Show Review

Midpoint Music Festival, Cincy

Shawn Braley

I have rewritten this opening numerous times. I can’t think of a great opening. I’m worried this will be a shitty article covering a fantastic festival. I sit at my dining room table, typing and erasing, typing and erasing, and continue this trend for what seems like hours. I want to write something that truly captures the essence of what I experienced, but how? How can someone capture something with words? In all actuality, all I can really do is explain what happened and let the experience be yours, in your own head.

Thursday-

On Thursday evening, around 7 PM, I park in the parking garage just below Fountain Square. It may not be the best spot, but the first band I am catching is The Pass, they are, in fact, the very first band playing the festival.

On Fountain Square, there are a lot of families, who seem to simply be here to have something to do together on a Thursday night. They aren’t at Fountain Square for the music, but really, just out doing something and happened to stop by as The Pass is about the play. There seem to be very few people here to watch The Pass; possibly because they are playing later in the evening and few people know it starts at 7. At least I tell myself that. I could be at another venue right now, waiting for another band to play, but I wanted to hear the first notes of the festival struck by The Pass. I didn’t even get the chance to hear this particular band before attending their set. Despite the lack of Midpointers, there is an energy in the city that’s palpable, as the fountain water gets tossed in the wind, The Pass’s brand of energetic, electronic pop begins, and so does Midpoint…

The Pass provides an odd but appropriate start to the festival, as well as the perfect soundtrack for the way a city moves as we’re (more have joined me) nestled deeply in the heart of Cincinnati. The unusual mixture of young and old, family and college kids, city and suburban folk, doesn’t phase The Pass, they win the crowd over by the 3rd song; including a very enthusiastic older lady who danced with youth and vigor all alone in front of the stage.

Following The Pass, my wife, who is also my photographer, joins me. We walk to the other side of the small city in about 15 minutes. We finally reach Below Zero Lounge where we are to see Slothpop.

The venue has strangeness to it. It has colorful neon lights bouncing off of plain white walls and cracked hardwood floors. On the walls hang posters from the 2006 musical Dream girls. I am unaware of the relevance of such a thing. The oddness doesn’t end. SlothPop’s scheduled set time is 8 pm and it is now 8:05. Confused and worried about wasting time that I could be seeing another band, I ask the sound guy.

“Is Slothpop scheduled at 8 or 8:30?”

“They’re supposed to play at 8…”

“Are they here? Are they going to set up soon?”

“Good question, unfortunately all I know is they got stuck in traffic on their way hear from Indianapolis.”

“So, what does that mean?”

“Look, kid, I’m the sound guy. You put a band in front of me, I’ll make them sound fucking good, but you ask me where they are, what they’re doing, why they’re not in front of me and playing for you. That I don’t know.”

“Sorry to bother you, sir. I was just hoping I wouldn’t miss them. Thanks for the info.”

“No problem, kid.”

And with that, we left to the sound of Nickleback playing over the PA system. Such a fitting thing to replace the music of Slothpop I had hoped to hear; fuzzy guitars in a My Bloody Valentine-esque way, matched with incredible melodies.

Still walking through the city, Tasha (wife) and I head to Washington Platform. A place neither of us have heard of. I stare at the map as we walk swiftly across Central Avenue. Upon arrival, I double check to make sure we’re at the right place. We are here to see a southern rock group called Frontier Folk Nebraska. The kind of music you expect to hear in a dirty, skuzzy bar while gulping down quite a few adult beverages. Instead, we’re here at Washington Platform, a quant, little gourmet restaurant usually reserved for Jazz. They have brick walls, with portraits of gourmet foods hanging in frames all along the hallway. Waiters travel back and forth serving people throughout the crowd.

Frontier Folk Nebraska takes the stage, or floor rather, crammed in a corner. With tables pushed out of their way, I am excited to see how people in the restaurant react. The band was full of plaid shirts, trucker hats and denim jackets. The lead singer screamed “I lost everything” into the mic with so much emotion, the entire restaurant stopped ordering their hors d’oeuvres and just watched as he laid it all out.

