By: Joseph Kathmann
This year marked the first year since 2014 that Cincinnati had two major music festivals occur in the same summer, which is a welcome change for many (including myself) who, for years, have been frustrated at how incompetent PromoWest can be at running music festivals. Back in 2014, Cincinnati saw a wonderful music festival season, with bands like The Flaming Lips, Paramore / Fall Out Boy, and (gulp) Empire of the Sun headlining Bunbury, (with a pretty strong undercard, more importantly) and the likes of Willie Nelson, Alabama, The Band Perry, and more headlining the newly created Buckle Up Country Music Festival, taking place in the same area as Bunbury, Sawyer Point / Yeatman's Cove, just a month or so later. With the festival scene on a meteoric rise, the old, out-of-touch executives over at PromoWest saw an opportunity to buy both festivals, cancel one, (Buckle Up was the victim, with PromoWest citing "too much competition" as the reason....imagine I said that in a really shrilly / smug / sarcastic voice) and effectively have a monopoly on the major music festival scene in a mid-sized town. Sure, MidPoint Music Festival exists in September, but the argument could easily be made that it is not on the same playing field as Bunbury. (Not to mention it has its own fair share of issues) The same can probably be said for Homecoming, but having these festivals take place a few weeks apart really hammers how complacent PromoWest has become with Cincinnati's (unfortunately) premier music festival.
It has become painstakingly obvious over the past few years that PromoWest is totally content with sitting back and watching the dollars roll in, while making very little, if any, effort to improve on the longstanding issues with Bunbury. For example, the bars were once again cash only for some inexplicable reason. Meanwhile, Homecoming, in its (hopefully) inaugural year, figured out a way to accept cards at all the bars around the festival grounds. The fact that PromoWest has not been able to integrate a similar system at the bars, ever since it tried (and failed horribly) to implement a cashless system that gobbled up your money in the process with exorbitant fees, is infuriating. Frankly, it's embarrassing that this is still the case at Cincinnati's flagship music festival in 2018. (Current year argument, but seriously PromoWest, get your act together!) Even a few years back, Bunbury was the only music festival I went to throughout the year that ONLY had cash bars. Maybe one of the reasons they continue to insist on having everything cash only (food trucks were allowed to do their own thing, at least, so many accepted cards because, you know, it's 2018 and us millennials don't carry cash) is because if they did, they'd have to train volunteers in the bars on how to actually use them. And that would require PromoWest treating their volunteers better than the dirt that accrues on all the money they're making.
Which is a good segue into an experience I had on Friday at Bunbury at the hands of PromoWest. Because this year's Bunbury lineup was (once again) a hodgepodge of artists with no real identity or consistency, I didn't have much of a desire to pay for any day other than Sunday, where Jack White was the headliner. However, on Friday I decided to volunteer for a local film organization, (Shameless self promo: the organization I volunteered for is the Cincinnati Film Society, go follow them on the social medias!) which would get me into the festival for free that day in return. I was pouring beer at one of the many beer booths around the festival grounds for our roughly 6.5 hour shift on Friday, (11 am - 5:45 pm) completely unpaid. In fact, the Cincinnati Film Society (CFS for short) was only being paid via the tips made off the beer sales. During our shift, this amounted to roughly $135. You'd think maybe PromoWest could donate even a few pennies off every beer sold in that booth to the organization, but no, why take money away from your bottom line when you can have volunteers make you your money for free? So, picture this: it's nearing the end of our 6.5 hour shift (about 15 minutes before it's supposed to end) and we're wondering where our replacements are, as they were supposed to arrive around 5. Suddenly, two PromoWest officials come up demanding to speak to the person in charge of the CFS. At the other CFS beer booth, these officials had caught someone drinking a beer while on their shift, and kicked them out of the festival. Not only that, but they were not allowing our replacements to enter the festival grounds until they spoke to the person in charge. These officials proceeded to stand by our booth for almost an hour, not letting us leave the booth and thus continue to pour beers, (and make PromoWest money) until they got to speak to the Executive Director of the CFS. (She wasn't on the grounds, which was an admittedly bad decision on her part, but still.) When our replacements were finally allowed in, they confirmed that they were, in fact, standing by the volunteer entrance, with a security guard in front of them not allowing them to enter the grounds. This kind of treatment of us, the volunteers pouring beer for free while making PromoWest disgusting amounts of money, was despicable, and put such a sour taste in my mouth that I stuck around for one band (Royal Blood) and left for the evening.
