Fine Arts and Fest

MidPoint Music Festival: A Chronicle

Day One

Amy Sand
Jennifer Calvin of Bleached swoons the crowd [and me] at Know Theatre downtown.
(Sand 2013)
As people leave their day jobs in OTR they’re greeted by the most joyous band I’ve seen in years. Sidewalk Chalk are a ragtag bunch of big brass, soul-singing, youthful rapping and tap dancing twenty somethings. It’s a small first show, but don’t tell Sidewalk Chalk. They bring the energy - constantly interacting with the crowd. Everyone goes crazy for the bearded tap dancer, their response stemming from a little novelty and a lot of talent and stamina. The dude looks hella tired when the set ends.

The crowd is scarce in Washington Park. Grandfather Child is on stage looking limp. The lead singer is seated while playing what I though was an auto harp but turns out to be a lap steel guitar. His wailing would be totally consuming, but the other band member’s boredom is apparent. It’s a disappointment to be distracted when you’re faced with such talent and soul.

Cody ChestnuTT lives up to his name wearing his signature, blue hardhat that makes him look like a Village People hipster. He has no problem riling up the crowd during “Everybody’s Brother.” The song’s first line, “I used to smoke crack back in the day,” brings some on-lookers to chuckle. For a moment the mood changes and there’s a thickness between the audience and the stage. It’s a boundary of hardship: one man’s possibly true experience versus a person whose life is so far removed from the possibility of crack consumption that it’s laughable. Luckily for us, Cody is a heartfelt, believable singer whose honest performance brings us back to the moment.

I'm already feeling the 7-dollar beer, and I know I should get some food. Midpoint Midway is a weird area: There's a small stage (normal) a ticket tent (pretty normal) and random baby semi trucks (not so normal). They're parked in a “closed to traffic” section of 12th (between Vine and Walnut) with lines of people standing at the rear. Cloth banners drape over the edge with activities like "glass blowing" written on them. I can hear what I think is a female voice screeching on a microphone. I keep walking.

I finally make it to the food tents located in a parking lot further down 12th. Eli's BBQ is there and my choice is made: pulled pork with coleslaw. The service always matches the food. They sing my name (or versions of it) while they assemble my sandwich (aaammmeeee, ammeter). When I stand up to throw away my trash, the pork guy asked if I'm done and calls me sweetie. Can't tell if he's in to me or knows I write reviews. I'm sure there's a less vain option but I'm enjoying myself too much to consider them.

A volunteer stops me on my way into the Know Theatre: "It's the other one." He points to the entrance. Realizing how little I know the business district of OTR.

It's dead when the local band Halvsies starts. A man behind me to my left yells "acceptable!" after every song and it's clear they brought their crews.
Washington Park near dusk during the 2013 MidPoint Music Fest (Sand 2013)
Everywhere I go someone is talking about Kurt Vile. I switch my plans up and follow the crowd. He's a mysterious dude cloaked in wavy, shoulder-length hair. Sometimes he screams. Some times he plays the acoustic guitar. Sometimes simultaneously. The bass player looks strung out. Everyone cheers.

At 10:15 I officially want a nap. Consecutive nights of forgoing sleep for episodes of Breaking Bad have caught up to me. Totally worth it for the street cred.
Kurt Vile: effectively keeping me from a Breaking Bad-induced coma. (Sand 2013)
The girls in the bathroom speculate about Bleached. "I heard she knows Bethany from Best Coast. It should be good." The rumors turn out to be true. Bleached sounds as homegrown and fun as their record. This girly garage band dishes out boy trouble tunes with the best of them. In between songs, they chat about the wall projection of tweets (feed of filtered(?) #MPMF) and their excitement for the sponsor (Biore pore strips).

Drag queens are lip synching upstairs as the crowd waits for Dent May. The sound check begins at 12:15, when the show is scheduled to start. He keeps requesting a reverb with a longer tail. The sound guy isn't nailing it. While waiting, the crowd looks for entertainment. Some guy is real excited about his friend’s tweet making on to the projector sheet. "Brett, you're up there! Brett!" Brett couldn’t care less. Dent May comes on 20 minutes later with a soaking wet mike and a little enthusiasm. After a few songs my interest is gone and I head home.

Day one ends with no lines.

Day Two

When I get to Washington Park there’s a line. The crowd seems happy. Youth Lagoon is playing beautifully and the crowd is bobbing along. Even I’m enjoying it, which is strange considering emo-electronica isn’t my thing. Clearly, they’re a talented burnout crew.