My wife stayed behind as I jumped on the nearest Midpoint provided Metro bus to Grammars to see Best Coast, one of the most hyped bands of the festival. On the edge of Over The Rhine, I see Grammars using an outdoor stage with a humongous crowd watching Best Coast. The vocalist has a great mix of sexuality, passion and honesty in her vocals, but the music of Best Coast kind of bores me. It’s sort of a surfer punk kind of thing, but, and I know I’ll probably be castigated for saying so, but I just can’t get into it. It certainly captured the hearts and minds of festivalgoers, as that was one of the most crowded shows of all of MPMF.

Disappointed, I leave before Best Coast even finishes and hop on the bus again, it’s cold and the driver makes me laugh. She, a sassy black lady, makes fun of me for getting off and on so quickly. “You don’t even want to watch no music do you, honey? You missed me too much. I understand. I’ll be here tomorrow night too.”

I take the bus around the city and go to Jack Pott’s tavern, a true bar’s bar. Tired from all the running around in just a few hours, I sit at the bar and order a Sam Adams Oktoberfest. Delicious and refreshing, I stay seated as Walk The Moon starts playing.

I have a love/hate relationship with Walk The Moon’s set. They all look cool, and pretty, in their neon v-neck t-shirts. It’s the kind of style that kind of puts me off. I judge them as they play their first song. “They’re trying too hard” I tell myself. “Yeah, they’re drummers great and the melodies are tasty, but what else is there?” There seems to be a great number of pop bands coming out trying very hard to be noticed by using synth’s and such in their songs, and I’ve grown tired of it. I decide that as soon as I finish my drink, I am leaving. That is until they played “I want! I want!” a soulful pop song that mixed Marvin Gaye with Passion Pit. I was hooked. I responded to the goose bumps going up and down my neck and throughout my body as they played. Is it wrong as a critical writer to be judging a band on how you emotionally or physically react to the music? I think not. If it’s honestly how I reacted. Walk The Moon may not be the most hip band on the block, but they won me over, and when I told them after their set how impressed I was, without them knowing I was a writer covering Midpoint, they gave me a CD and thanked me numerous times for the compliments.

Tasha and I continue being split up as I head over near Central Avenue to Cincinnati Club. I am hoping to make it in time to see You, You’re Awesome, but I am in need of meeting up with Tasha first. The separation, and waiting, creates an anxiety. Are we going to miss the band? Is she okay? It is dark, and she was walking through downtown Cincinnati alone. Fear sets in. We talk. She’s lost. I may have or may not have given bad directions. We fight and finally find one another and go on to see You, You’re Awesome.

Now, the last thing you want to hear after an argument is fun, dance music with hilariously well synced up videos playing behind them. The thing about You, You’re Awesome is, if you’re not dancing along to their music, you’re staring at the video. The mixture of music and images entrances some people, including myself. I’m often catching myself, mouth agape, lost in thoughtlessness as I stare at the screen behind the two-person band.

My most looked forward to part of the festival was to see Justin Townes Earle, and if you can’t tell already, by my use of past tense, I did not see him. On our way to Know Theatre, where he was scheduled to play, I see Brent Lakes, of Broken Circles Records. We chat for a bit and I explain to him who I’m seeing, to which he replies, “He had to cancel…” My heart sank, while I was trying not to look too heartbroken. “How Come?” “Apparently, he punched some lady at his last show.” Later I heard it was the daughter of his manager…details are still unknown to me. I simply know I was disappointed, and what happened next did not heal that.

What exactly did happen next you ask? Fools For Rowan happened next. A wannabe radio rock band, with a wannabe Hayley Williams (Paramore) as the lead singer. As I don’t wish to continue negatively, I must report honestly, and my soul was crushed by the mess that was missing Earle and seeing this band instead…

Alas, Tasha and I did find hope in making it back to Cincinnati Club to see the much hyped up Holy F*ck. Describing their music is almost as hard as describing their live show. I will say there was a man on stage jumping around with a pair of panties on his face, and people were dancing. That is all…

Friday-

I’m all alone. Tasha must work tonight late, and will be much too tired to join me once she’s off. I am kind of excited, because, in a sense, I’m kind of a loner. I enjoy going from place to place without having to explain where we’re going to discuss anything but simply acting off my own impulses. Those impulses led me first, at the ripe time of 7:30 pm, to Grammars, where the incredible Enlou was playing.