I'll admit that the above story has made me very frustrated towards PromoWest, but there were other unwelcoming things happening around Bunbury that were nowhere to be found at Homecoming. (Not to mention I've been frustrated with PromoWest for a while now). For example, this year PromoWest decided they could make more money by having beer vendors walk around the festival grounds and into the crowds until halfway through a set before setting up shop somewhere in the crowd like they have in years past. I'm sure this made more money for PromoWest, but it came at the cost of, you know, the view of the stage for us festival goers. Not like we were paying to see the musicians on stage, right? Of course this was nowhere to be found at Homecoming. I noticed it immediately in that first set on Friday, and it infuriated me every time I saw it thereafter. The only time they didn't move around were during the headlining sets of each stage, and I fully expect that when PromoWest sees how much more money they made this year in beer sales by blocking the view of the stage in the preceding acts, they'll ignore all the complaints from the festival goers (including from yours truly) and have the vendors walk through the crowd during the headliners, too. After all, who cares about lessening the vibe of your festival when you can make more money, right?
PromoWest has also never really accepted the fact that they will have to pay the city of Cincinnati money to repair Sawyer Point / Yeatman's Cove when the festival is over. Despite the fact that they have to do this every year. This year, they decided to try and make a bottleneck between the two main stages worse by fencing off the ground around the one path that goes in between them. On Friday, this magnified this problematic bottleneck I've been complaining about for YEARS (at least they didn't put a beer vendor right in the middle of it this time around, so progress....right?) and it took nearly twice as long as it should to walk between the stages. By Sunday, though, festival goers had acted on their frustrations with this stupid, PromoWest created bottleneck, and tore down the fences surrounding the pathway between the stages to alleviate the issue. However, my guess is this will just incentivize PromoWest to establish more heavy-duty fences around the bottleneck next year to ensure festival goers can't tear them down, versus trying to actually do anything meaningful to actually fix this long standing issue. Meanwhile, Homecoming Festival not only didn't have any bottlenecks, but they actually made great use of Smale Riverfront Park, allowing people to interact with the existing architecture that was there and totally accepting the fact that they were going to have to pay the city some money to repair the grounds afterwards. Not only that, but it actually added to the vibe of the festival. It was pretty cool to see people interacting with the art around the grounds while the bands were playing.
The only major complaint I had about Homecoming was getting in the first day. It took almost 30 minutes to get into the festival as security simply wasn't ready for the crowd rush, but by day 2 they had solved this issue, and I'm confident that in years to come they will figure out ways to address this issue. I have far more faith in MusicNow and the rest of the crew behind Homecoming making changes for the better than I do PromoWest for Bunbury, and that's just sad.
None of this even begins to talk about the actual music, which was (you guessed it) superior at Homecoming. There was a lot more passion from the artists, and from the crowds themselves. Not only that, but the crew was vastly superior at Homecoming than it was at its bigger brother, and that might have something to do with the fact that PromoWest insists on paying its crew a measly $10/hour to run Bunbury. Who needs a livable wage when you're working your ass off in the hot sun for 3 days to ensure a festival runs smoothly, right? Jack White's (criminally short) headlining set was marred with technical issues, (though he pushed through it like the pro that he is) and once again at least one artist complained about getting shocked by his microphone during a set. (Royal Blood) I feel like I've only ever seen that kind of an issue arise at Bunbury, and at Bunbury I've seen it happen almost every year. And, of course, the EQ at Homecoming was vastly superior, but at this point that almost goes without saying. Least the main stage at Bunbury wasn't a total bass fest. Just kind of a bass fest.
