If you are a regular reader, you know I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. You also know that music is a passion of mine. Midpoint Music Festival is a three-day event in Cincinnati that features ~200 indie rock bands at venues that are walkable in downtown. A three day pass to the event is only 69 dollars. Past artists have included Grizzly Bear and Andrew Bird. This fest is tons of new music for a really low price; it’s my Christmas.
I’ve been to this fest for at least the last 7 years. Before I get into the specifics on the artists that I saw, a word about the over-all experience. This year’s line-up was the deepest and most eclectic that I’ve seen to date. I saw about 30 bands, and not a single one of them were bad. This is a first. At fests like this I usually find hits and misses. I am stunned to say there wasn’t a single miss for me this year. So, the booking this year, really couldn’t have been better. In addition, the sound at the venues excellent, with the exception of Main Event. The sound there was just terrible. With fourteen of the fifteen venues nailing it, I can’t complain. Perfection is tough to achieve. I am crossing my fingers that they weed that venue out for future years. The stand out was The Taft Ballroom. That might be the best sound that I’ve ever heard at this fest.
In years past, the show times ranged between 6pm and 1230am Thursday through Saturday. This year they spread the show times out a bit with day shows at Findlay Market Friday through Sunday and shows starting as early as 1pm on Saturday. I love that they are spreading the music out a bit. Practically, I can see twice the bands with this new arrangement. I loved that, and I hope they keep it up next year. I suspect this move wasn’t intentional. The Cincinnati Symphony opened their season across the street from the Washington Park venue on Saturday night. I think they had to bump the show times up so that the fest noise wouldn’t disrupt the symphony. I hope this happens again next year.
Now then, on to the music. Here’s what my agenda was for Thursday.
5:00 Cincy Brass at Washington Park
5:30 Sidwalk Chalk at MPMF Midway
7:15 Cody ChesnuTT at Washington Park
8:45 Shuggie Otis at Washington Park
8:30 Sohio at Mainstay
9:30 Crystal Bright & the Silver hands at Japp’s
9:30 Fort Shame at Motr
9:30 Kurt Vile at Grammer’s
10:45 N…erves Junior at MOTR
11:15 Dead Gaze at Below Zero
11:30 Baths at Comtemporary Arts Center
12:00 The Thermals at Taft
12:15 Dent May at Below Zero
I basically managed all of that list except Dent May, Dead Gaze, and Nerves Junior. Dead Gaze was late starting, so I had to abandon them to see Baths. I missed Dent May because The Thermals were so excellent, that I couldn’t pull myself away. Nerves Junior had to cancel because they were stuck in a traffic SNAFU due to an animal fat spill on I-71. Yeah, you read that right.
Cincy Brass sounded great, but I haven’t heard them perform poorly yet, so no surprises there. The only unfortunate bit for them was their time slot. Five o’clock on a Thursday just isn’t the best time to get good attendance. Sidewalk Chalk’s music isn’t really my bag, but they sounded great. The bonus was the tap solos that the keyboardists would take at regular intervals. Cody ChesnuTT is an engaging performer fun to watch and great to hear. The only puzzling thing here was the backing vocals. The band was nailing it with their instruments, but their backing vocals were off-key. That took a bit away from the experience, but just a bit. Shuggie Otis and his band were consummate pros. These guys were so tight. The horns were killer. Like Sidewalk Chalk, Shuggie’s music isn’t my bag, but I love a tight performance. I was not disappointed. I only stopped into Sohio for a couple tunes, because I needed to go back uptown for Shuggie. Crystal Bright has an incredible set of pipes. In the age of auto-tuning, live performances have the potential to be disappointing. Crystal’s voice is all real. Fort Shame sounded good, but they didn’t really grab me. Kurt Vile sounded great. Although, something felt empty after hearing Shuggie’s bright horns.
Baths were weird. Weird enough that they get more than a couple sentences. It’s hard to make electronic music compelling to watch live. I can’t get excited about seeing a couple of guys fiddling with tech for an hour. On top of that, I found the singer’s voice off-putting in person. I don’t know what magic happens in the studio (reverb maybe), but it didn’t translate to a live experience. The singer came out looking like he was running a marathon. His shorts were Richard-Simmons short. Musically they nailed it. I loved their albums and will continue to purchase them. I probably won’t pay to see them live again though. If there was a disappointment of the weekend this was it. Of all the bands I listened to in prep for this fest, Baths was my favorite find. And it was the live performance that I liked the least.
The Thermals get a paragraph too. These were my surprise band of the night. I’ve seen so many punk shows. I’ve been to so many Warped Tours before it was Van’s Warped Tour. I’m a little jaded with the punk live show narrative. Moshing. Crowd surfing. Screaming. And often, but not always poor musicianship. The Thermals… They were super tight. There wasn’t a false note. And they were intense in this sweet, earnest way. I wanted to rock with them and give them a hug. I had intended to leave this show a bit early to catch the end of Dent May, but I couldn’t tear myself away. They seemed so genuinely happy that people in Cincinnati would turn up to see them. The drummer ended the show by diving into the crowd. It was sweet, raucous fun.
Friday Recap will come soon!