By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MidPoint Music Festival delivered on all promises. The local and regional talent showcase filled Main Street clubs with live original music and plenty of people to hear it - about 30,000 over three nights. The festival, in its second year, ran smoothly and on schedule, for the most part.
"It's amazing," said Mike Cromer, owner of the BarrelHouse Brewing Co., as he walked up Main on Saturday to check on how the other clubs were doing. "All the bars are packed. This has just been great for the Main Street district. We've got so many people back downtown for the first time in years."
Downtown in spotlight
Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley says he's betting that "at least one-third of these people haven't been down here for two years," referring to the riots of April 2001. "But now they see that they can forget about what happened for two days in 2001 and come down here and enjoy all this great music."
Amy Rice, 36, of Blue Ash, was downtown for her first MidPoint, liked what she saw and plans to come back. "This is great," she said. "It's great to come down here and see so many different bands and so many people all over the streets."
The variety of music in the Tristate - and throughout the Midwest - was on display Thursday through Saturday, as 204 acts on 15 stages in 13 clubs performed everything from bluegrass to hip-hop, punk to funk.
MidPoint's festival atmosphere could be seen all over the street, as several generations of music fans, various members of the music industry and hundreds of musicians filled the sidewalks, moving from club to club.
MOTH fans the flames
The big show Saturday night belonged to local band MOTH, which closed out the main stage at the Cavern. A Who's Who of MidPoint could be seen packed into the club, including organizers Bill Donabedian and Sean Rhiney, Councilman Cranley and members of Buckra, Pike 27, Messerly & Ewing, the Stapletons and other band members.
MOTH didn't disappoint, as frontman Brad Stenz, wearing this year's must-have rock 'n' roll fashion accessory, the trucker's cap, led MOTH though a tight set of punk-edged rock.
But one of the fest's best shows was delivered with less fanfare. Cincinnati singer/songwriter Kim Taylor played a midnight set at Neon's, backed by two of the city's finest musicians and most sensitive accompanists - guitarist Ric Hordinski and drummer Josh Seurkamp. With the narrow bar packed shoulder-to-shoulder, Taylor and company delivered a luminous set of artful folk-pop.
There were outstanding performances in a wide variety of genres and venues Saturday. Marvin Hawkins did a set of funky, contemporary R&B at Shaker's In Town; Canadian power trio Chris Colepaugh & the Cosmic Crew rocked the blues at Mr. Pitiful's, the bearded Colepaugh wielding his red Gibson 335 with old-fashioned guitar heroics.
Messerly & Ewing played a tight set of country rock at the BarrelHouse; the Autumn Blackouts delivered a set of Oasis-influenced rock at the Cavern; Knoxville's (Tenn.) WestSide Daredevils did a fine set of British new-wave inflected power pop at Jefferson Hall. Cincinnati's WorldwidE hit RBC with a funk-rock tornado that had the wooden floors undulating under the weight of the dancing crowd.
L.A. singer/songwriter Clare Muldaur delivered a delicate performance at Kaldi's that blended her high, sweet voice with a quirky collection of songs to create a unique folk-cabaret fusion unlike anything any other singer/songwriter produced. MidPoint co-founder Rhiney led his band, Clabbergirl, through a strong set of high-energy pop-rock.
With no rain, Saturday drew about 15,000. But the rains held off for most of Friday as well, drawing more than 10,000 to MidPoint. Aided by Final Friday in the art galleries, MidPoint packed the clubs early.
"At 9 every venue was alive, and all the bar owners were saying that that just doesn't happen," said MidPoint's Rhiney.
As the night started, the BarrelHouse Brewing Co., a block and a half west of Main, was already packed for the layered, richly textured pop-rock of cari clara, a new group led by ex-Simpleton Eric Diedrichs and featuring former Throneberry leader Jason Arbenz.
Friday also included the acoustic bluegrass of the Genesee Rose String Band at the new Moose on Main as well as the funky "floetry" of rapper Abiyah, who led the crowd at Lava in some positive booty shaking.
