Friday, March 12, 2004

Cicadas to be toast of town with parties

Maggie Downs

Every once in a while, something comes along to positively change a city's image forever.

In our case, it's a plague.

Brood X cicadas rear their ugly heads every 17 years. Last time around, we swatted them away, protected our firstborn and prayed the river wouldn't run red with blood.

This time, however, the city isn't taking the pests lightly. The Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce is launching a war on the little buggers.

Their weapon? Cicada happy hours.

No, cicadas won't drink free. The events are actually billed as "Cicada Escape Zones," an idea concocted last year by YPCincy, the chamber's network to promote the area for young professionals.

The theory is this: Since people won't be able to go outside without encountering the noisy, darting bugs, YPCincy figures our young professionals should take cover every Thursday in local establishments, May 20 and 27, June 3, 10, 17 and 24.

"It's finding the silver lining in the dark cloud of cicadas," explained Melinda Canino of the chamber.

We will be armed with T-shirts, cocktail napkins and other assorted merchandise bearing a SuperCicada logo.

If that doesn't work, cicada-themed cocktails will help soothe our troubled souls.

OK, people. This is honestly one of the more bizarre things Cincinnati has produced - even more peculiar than a mayor-turned-talk-show-host.

However, this idea might actually produce something worthwhile.

"I was at first really skeptical," says Sid D'Souza, 25, who is on the chamber board of trustees. "But as they started putting all the pieces together, I realized it's an ingenious idea.

"The smartest way to approach it is to stay ahead of the curve."

That's because the five billion cicadas will make national news whether we like it or not. So now the headlines can read, "Cincy parties down, ignores cicadas," instead of, "Shock! Horror! Insects!"

"Someone who might have said, 'Cincinnati's gross, there are all these bugs,' will now say, 'Cincinnati is fun,' " D'Souza says.

The hope is that the more we start viewing this place as a fun, lighthearted town, the more talent we can keep. The effort is necessary - Ohio lost more people between the ages of 15 and 44 than any other state during the past three years, the U.S. Census Bureau reported this week.

Perhaps the best facet of this idea is the CD compilation that will feature four local acts - Buckra, Jake Speed and the Freddies, Abiyah with DJ DQ and the Walker Project. And they will all croon about bugs.

You see, Bill Donabedian, 36, project manager for the CD, has this idea.

"Original local music is the soundtrack of our city and an asset to be leveraged," says the president and co-founder of the MidPoint Music Festival.

Donabedian is confident Cicada Mania will bring a more positive focus to our city, our nightlife, our musical gems.

"I don't see too many cities who take an initiative like this," he says. "I'm just encouraged to see that we're finding a way to get local music involved in things."

The only thing YPCincy is banking on now is the cicadas themselves.

"We hope they actually show up," D'Souza says.

I can't wait to see what we come up with when the plague of frogs hits.


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