Cinci’s big little music fest

MidPoint Music Fest continues to expose emerging artists

By CC Hutten

Photo: Nashville’s Across Tundras will perform at The Drinkery Friday at 10 p.m.

For 13 consecutive years, Cincinnatians have waited patiently for the last weekend in September for three days of discovering quality music and local cuisine – and to explore a thriving Cincinnati neighborhood, Over-the-Rhine, at MidPoint Music Festival.

The intention of the festival is the spirit of innovation – both for the artist and the consumer, said artistic director of MidPoint, Dan McCabe.

“We want artists who are stretching boundaries, genres, themselves,” he said. “Our customer base revels in the experience of adventure.”

There are 12 venues (and 14 stages) throughout downtown Cincinnati, six of which welcome patrons of all ages. Most shows begin around 8 p.m. and continue into the night, as long as fans and new listeners warrant. Washington Park, a large outdoor venue that was recently added to MidPoint, has been the biggest change and greatest success since Cincinnati’s alternative newsweekly, CityBeat, revamped the festival in 2008.

Daniel Bockrath, CityBeat publisher and owner and coordinator of the festival, said two years ago Washington Park was added to the list of participating venues, taking MidPoint to the next level. While Washington Park hosts some bigger acts, the surrounding venues showcase lesser-known performers, creating an intimate experience for the audience. Attendance skyrocketed from 13,500 people in 2008 to more than 27,000 last fall.

“We continue to invest in the talent we bring to the festival,” Bockrath said. “Agencies refer to us as ‘taste-makers’ because we bring a lot of emerging talent to the scene. In fact, we have a number of bands that played the last few years that are popping up at large-scale festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, but MidPoint is an opportunity to see them before no one knew about them.”

In the past, MPMF has showcased many artists that have made year-end lists for Best Album or Best New Artist in music publications like Pitchfork, NME, Filter and Rolling Stone, according to MidPoint’s official website. Some off these now-famous bands include The Head and the Heart, Cut Copy, Lord Huron and Cults.

Though McCabe considers this year’s top tier acts to be the biggest yet, the audience will find, “underneath the larger acts, there’s a better continuity, quality and depth all the way through [the schedule],” he said.

This year, MidPoint welcomes more than 150 acts from seven countries and 57 cities across the region. Headlining at Washington Park are Chromeo, The Afghan Whigs and OK Go, with notable acts like Panda Bear, Real Estate, Young Heirlooms, Motel Beds and Holy Ghost Tent Revival playing in various venues across the neighborhood.

“We’re excited to have Motel Beds,” McCabe said of the Dayton-based band. “They’re one of those pioneering acts, part of a neat pallet of colors on that Saturday night. We feel very lucky.”

Another genre-busting band is North Carolina-based Holy Ghost Tent Revival. In 2012, it played a small show that exploded into one of the most high-energy moments of MidPoint. Frontman Stephan Murray said the band worked hard to get a spot, and despite a few stresses, can’t wait to do it over again and put on an even better performance.

Holy Ghost Tent Revival is using the discovery aspect of MidPoint as an opportunity to showcase how it has evolved in sound and vibe, by dancing between genres and styles.

“People like to add a label to what they’re listening to,” Murray said. “But it’s not a conscious choice on our end. We still fit the mold, but we’re giving the listener something new, something exciting.”

According to Bockrath, electro-funk band Chromeo will put on an epic dance party on Thursday at Washington Park; followed by a special hometown show by Cincinnati band The Afghan Whigs on Friday night; and the innovative indie-pop band OK Go will close Saturday night at the outdoor venue.

However, exploring new music and enjoying favorite artists are not the only opportunities that MidPoint has to offer – before, after, during or in-between shows.

“People experience the festival in different ways,” Bockrath said. “It’s definitely a treasure hunt for people.”

Near the heart of Over-the-Rhine will be MidPoint Midway, a street fair along 12th Street 5 p.m. to midnight, Sept. 25-27. Organized in partnership with MidPoint and ArtWorks, MidPoint Midway will feature food trucks, vendors, art, activities and free music, sponsored by P&G. Venues include ArtWorks CityInk, ArtWorks Inked Goods, on-site screen-printing and poetry projects.

Participating venues include Arnold’s Bar and Grill, Christian Moerlein Brewing Co., Contemporary Arts Center, Know Theatre, Mainstay Rock Bar, Memorial Hall, MidPoint Midway, MOTR Pub, Mr. Pitiful’s, Taft Ballroom, The Drinkery and Washington Park, each with their own schedules and pricing, listed at

Another highlight of the festival is the best way to travel from venue to venue: Red Bike, a bicycle share that will launch Sept. 22, just in time for MidPoint attendees.

“Find a place to park your car,” McCabe said, “and leave it.”

Larger music festivals may seem to have endless features and vendors – however, what makes MidPoint “uniquely Cincy” is the city of Cincinnati itself.

“You can find open space and fields at other festivals, but you lose that intimacy,” Bockrath said. “We take a lot of pride in that authenticity. … Musicians like to play our festival because they get that. It’s about discovery.”

MidPoint Music Festival will take place in Downtown Cincinnati at Over-the-Rhine Sept. 25–27. Admission for all three days is $79 for advanced all-music-access passes and $179 for advanced VIP passes. One-day passes are $40 each. For more information, please visit

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Reach DCP freelance writer CC Hutten at

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