Grammar’s was crowded for being so early. The stage is laden with 5 young men, guitars, drums, xylophones, and bells. Ben, the lead singer and bassist shakes as if he can’t stand the tension building inside of him. The set begins.

Enlou is truly a breakout band of the festival. They’re maturity musically far surpasses their age, and looks. To say that Enlou is merely some kind of indie knock off band is a discredit to the band. They are a separate entity that happens to have their roots in the indie music scene of Cincinnati.

I walk across town and enter the Segway Room, where they have taken the Segway display and turned it into a stage, and drum riser for Come On Caboose. Unfortunately, upon arrival, the speakers seem to have blown and the sound tech seems to be working on the problem. I leave and head over to Media Bridges in hopes of not wasting any time. The Happy Maladies are playing, who I saw earlier this year at Clifton Heights, but loved so much I couldn’t wait to see them again.

The Happy Maladies gathered together like they are each functioning members of one body. They attend UC’s CCM and it’s obvious. The blend of classical and folk whilst simultaneously sounding incredibly modern is something of a marvel to witness. And watching their lead singer, Abby Cox, one cannot help but fall in love with her. She has an ethereal quality surrounding her. She is a wonder to watch as she sways and sings with a huge smile on her face.

I head to my car so I can drive across the river now, for some reason the festival has some of the best acts at Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky, without offering any type of transportation. Paying for all that parking wasn’t fun but not missing So Cow, The Lion’s Rampant and Ted Leo were worth it.

So Cow is a punk three piece, unfortunately viewers who sat still and clapped after each song watched their set. Their set was energetic and full of everything you expect from a great punk show, but the audience, who seemed to be enjoying, simply didn’t want to react in the visceral way most people react to punk music.

It is at this point, sitting alone at Southgate, that my loneliness proceeds me. I am growing bored; not with the plethora of amazing music, but with the lack of talking and interaction I’ve had with actual human beings. My notebook has given me the most conversation tonight. I check facebook on my phone, text a few people, while waiting for Lion’s Rampant to go on.

The problem is, with this loneliness, I stop really caring about the festival. I want to go home. I’m tired, worn out, this week has been too long and these nights as well. What is the point of seeing 24 bands in 3 days? Am I even going to look back fondly on this or is this simply a time of work? All the excitement has drained out of every fingertip. I need a heavy drink but have no cash to buy one.

Finally, The Lion’s Rampant take the stage. I remain seated and watch from above. The band is astounding, but I can’t help but feel I don’t want to move. My body aches. The band’s pulsating garage/60’s style classic rock energizes me slightly.

This band is rock n’ roll at it’s most unadulterated. Rock music without the frills and distractions; simplicity is key. Matt Ayers drumbeats pulsate the room, shaking the floor beneath me. Lead singer and guitarist Stuart Mackenzie shakes and stutters with passion and an excruciatingly amazing amount of energy.

My handwriting is getting worse, when not even this band is waking me up, that’s a bad sign. I need something. Maybe Ted Leo can help?

Southgate House begins getting packed and the crowd goes pretty crazy (it’s about time) when Ted Leo takes the stage. His energy is welcomed and they play amazingly tight, but after two songs I leave. I just got to move, drive, let the wind blow on my face or I’m not going to finish the night.

I find a garage near the Mainstay after driving across the river and around the city a few times. Seabird, probably one of the more popular and radio friendly bands of Midpoint are closing the evening. I love Seabird, and am almost ashamed to admit it due to their sometimes-shallow lyrics and incredibly styled for the anthem music. Seeing them in concert was no different than expected. The band was tight, anthematic and catchy. The thing that threw me off guard was their incredible candidness. The lead singer spoke about his daughter and how much he loves her, and when doing so, didn’t seem cliché’ or what he was supposed to be saying. These guys had a rock star look and sound, but they just seemed genuine. I was finally awake when they sang “Til’ We See The Shore”, the type of song that puts goose bumps down your neck. A song of hope and redemption. Just what I needed to end the 2nd night of the festival.

