push, The Enquirer dubbed it "Big Weekend." Which, of course, it was.

But I couldn't help wonder how many of those thousands of happy people last weekend were mentally, if not literally, crossing "Visit Downtown Cincinnati in 2004" off their To Do lists. Or how many view a trip downtown with the kind of vicarious thrill and otherworldly weirdness they get driving out to Brown County to see the Amish.

And I wondered how many of them would come back downtown this weekend, which certainly will be just as exciting and entertaining. Or the next. Or the one after that.

MidPoint Music Festival, this weekend's central event, is Oktoberfest for the creative class. And by that I mean no disrespect to Oktoberfest, which has grown over the years to offer something for just about everyone.

Now in its third year, MidPoint is poised for greatness and longevity. I imagine Oktoberfest struggled a bit early on before the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce steered it toward becoming "the world's second largest Oktoberfest after Munich's." It's a machine now, something all of us take pride in whether we actually go or not.

MidPoint has the same potential. Started by two local guys who play in bands when they're not working day jobs, helped along by their friends in Cincinnati's music community and nurtured by a few righteous corporate citizens, MPMF is bigger than ever this year — more than 250 bands on 18 stages in 15 clubs over three nights, plus panel discussions, workshops and a trade show.

I couldn't be more proud of MPMF co-founders Bill Donabedian and Sean Rhiney, who get the idea Richard Florida pushes in his "creative class" theories about how good local music scenes help attract young people, who then make those towns "cool" and drive their economies. And they get the idea that change won't come to Cincinnati unless individuals get off their asses and make it happen.

They've seen what South By Southwest did for Austin's music scene, which contributes mightily to Austin's buzz as a cool place to live. But they haven't tried to copy SXSW here.

Instead, Donabedian and Rhiney have positioned MidPoint as a showcase for unsigned bands instead of famous ones, a niche — and a geographic reference point — that offers plenty of room for growth. Twenty years from now, will the MidPoint machine be cranking out press releases touting "the country's top music festival for new talent?"

The machine certainly will grow, provided two things happen. One, a corporate angel along the lines of the Chamber of Commerce needs to teach MPMF smart growth. And two, people need to come downtown in droves to see the bands.

What will it take for you to get your friends and relatives in the suburbs to venture back downtown two weekends in a row? Need a catchy brand name? Let's call it Queen City Fission.

Need a lot of other activities to make a long day of it? How about Final Friday in Over-the-Rhine, Enjoy the Arts' 20/20 Festival, a new exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center, opening ceremonies for the Reds Hall of Fame, the Bengals-Ravens game at Paul Brown Stadium, Chicago at the Aronoff Center, great concerts at the Southgate House, Symphony concerts at Music Hall and critically acclaimed plays at Playhouse in the Park, Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival? Or venture a bit and hit the Celtic Festival at Coney Island, StreetScapes street painting festival in Clifton, a new exhibition at The Mockbee in Brighton, Know Theatre Tribe and a new art show at The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and the Great Outdoor Weekend throughout the area.

When's the last time you shopped at Findlay Market? Have you seen the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center yet? Want to eat at Mullane's one last time?

Perceptions about downtown are all over the map. Some people doggedly consider the area unsafe, a reason given for why Mullane's has lost business and is closing. Some think downtown is a place just for one-time events and special occasions. Some actually live there ... and like it!

In downtown's case, the reality is better than the perception. It's not heaven, but it's not Iowa either.

Every weekend can be a big one if you give it a try.