A large crowd awaits The Head and The Heart. Everyone’s chatty. Guys in the crowd are impressed by one man’s ability to talk to three females at once. "That dude’s a ladies man!" Sirens in the background are noticed but fail to disturb the Friday feeling that is a Friday. There are more people interacting with their surroundings than their phones. Washington Park glows in the center of the beautiful OTR architecture. It’s easily one of the best outdoor concert venues I’ve been to.

The Head and the Heart attempt to start the show on time but there are technical issues. Roadies keep speaking into the microphone with no luck. They stare out beyond the crowd to the sound dude. It goes on like this for some time.

There’s still a mixing issue when the band comes on stage 15 minutes later. Josiah acts like he can’t hear himself and repeatedly drops out of songs to whisper to his band mates. No one else notices the issue. They’re a friendly bunch, responding with a “Thanks!” to that guy that yells “Welcome to Cincinnati!” As it approaches 10 p.m., they remind the crowd of the park curfew/noise regulations. Unhappy mumbles from the audience are met with reply from the stage, “I never thought I’d hear someone say ‘fuck the police’ at a Head and the Heart show.” After a couple more songs, they leave Josiah spotlighted on stage with an acoustic guitar. Having seen The Head and the Heart before, these flashes of new material are the most intriguing. It left me wanting more moments alone with Josiah and his guitar.
The crowds gather in anticipation of The Head and the Heart set to perform in Washington Park on Friday. (Sand 2013)
There’s a legitimate race happening in the ladies’ restroom. Two women have bet their male counter parts’ beers that they can make it through their bathroom line first. They encourage the speed of others, urging them to “prepare” by prematurely unbuttoning their jeans. One line-waiter sets up a hand-sanitizer station next to the sink. It’s clear these gals are in it to win it, “I’ve got three kids, I don’t need toilet paper…I’ll pee in the sink!” With an attitude like that, it’s no surprise when they come out on top.

It’s roughly a dozen blocks to the Contemporary Arts Center. Not wanting to walk alone at night, I drift behind other people. After one group starts getting paranoid or just annoyed, I switch to new strangers. There are plenty of people around so this isn’t a challenge.

Sadly, I miss Allen Pray’s set, but manage to catch a glimpse of him next to his car, people chatting him up. He looks taller than he sounds.

Don't let the baby faces of Caveman fool you. These boys can play. Barely fitting on stage, they outshine anything they've put to permanence. Matthew Iwanusa’s voice can, at times, resemble Sting’s when in falsetto. And with Matt’s thirst for drum banging, the band name feels on point.
Caveman performing at the Contemporary Arts Center. (Sand 2013)
Forty-five minutes before Kishi Bashi is set to appear, CAC is already half full. In my one and half days of Midpoint experience, this is my first time seeing a large crowd wait around. There are so many shows, you can constantly move from one venue to the next without ever being forced to kill time. It speaks to the expectations of this crowd: You can feel their anticipation, their excitement. The guy to my right waves money in front of his face while his friend snaps a pic. A few minutes later the same guy pulls out a UDF koosie and I like him a little bit more.

The crowd cheers as Kishi steps on stage. He appears genuinely happy to be here. With him, he brought a 3-piece band: A drummer, a bass player and a banjo player who Kishi refers to as Tall Tall Trees (as does twitter). He plays what Kishi dubs the “Banjotron 3000”, and it looks like a banjo UFO. The head lights up in neon colors. Tapping the side of the banjo produces a bongo-like noise. It’s mesmerizing.

Kishi is a master violist. Not only do we witness a flawless execution of the electric violin, but a live vocal performance so pitch perfect that his album may as well have been sung by an imposter.

A large Kishi Bashi banner hangs in the background. It looks like something any indie player would have: a large white sheet with a hand painted horse on it. But as with everything Kishi Bashi, there are layers. Halfway through his performance, he puts color glass discs on a turning mechanism and the spinning color is projected onto the banner. It’s surprising but not shocking: there’s always another layer with Kishi Bashi.
Kishi Bashi with the crowd completey at his disposal during his act at the CAC. (Sand 2013)
During "I am Antichrist to you” the whole room is emotionally entrapped. People choke up and my eyes follow. It’s a room full of atheists going to church.

With every song, we see Kish’s vision of the world: complex components strung together to form one booming pop orchestra. It’s like the stars: up close they are large, hot, and bright. Yet when you zoom out and align the stars they form an even more beautiful singular image (like the big dipper). His persona matches his vision and we’re left feeling like he’s otherworldly, that he’s a being higher than us humans in the audience. Like he is the next John Lennon.

