What does music look like?

Midpoint Music Festival returns to Cincinnati

By Zach Rogers
Photo: Black Rebel Motorcycle will headline Midpoint Music Festival at the Grammer’s Stage on Saturday night, which runs Sept. 26-28

September might be a time for change, but one thing that’s remained consistent for more than a decade in Cincinnati is the annual Midpoint Music Festival (MPMF), held in the city’s historic Over the Rhine neighborhood and downtown district. A staple for both local and national bands, MPMF has built a strong reputation for showcasing some of the best up-and-coming talent out there.

“Midpoint is a celebration of music,” said Dan Bockrath, publisher of City Beat, an alternative newsweekly in Cincinnati that produces the festival. “For us, the festival is really about the experience. It’s intimate – you can be right up front and see a band you’ve never heard of before and get blown away.”

This year’s festival will take place Thursday, Sept. 26 through Saturday, Sept. 28 and will feature performances by The Breeders, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Head and the Heart, Shuggie Otis, Kurt Vile and the Violaters, and Warpaint, to name just a few. In total, MPMF will host more than 170 bands over the course of three days, enough to keep the hoards of music lovers occupied until the festival’s end.

“We want to present the audience with a unique musical experience as well as expose all of these emerging artists, both locally and nationally, to another level,” said Dan McCabe, artistic director for MPMF. “Cincinnati is an adventurous music town, and I think consuming live music is something the city is accustomed to, so it makes for the perfect setting for Midpoint.”

The festival itself is a neighborhood romp through Over the Rhine and downtown Cincinnati, taking place across multiple stages in different venues all within walking distance of one another. Midpoint’s two main stages include Washington Park and the Grammer’s Stage, presented by Dewey’s Pizza. On top of that, there will be a wealth of live music drifting into the night taking place in a number of popular OTR bars like Arnold’s Bar and Grill, Japp’s Annex, MOTR Pub, Mr. Pitiful’s and The Drinkery. If the bars aren’t your thing, be sure to check out what’s going on at the Contemporary Arts Center or the Taft Theatre, both of which are opening their doors to the festival this year. Tickets range from all-access one-day and three-day passes to exclusive VIP passes for the truly adventurous.

“The festival is very walkable and bike-friendly, so you can go into one venue with your wristband and hang out for a while, then pop out and go around the corner and find something else going on,” said Bockrath. “You can do a lot of sampling, and you’re able to get a good variety of music in a small amount of time.”

Now in its 12th year, MPMF may not yet be a teenager, but it certainly has done some maturing over the last few years. Since acquiring the festival in 2008, City Beat has revamped the festival into a musical taste-making event where the latest and greatest acts come together to blow everyone’s minds. But building that kind of reputation didn’t happen overnight.

“I think after six years, the festival kind of found itself in a box,” explained McCabe. “It was a great concept, but I think they were really limiting themselves when it came to the talent they were bringing in.”

City Beat had been a media sponsor in the past, and when we had an opportunity to acquire the festival, we jumped on it,” said Bockrath. “From there, we took the festival in a new direction because we wanted it to evolve and grow even more. Over the years we’ve been able to improve the festival and bring in the kind of talent that really represents the festival well.”

That kind of improvement has paid off tremendously, as MPMF has grown into one of the Midwest’s leading musical Meccas each year. The festival achieves a balance between smaller and larger acts, with many of the smaller bands going on to win high honors from places like Spin, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Fader. MPMF has also landed some of more well-known indie acts in previous years, including Grizzly Bear, Dinosaur Jr, Dirty Projectors, Best Coast, The Walkmen, Andrew Bird, Cut Copy and Caribou, among others. That kind of draw has helped increase attendance dramatically, growing from 13,500 in 2008 to more than 27,000 at last year’s event.

Another part of the festival is the Midpoint Midway, a street fair/social hub hosted by MPMF and ArtWorks, a non-profit arts organization in Cincinnati. Located along 12th Street is a mini-festival within a festival, and inside you’ll find even more live music plus food, drinks and street festivities such as the ArtWorks Box Truck Carnival. It’s all free and open to all ages.

Midpoint Music Festival is the place to be in September, not only for the love of music but for the love of the city of Cincinnati as well.

“The festival and the city are tied together now,” said McCabe, “and we’re especially connected with that neighborhood in Over the Rhine.”

“We’re big believers in the community,” echoed Bockrath, “and it’s been really nice to see the organic growth of both Midpoint and the community at large.”


The 2013 Midpoint Music Festival will take place Thursday, Sept. 26 through Saturday, Sept. 28 in downtown Cincinnati and the adjoining Over the Rhine neighborhood. For more information, including a full line-up, schedule and ticket options, visit mpmf.com.


Reach DCP freelance writer Zach Rogers at ZachRogers@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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