MPMF 2014: Review
The Blue Indian has been going to music festivals in Cincinnati for a few years now. It’s like our sister city—our older sister who is feeling experimental as she “finds herself” through indie music and vegetarianism. We don’t mind. We love that she’s in her self-discovery phase—means more fun for us.
Midpoint Music Festival is sis’s proudest undertaking—like backpacking through Europe. 2014 marked our third year attending, and just as expected, the festival seemed a tiny bit bigger, more comfortable in its foundation, and more stable in its operation. It brought new audiences, new bands, included different venues, and ultimately left an air of pride and eagerness resting pleasantly on the city streets.
The layout of Midpoint Music Festival is similar to Austin City Limits: lots of bands at lots of different venues. This is both a curse and a blessing. On one hand, shows are never overcrowded and you get to discover the nooks and crannies of Cincinnati you wouldn’t have otherwise. On the other, you will most likely not be able to see every band you’d hoped to, so prioritizing is essential. This is difficult for me, because I tend to, for instance, put the emotional and mental wellbeing of my pet rat before, say, everything else. Still, I managed at Midpoint, but not without feeling a little bummed sometimes.
The festival introduced me to Chromeo Thursday night, and they were as frenzied and obnoxious as the most fun Frat guy speeding on Aderol and drunk off 27 Nati Lights at a college party. I loved him and hated him; I didn’t want to listen to him speak words, but I wanted to dance with him all night and then step over his limp body hanging off the porch the next morning and hope to goodness I never see him again. In other words, they were awesome, but Thursday night will be the first and probably last time I ever listen to them.
I hopped through the Midway area, where you could find the finest of food truck grub and Cincinnati brewing company Christian Moerlein beers, and debated whether or not I should see Sun Kil Moon at Memorial Hall, or a local/Chicago band, Fathers, at Know Theatre. It was a close call, but I decided on Fathers because I heard Mark Kozelek could be kind of a jerk live, and I didn’t want to spoil my celestial impression of him that I gathered based on his latest record, Benji. Later I would almost regret my decision because I heard he put on a wonderfully polite show.
Fathers were proggy, induced by steady drumming and quick back and forth strums on electric guitars. North Carolina’s Lost in the Trees followed and were surprisingly charged. Last time I saw them at Nelsonville Music Festival in Athens, Ohio a few years back, they played unplugged and acoustic in a tiny cabin, led by string instruments and acute harmonies. This time they let a wallowing buzz fill the gaps of what used to be quiet plucks and strums and meager voices.
Friday was devoted solely to Why?, Cincinnati’s beloved band of brothers and wives and friends, an R&B meets Beck meets Hanukkah kind of sound, if you can imagine or haven’t for some silly reason listened to them yet.
Spending my whole night at the Taft theatre for one band ended up being auspicious, because in waiting for Why? I met Dessa. And what a badass babe. Usually I’m intimidated by people who enchant me, but for some reason Dessa just inspired me to not be such a baby. She took charge of the stage and the audience, but maintained equality—like your favorite high school teacher. In the name of hip-hop and humanity, Dessa and company challenged the audience to reflect on personal connections and societal stigmas. And to bob. Always bob in hip-hop.
Why? took the stage soon after, capping the night off in the same vein as Dessa. Sticking to crowd pleasers like “Hollows,” “These Few Presidents,” and, my personal favorite, “Good Friday,” they kept us delighted. Yoni paced around the stage in sweat pants-shaped denim and Toms, sometimes stopping to shake is head like he was trying to get water out of his ear. He seemed focused—intensely so. His paces were full of intent and the words he spoke were meaningful even in the thousandth form.
I spent the entire night Saturday at Memorial Hall for four bands all with distinct sounds that each somehow morphed to meet the ambiance of the haunted theatre (it really is haunted.) Mutual Benefit played first, while the audience was still seated meekly. The band didn’t move around much, but the vintage carvings and paintings surrounding them like a weird kind of space dome created an empowering echo.
The Ridges played next, opening up by surprising the audience from the back, playing an unplugged version of “Invented Love.” Once they took to the stage, everything was much fuller. Most members belted with all their might as they swung to and fro around their assorted stringed instruments. They didn’t mind that the audience sat; they hustled anyway, clearly out of pure adrenalin and appreciation for their fans.
Columbus’s Saintseneca followed, toning things down but not disappointingly. In fact, I’ve seen them a few times and that might have been my favorite. Something about Memorial Hall captured the essence of their music, like it lived right along with it.
In a rather different fashion, Gardens & Villa, all the way from California, reawakened the grumpy ghosts of Memorial Hall with bouncy synths and reverbed harmonies. It was at this point that the audience finally stood up, unable to ignore the band’s beckons for movement. It was at this point that I, yet again, sighed a happy sigh, and waved an eager hand goodbye in hopes for the reunion of Midpoint and me next year.