One final story I'll leave you with about Bunbury. PromoWest sets the beer prices in the festival, which actually were quite reasonable. $7 for a 16 oz craft beer isn't bad. However, in the craft beer village, PromoWest had the bright idea to sell Buzz, the official beer of Bunbury made by Braxton, in 12 oz cans for $7. Right alongside that, you could buy a 16 oz craft beer for the same price. Not only that, but in a beer tent just a few feet away, PromoWest was also selling Buzz in a 16 oz draft for, you guessed it, $7. If that doesn't sum up the idiocy mixed with complacency at PromoWest, then I don't know what does.
It's infuriating that Bunbury feels like a run-down, cheap, third-rate music festival that struggles to get any kind of noteworthy talent. And the fact that Homecoming did things so much better in its inaugural year should be telling to Cincinnati festival goers. Should be. But, because festivals are "hip" and "trendy," Bunbury will keep making PromoWest enough dough that they'll do nothing but sit back. watch the money rake in, and make no effort to improve the conditions of their cash cow. That is, until the year the festival bubble inevitably bursts and PromoWest cancels Bunbury because of "too much competition." Hopefully by then Homecoming will be ready to take the reins as Cincinnati's premier music festival. You know, assuming it actually returns. Please return, Homecoming.....
By: Joseph Kathmann
Rounding out my group of festivals for year is once again Pilgrimage. Nestled in beautiful Franklin, TN (about 15 miles south of Nashville) the festival has always been a great spot to escape from the troubles of the world in a somewhat intimate, somewhat hippie atmosphere. The lineup predominantly consists of folk, jazz/soul, and indie rock, which I always appreciate, but there's always a pop artist or two thrown in as well. The festival takes place at the historical Park at Harlinsdale Farm and, even though this year was its biggest year yet, it has yet to feel even remotely cramped. I've gone every year (and even provided the merch for them last year) since the festival began back in 2015, and have been amazed to see how far it's come in the past few years. The festival features a ton of local food vendors, as well as local arts and crafts vendors, and because of this pricing around the festival is very reasonable. This year the festival partnered with Bells Brewery, which mean every drink tent had a healthy selection of Bells Beer. Needless to say this was by far the best beer selection I saw at any festival this year, and that doesn't even mention the craft beer hall at Pilgrimage. The musicians were good, too. Here's some of the good, the bad, and the out of place acts that this festival had to offer.
Leading the charge for me this year at the festival was the legendary Mavis Staples. Boy, am I thankful I can now say I've heard this great soul singer's voice in my lifetime. Staples had a shortened set, and a few times had to sit down because "She can't keep up with us nowadays," but her set was still enticing and engaging. The crowd watched her set with the reverence she deserved, and it was pretty awe-inspiring. Staples has done a great job this year putting her name back at the forefront of the genre thanks to several high-profile collaborations in recent years, and her voice is still something to behold. Check this set out if you can.
For those who may not be familiar, Amanda Shires is the wife of Jason Isbell, who may very well be the best singer-songwriter of our generation. Derek and I have repeatedly praised his talent, but I was excited to see his better half and see how talented she is in her own right. Shires did not disappoint. She, too, is able to craft vivid stories in her songs, and also has a great deal of stage presence. I had a blast during this set, despite it being in a hotbox of an area (please guys, do something about this stage the gravel makes it 10 degrees hotter than everywhere else it's miserable) during the height of the heat for the day. It was also neat to see Jason Isbell on stage, but doing is his utmost to not take away any limelight from Amanda. I don't even think most of the crowd realized that was him playing rhythm guitar and providing the occasional backup vocal. (On the far left in the pic) Now that's true love right there.
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
Walk the Moon
Fitz and the Tantrums
You probably could've seen this one coming if you looked at the bill and saw their name on it. Derek and I have gone out of our ways to criticize the looooong, hard fall of a band that was once one of our favorites. Unfortunately this downfall has affected their live show as well. The band was, once again, lifeless in the performance of their hits, and are very clearly just going through the motions. Their new material, unsurprisingly, sounds awful live, and, despite the atmosphere, Michael Fitzpatrick and co. didn't change their setlist at all. As a result most of their set was their pop-y new material, instead of their soulful older material. It showed with the crowd too: most of the time the audience was very bored and talking over the set. I was included in that mix, and ultimately I decided to check out some football in the beer tent instead of watching the rest of the trainwreck. Hard pass.