Saturday-

Oh, my goodness. It is a joy to be rejoined by my wife. Are you reading this, dear? No? Oh, okay. Well, at least you guys know I am not simply trying to win her over, although if she is reading this, can someone email her and remind her I’d love an I-Phone 4 this December?

Iris Bookcafe is one of the best things about Cincinnati. I’ll admit it. It isn’t a part of the festival at all. In fact, we simply stopped in their for some Latte’s and to chill, but the conversation and delicious Caramel latte’ made us never want to leave. Truly overlooked as a part of Over The Rhine, but I think it should certainly be noted that it was the highlight of my entire Midpoint experience.

So, there’s a tax place right down the street from Iris, which they decided to use for the festival. It was crowded but we watched an instrumental band there called When They Landed. With a jazz-blues-funk feel, the band was a breath of fresh air from electronic, rock and indie music I came to expect from the festival.

Following getting my taxes done, we headed across the street to Jack Pott’s where Colour Revolt awaited us- My next most anticipated after Justin Townes Earle, I was so happy they hadn’t punched any women lately.

I was so impressed by Colour Revolt I literally scribbled this sentence: “Colour Revolt is so amazing, I don’t want to stop to write anything down.”

How do I keep my writing fresh without saying; “and then we went here and this band was good and then we went here and this band was good”? Well, We arrived at a sports bar in town called Main Event to see The Prohibitionists. I was really hoping for a bluegrass band since I had to miss The Tillers while watching Ted Leo. Let’s simply say I was disappointed, less so the Fools For Rowan, but more so than at any other moment of the festival.

We take the Metro over to Fountain Square and get to see a bizarre band filled with middle-aged gents. Oh My God was captivating the crowd who was walking by to their car after attending the Red’s game or simply downtown hanging out. People were smiling as they all made crazy faces and played incredibly well crafted rock and roll.

It’s getting late. 3rd night of the festival and without Tasha hear I would be pulling my hair out of my head. Damn. Am I getting too old for this? I’m only 23, and people much older, wiser, more mature do this for a living. The thing is, I love it, but what do you say about a festival that hasn’t already been said? What do you do with a life that’s been lived a billion times before? I began sitting on the bus, waiting for our next stop, imagining this as my life. Non-stop, entertainment bombarding my senses. I love it but I hate it. All the bands begin bleeding together, much like the narrative of my weekend. All of my memories are getting lost in that they all are meaningless. My reporting on Midpoint won’t matter in 2 years. Or 5. Or 10.

With my existential crisis reaching a halt, we arrive again at The Original Tax Place, as it’s so deemed, to see Shiny and The Spoon. And I’m reminded by their folksy, fun, smart and hip music that I can relax. It’s only a festival. It’s only an article. It’s only a weekend. It’s only a life. There a bigger things, and sometimes, we get caught in the cogs of the machine, but sometimes we need to just sit back and let the machine run itself. Enjoy the moment for what it is, not what it isn’t.

“Finally” I think to myself as we reach Mainstay. Pomegranates, who I had previously written about, are ending the festival. I love these guys but I just want to go home and sleep. It’s been a busy weekend. Am I crazy? I got into an amazing festival and get to write about it, and I am complaining…

Pom’s sing a few new songs, a few old ones, and the crowd dances, sways, and sings along. This is the way a festival should end. A celebration is always had when Pomegranates plays.

In fitting fashion, Pomegranates sing “Everybody, Come Outside!” and we all smile. A reminder to continue living- to continue engaging in life, and making a relationship with life as if I am still alive, because I am.

Driving home that night, I was glad to have “endured” the festival. I was glad to have had the time with my wife, both in our creative element, and although it was tiring, walking around a city for an entire weekend, helped us grow together like going to the movies or doing things around the house just don’t do. Why don’t we try to simply live, and experience life a little more? Why don’t we just listen to Pomegranates and just go outside?