There was high energy rock under the tent of the new Wings Pavilion by the Urbana, Ohio, band Small Town Sleeper and a whole herd of alt-country rockers at other clubs. Most of the roots acts could be found Friday at Mr. Pitiful's, which fielded an entire evening of Americana, building energy from Rob Ervin, Collin Herring, Earl, Pike 27 and finally, a full-tilt Stapletons finale.
There were strong shows everywhere. Singer/songwriter Tamara Bedricky played to a capacity Kaldi's crowd that could barely move through the coffeehouse. Jefferson Hall was just as tightly packed for rock band Crosley, featuring MidPoint's Donabedian on drums. His partner Rhiney also got back to the music Friday, playing bass with his band Pike 27.
"It's live here, tonight, definitely," said Main resident Jennifer LeMasters, 26. "I've seen more places open tonight than I've ever seen on Final Friday," said her boyfriend, Matt Wirtz, 25.
Thursday started the fest off slowly, with only 3,000 or so on and around Main. The big buzz on opening night wasn't any of the performers, it was Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, a Chicago Cubs fan in town to throw out the first pitch at Great American Ball Park.
He never showed at MidPoint however; the biggest name Thursday was Justin Jeffre of 98ƒ, who was checking out Buckra at Jefferson Hall. That group was part of a strong opening night that included the alt-folk of Wussy, the high-energy funk of Super Ghetto Porsche, the blues-rock of Sonny Moorman, the sultry folk-pop of Venus Mission and the mutant ska/rock/R&B of Indianapolis' Johnny Socko.
One of the best shows of the night came from Detroit pop-rockers Jettison Red, playing at Plush above Carol's on Main.
Not everything worked, however, and MidPoint remains a work in progress. The no-alcohol, all-ages Wings Pavilion tent next to Neon's was a flop and won't be back in 2004. MidPoint drew a 21-and-older crowd that prefers adult beverages with its music.
But MidPoint definitely will be back next year, and now that it has escaped the sophomore jinx, count on more acts, more venues and more city support for the festival's third year.
"This has reminded a lot of people of what we have - beautiful old buildings, great live music," Cranley said. "It's a lot of fun to come down here."
Catch some of the acts later
If you missed them or want to see them again, here's where you can catch some of the better MidPoint acts:
Abiyah's Flow Tectonics program can be heard weekly on WAIF-FM (88.3) at 1 a.m. Saturday (late Friday).
Anonymous Bosch - Oct. 11, York Street Cafe; Nov. 1, Cavern.
Autumn Blackouts - Oct. 18, York Street Cafe; Oct. 30, Northside Tavern; Nov. 14, Mad Frog
Brian Lovely - 6 p.m. today at Tink's Cafe in Clifton with his Django jazz group the Faux Frenchmen.
Buckra - Friday, Bar Humbug, Covington; Saturday, Clifton Heights Sampler (street festival; 5 p.m.) with other MidPoint acts including T. Lips & Combs and Ruby Vileos; Saturday, Cavern; Oct. 25, Northside Tavern.
Crosley - Nov. 29 York Street Cafe.
Kim Taylor - Oct. 10, York Street Cafe; Nov. 8 Mad Frog with MidPoint band the Sundresses.
Messerly & Ewing - Oct. 10, Northside Tavern; Oct. 18, Tall Stacks.
Pike 27 - Nov. 14, York Street Cafe; Nov. 26, Madison Theater.
Promenade - Oct. 11, CD release party at the Cavern.
Sonny Moorman Group - Oct.10-11, Miamitown Lounge, Miamitown; Oct. 19, Tall Stacks.
Spindle - Oct. 31, Mad Frog.
Stapletons - Saturday, Jack Quinn's; Oct. 15, 20th Century; Oct. 17, Tall Stacks.
Wojo - Oct. 26, a CD release party at York Street Cafe.
Wussy - Oct. 9, Comet; Oct. 23, Northside Tavern.
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