The Out of Place
This is by far my biggest criticism of Pilgrimage 2017. The atmosphere and talent all jived well with each other this year, (minus Fitz and the Tantrums) but the headliners felt grossly out of place. While Vedder makes this list simply because of how boring his performance was, Timberlake is the primary complaint here. He did his best to appeal to the tone of the overall festival, even bringing Nashville superstar Chris Stapleton on stage for a few songs, (Timberlake is part owner of Pilgrimage now and lives in Franklin, TN too) but the crowd he brought just did not follow suit. Timberlake's day was far busier than Vedder's other day at Pilgrimage, but a great majority of Timberlake's crowd came in and camped at the main stage waiting for him, and were pretty awful in the other sets before he came on. It reminded me a lot of the Lolla vibe we saw this year, particularly before Chance's headlining set, but the second I left the main stage and went literally anywhere else, it was gone. I don't know if this set, and the obvious money it brought in, is a sign that Pilgrimage is going to try and go more mainstream in the upcoming years, but this year it did not fit in well the rest of the festival at all. Vedder is on here too because....it was just him. I was really expecting Vedder to bring out a band and showcase his solo material in addition to some Pearl Jam staples, but what we got was just Vedder and a guitar. He was just a glorified singer-songwriter, and for a festival that has provided us with some great headliners in years past (Beck, Willie Nelson, Wilco, and Hall & Oates) this year's group was either out of place for the crowd or very weak.
Despite this (once again) being the hottest festival of the year for me with highs both days well into the 90s, I had an overall great experience with (most of) the acts and the vibe of the festival. The atmosphere is great, the prices are reasonable, and the crowds are (mostly) fun. Why can't they all be like Pilgrimage?
By: Derek Jung
Nestled in a quaint park amphitheater on the banks of the Great Miami River in Hamilton, Ohio, David Shaw's Big River Get Down has put together one of the better single day festivals in the area. Shaw, lead singer of The Revivalists and Hamilton native, assembled an eclectic, good vibes focused lineup that delivered from top to bottom. Coupled with great weather and a crowd eager to soak up the sun and enjoy a day of music in an otherwise quiet town, The Get Down was a huge success.
Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band
Ironically only featuring three members, Peyton's energy, enthusiasm, and monster beard makes up for what the band lacks in size and, frankly, a vocalist. With slick slide guitar, smooth blues licks, and a hypnotizing rhythmic sound, Peyton and company commanded the stage for their 45 minute set. I found myself constantly watching Breezy, whose instrument is scratching a washboard.
Yes, this is a band from the 21st century.
Set highlights "Something for Nothing" and "Clap Your Hands" are worth the price of admission alone. Don't miss out on seeing The Rev if he comes around again.
The Marcus King Band
I missed seeing Marcus King earlier this year at 20th Century Theater because of a snow storm, so seeing he was playing The Big River Get Down was icing on the cake when I went to purchase tickets. The 21 year old blues guitarist has been playing live for a good portion of his life already, and being associated with legends like Warren Hayes certainly hasn't hurt his young career. Similar to Hayes, King's southern blues style bring back memories of The Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule. With accompanying horns and keys, King's guitar playing didn't take the spotlight quite as much as I would have liked, but there's no denying the kid's talent and passion for the blues. I'm really looking forward to hearing how his sound evolves, because there are certainly some growing pains involved. (His voice being one of them) But I have high hopes.
The Record Company
Seeing them open for My Morning Jacket earlier this year was a revolution for me. I'd heard their single, "Rita Mae Young" on local radio, but never thought they'd rock as much as they do. These three guys bring the hard pounding throwback southern blues rock riffs, a little twang, a little harmonica, and top it off with a dash of slide guitar. The resulting rock 'n' roll sundae is enough to fill the appetite of even the hungriest rocker out there.
