Monday, September 27, 2004

MidPoint reaches high point


Music festival's numbers explode in third year

By C.E. Hanifin / Enquirer staff writer

In 2002, two local musicians sought to shake up Cincinnati by launching MidPoint Music Festival.

midpoint
Mallory Smith(center) laughs and listens to Fizzgig at The Cavern.
(The Enquirer/Mike Simons)
This year, Bill Donabedian and Sean Rhiney's celebration of independent music rocked this town in an unprecedented way, with a record number of bands on the roster, venues on the map and people who turned out to see it all.

At least 40,000 music fans showed up, Donabedian says.

"It's like when an earthquake happens: There's an epicenter, then it ripples out from there," he says. "We finally hit that big number on the Richter scale this year."

MidPoint has secured its place on Cincinnati's cultural scene, Donabedian says.

"I feel like we finally captured the imagination and the excitement of our city," he says. "Now they will accept us as being part of our fabric, as events like Oktoberfest and Riverfest are."

The festival, which ran Wednesday through Saturday, featured panel discussions led by industry professionals, a trade show and three nights of showcases in the Main Street club district.

Here are some highlights:

Total number of attendees: The final numbers aren't in yet, Donabedian says, but club receipts indicate that the event reached its goal of 40,000 people. Last year's festival drew 25,000 people; 2002's attendance was 10,000.

Total number of bands: 251. About 40 percent were from the area, and the others came from all over the country, including Chicago, New York and Seattle.

Total number of stages: 18 at 15 venues, including several that hosted live music just for MidPoint.

Total number of volunteers: About 180, and they did everything from work the venue's doors to run sound for the stages.

Getting the word out, Part 1: Right at noon on Wednesday, a bright orange truck looped around Fountain Square as the local rock band Buckra played a plugged-in set from its bed.

Since the organizers didn't have a permit, Rhiney, who is a lawyer by day, drove the vehicle so he could head off any potential legal problems. The ride went smoothly.

The root of it: You name the genre - experimental rock, hip-hop, nu metal, even fruit pop, as the members of local band Culture Queer have dubbed their music - it was represented at MidPoint.

The purveyors of roots rock (or Americana, or alt-country, or y'allternative, take your pick of terms) served up some of the strongest performances. Heavy hitters the Ass Ponys packed the Barrelhouse on Saturday, and gave fans a preview of a few rollicking songs from its upcoming album. Over at the Wojo show at Neon's Courtyard the same night, frontman Justin Lynch's eloquent lyrics were matched by his band's unpretentious, unadorned music. On Friday, Pike 27 delivered a rousing set of boot-stomping rock.

The out-of-towners held their own as well, notably Gold Coast Refuse. The Chicago band returned to MidPoint for a second year and won over the crowd Friday at Mr. Pitiful's with an earthy, earnest set.

Getting the word out, Part 2: Super 77 isn't just a local rock band; it's a promotional machine. On Thursday, the group's members worked the word-of-mouth angle, stopping people on Main Street to tell them about their Saturday set at the Cavern. On Friday, they hit the festival with stacks of fliers they printed earlier that day. On Saturday, they showed up with some freshly burned CD singles (including an unreleased track) to hand out. And the quartet, like many of the other musicians playing the festival, still made time to take in some showcases to support their fellow musicians.

Changing hats: A last-minute cancellation left a hole in Saturday's schedule at the Barrelhouse. Rhiney and his band, Clabbergirl, stepped in to fill it. The energetic set of power pop anthems proved to be one of the bright spots of the evening.

Stargazing: Former Everclear frontman Art Alexakis, MidPoint's keynote speaker and official rock star - not that he buys into that title, he told a room full of musicians at his down-to-earth address on Friday - was visible during the festival. The man responsible for a handful of smash hits attended showcases, including Clabbergirl's set and Moth's packed-to-the-walls Saturday show at the Cavern, and stopped on the sidewalk to chat with fans and fellow musicians.

"He's one of those dream keynotes," Donabedian says. "He could have just phoned it in, but he stayed, met with people and went to panels and showcases."

Round two: A couple of weeks ago, Donabedian fired the first shot in the Cincinnati-Memphis rock rivalry by running an ad in the alternative weekly Memphis Flyer, touting Cincinnati'sclaim as the site of rock 'n' roll's conception. The ad also boasted about the city's official title as independent music capitol of the world; Donabedian trademarked the phrase this year.

Memphis' daily newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, responded Friday with a column written by former Cincinnatian Bill Ellis. The headline: "Cincy snatched our indie crown - Another city grabs laurels while Memphis snoozes again." To read the story, which takes the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission to task for allowing MidPoint to beat it to the punch, go to www.commercialappeal.com.

See you next year: MidPoint 2005 is set for Sept. 21-24. Donabedian says he and Rhiney plan to build on this year's success. "We've just got to keep the momentum going."

Keep an eye on www.midpoint.com for more information about next year's festival and details about how bands can register starting Feb. 1.

E-mail chanifin@enquirer.com



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