You know you’ve had a spiritual experience when you feel compelled to hand over all your cash. And I wasn’t the only one. The merch table line stretches all the way back to the door. People chatter about the greatness, stunned by what they just witnessed. Not only was this the best performance I’ll witness at Midpoint, but also the greatest live show of my life to date. It just goes to show: change a person’s life and you will win a few paragraphs on the internet.

Day Three

Public rocking a memorable redition of the Britney Spears classic "Toxic" to a decent crowd downtown at MidPoint Midway. (Sand 2013)
Kidpoint is winding down when I arrive at 12th and Vine. A girl no more than 8 tries to sell me a candy bar for a dollar. She doesn’t appear to be part of a larger group, just some lone hustler looking to make a buck. I immediately regret not buying a Twix because a) That sort of business foresight should be rewarded and b) I’m hungry.

Public is on the Midpoint Midway stage. They sound solid: like the kid brother of Walk the Moon. Conversing with the crowd, their inexperience shows. “This one’s kind of funky.” They have yet to realize that music speaks for itself, and possibly yet to hit the legal drinking age.

Last night I made a mental self-note to take advantage of the free Bioré Pore strips, even if the step-up is slightly embarrassing. At the tent, one gal is helpful while the others stand around and judge my pores. Not that I blame them.

I return to Public just in time for their turned-up cover of Toxic, one of Britney Spears’ greatest. The crowd feels it, too. Everyone starts to dance and it’s a pleasant jolt for a sober Saturday afternoon.

If there’s beer around Midpoint Midway I can’t find it, only a hunched over, depressed-looking teddy bear. I make a trip to Washington Park specifically for the Shock Top and end up catching the last song and a half of Wussy’s set. I’m indifferent.
Well, hey there little guy...(Sand 2013)
Lying in the fresh grass, time goes all too quickly. I chug my beer and head to Grammer’s. There’s not much foot traffic in the same direction. Somehow the bar is even scarcer. I’m shocked: this is the band I was looking forward to the most.

Deap Vally has more grit and depth than I imagined. Walking to the stage the duo look like 80’s leftovers donning cut-off shorts and big bouncy ringlets. Most people can agree that great music sounds better in person. The petite Lindsey Troy has a voice so husky and raw it’s like she ate your ma for breakfast and wants seconds. But don’t forget about Julie Edwards, the rad ass drummer who knows how to bang. It’s a fearless, unapologetic rock and roll show. Even with a light crowd, they are all in, pushing their set until the end. “Five minutes? That's like one and half songs. Whatever." They play a full two.

As I stroll back down Main Street, deciding what to see next, I hear some pleasant sounds coming from Mr. Pitiful’s. The Kickstand Band is delivering ‘60’s pop punk and some excellent sucking-up. “Detroit has something similar [to Midpoint]. This is better. Don’t tell them.” No deal.

I’m all about a good bathroom and the Know Theatre’s are both centrally located and clean. As I stop by for a break Kate Dias is playing on the small stage. She’s five feet away from the crowd, sounding smooth and looking terrified. It’s a performance of satisfying vocal control and lovely songwriting. One thing’s for sure: this endearing 16-year old can hold a crowd’s attention.
Deep Vally frontwoman Lindsey Troy working the frets and some nifty retro garb. (Sand 2013)
The rhythmic, equal half of rock Deep Vally, Julie Edwards (Sand 2013)
I lean against the fence to eat my mac and cheese. A comedian is ranting about homelessness and the abundance of jobs in North Dakota. No one looks convinced.

Japp’s annex is dressed up like a 70’s living room, full-decked with dusty table lamps. It’s the perfect backdrop for ragtime rockers Low Cut Connie. It’s like your great aunt invited them over to play some piano and they came tromping through with muddy boots: Shirts off, voices loud, keys banged and benches stood on. There were no inhabitations here. The crowd felt the same way, giving us the largest dance party of the fest. Low Cut Connie has given Midpoint a new motto: There’s always more ass to shake.

An Elton John cover is blaring through the streets. Kansas Bible Company is gettn’ down with their large brass section. They resemble a high school crew. You just want to hug them.

Happy Maldives is playing their last song when I arrive. There seems to be this new trend with taking classical mainstream with nods to pop. I leave intrigued.

The Drinkery is packed for Sol Cat: dreamy and discolored indie rock from Nashville. The crowd is moving but not all the band is. The least amount of energy comes from the lead singer: his mates are bringing the power to give him the illusion of movement and pump everyone else up. The crowd is happy either way.

My last stop is Birds of Chicago, a real-life couple (plus one traveling drummer) who make happy folk music. But on stage they sound beat down by the impending financial strain of a pregnancy. It affects their performance and their live manifestation does not match their record.

Would I do it all over again? You bet. But next time take a staycation as the packed festival schedule left no time for naps.