Some would argue that The Record Company isn't bringing anything new to the genre, which is probably true, but why mess with a formula that's been so successful for so long. There's no denying that what the band's doing here sounds just as fresh as it did when Muddy Waters pioneered the genre in the 50's and 60's.
By: The Busted Amp Staff
DEREK: Lollapalooza. The festival we at The Busted Amp thought would be a one time affair after our adventure in 2016. But as with most things in the music world, we should never said never, because when the festival dropped a lineup stacked top to bottom with solid acts, we had no choice but to return to the hallowed grounds at Chicago's Grant Park. While what we witnessed ultimately failed to live up to 2016's peaks, the festival overall left us musically satisfied. The atmosphere, however, did not.
But we'll get to that.
Derek: For the second year in a row, the festival's closing act turned out to be its best. Arcade Fire, on the heels of their so-so new album Everything Now, took the stage at Grant Park on Sunday evening and played a whirlwind, catalog-spanning 90 minutes filled with their signature indie rock anthems. Hearing the chorus of "Wake Up" yelled by a field of tired festival goers was almost as awe inspiring as dancing myself clean with LCD Soundsystem last year. Filled with energy and positivity, Win Butler and Regine Chassagne brought the house down. "Everything Now" and "Creature Comfort" were clear highlights from the new album live, and old favorites like "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" reverberated off the crowd with the same effect that they had over ten years ago - sonic majesty and the emotional punch that will bring even the hardest of detractors to tears.
Joseph: Derek and I will have very similar opinions on most of the festival, but I'll add my thoughts here and there. While we disagreed somewhat on LCD Soundsystem last year, (at least with calling it the best of Lolla 2016) we are in unison with Arcade Fire. My most anticipated set of the festival turned out to be my favorite as well, as the band closed out an otherwise lackluster weekend in considerable style. "Creature Comfort" was one of my favorites, as the song (which I wasn't too high on on the album) turned out to be quite an awesome banger live. I also loved "Signs of Life," which was an incredibly groovy number to dance to. While those who made an effort to see the band's official Lolla aftershow at The Metro the night before might have found the setlists to be eerily similar, it was still a great way for us to close out Lolla 2017.
Run The Jewels
Derek: What a relief.
After their nauseatingly bass-heavy performance at Forecastle earlier this summer, I was hesitant to see them again at Lollapalooza, thinking that bigger stage speakers would only make my issues with their live mix worse. Oh how I was wrong. Killer Mike and El-P were at their best in Chicago, and absolutely tore through their hour long set in the late afternoon on Friday. One of the more memorable #LollaMoments happened when the duo invited a sign-wielding fan up on stage to rap the beginning verse of "Legend Has It". He nailed it.
These big stages are perfect for Mike and El-P, and given their continual rise in popularity, I don't see them playing anywhere smaller anytime soon.
Joseph: I did not see RTJ earlier this summer, but thanks to Derek's poor reception of them at Forecastle, I set my bar very low for this set. However I'd say this added to what we ended up with because....holy crap did RTJ blow me away. RTJ is at a point right now where they can put together a solid setlist top to bottom with 3 LPs, and their mix through Lolla's giant sound system was incredible. Additionally, unlike at many hip hop/EDM/pop sets of the weekend, the vibe here was pretty positive, as it seemed most people just showed up to dance. This set was undoubtedly my runner up for best set of the weekend.
Cage The Elephant
Derek: When it comes to legendary sets, there are few in recent years that compares to Cage The Elephant's rain dance/mud wrestling set in 2011. That's why, with more rain threatening this year's set, it wasn't beyond possibility for a repeat. Fortunately (unfortunately?), the rain held off, but the band was still on fire. There are few frontmen that have the energy as Matthew Schultz, who wore a dress for the majority of the set, before triumphantly taking it off toward the end. Not to mention guitarist Brad Schultz, who brings every bit as much energy as his brother, furiously strumming his guitar and yelling into the crowd. By the end, when Matt climbed to the top of the sound booth, the crowd was eating out of the palm of their hands. At this point in their careers, Cage the Elephant has enough material to be a go-to festival act. We saw this in action the week after Lollapalooza when they were booked to fill the space at Outside Lands when Queens of the Stone Age cancelled due to injury.
The Lemon Twigs
Chance the Rapper
Derek: Few bands had a bigger crowd of college douchebags during the weekend than Glass Animals, and for the life of me I really don't understand why. With the exception of "Life Itself", which was one of my favorite songs of last year, the rest of the band's material is incredibly bland, especially their album How To Be A Human Being. Not surprisingly, their performance wasn't much better, yet the crowd was thrilled to toss around mini blow up pineapples (a reference to the song "Gooey") and get really really high. I'm not kidding. I can't think of another act with a thicker haze swirling around the immense field of festival attendees. Maybe I didn't understand because I was stone cold sober, but I didn't hear anything worthwhile from their hour long set.
Joseph: I don't think there was a set over the weekend that better encapsulated what's wrong with Lolla today than Glass Animals. The vibe at Lolla has gone to hell, and at sets like Glass Animals, it was all too present. Many in attendance were just there for "Gooey" and "Life Itself," (which the band opened with so they really took the anticipation out of it with that one) and the rest of the time they couldn't care less what Dave Bayley and co. were doing on stage. What's worse is this isn't the first time this has happened to me watching Glass Animals. While I didn't bring them up in my official recap, I was very low on their set at Bonnaroo this year for similar reasons, and insisted on seeing the band again in the hopes that that negative vibe (which ran counter to most of Bonnaroo's weekend) was a fluke. It was not. I almost hate to say this about any band, but for now avoid Glass Animals and their awful crowd at all costs. It's just not worth it.
Car Seat Headrest
Derek: Don't listen to the folks at Stereogum, who praised the band's set as one of the festival's best. This set was doomed from the very beginning, and had everything to do with the mix. If you've listened to CSH before, you know that lead singer Will Toledo's voice is pretty abrasive. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but combined with a mix that was a muddled mess and you have a recipe for disaster. It quickly spawned Reddit threads, complaining about the poor sound quality. Would this be the Bastille set of 2017? The short answer is absolutely, although after I left for ten minutes to catch the end of Noname, who was fantastic, I returned back to be pleasantly surprised that there was a small but noticeable improvement in the sound. It was, however, too late to save the set as a whole, and thus Car Seat Headrest goes back on the list of bands I need to experience in their true form, because we certainly did not get it here.
Joseph: So this is the one point where I will kind of disagree with Derek. I'm definitely not with Stereogum on this set, but to me it can just be summed up as.....meh. While the AWFUL mix initially didn't help matters, after they fixed it somewhat, the set itself was just mediocre to me. I've never fully understood the hype behind CSH (though I can definitely appreciate the fact that frontman Will Toledo looks suspiciously like Boris Grishenko from 007's Goldeneye) and after seeing their set I still don't understand it. Their set, to me, was just average, and I have very little desire to see them again. (Even though I'm glad I did get to see them) So I guess I didn't hate this set as much as Derek did, I just found the band as a whole to be very meh.
Derek: There are few modern rock stars that have the reputation that Liam Gallagher has amassed his twenty years in the spotlight. The singer, formerly of Oasis, was a surprisingly solid get for the festival as he ramps up touring before the release of his first solo album. Unfortunately for those in attendance, Liam made it only three songs into his set before calling it quits without so much as a word to the crowd. He would later tweet of vocal issues, but I don't believe that for a second. The crowd briefly chanted his brother's name "Noel. Noel. Noel" as the crew began to tear down his gear. Given their much publicized dislike for each other, I can only dream of being a fly on the wall of his green room as the echos reached his ears.
Joseph: Hey, remember the days when Liam Gallagher wasn't an asshole? Neither do I. Sorry this post isn't any longer. My hands hurt from all that typing. I'm gutted.
Derek: While the trend of younger and younger Lollapalooza attendees continued this year, exacerbated by the ever present bass booming through the park from Perry's, I was happy to see that those crowds generally stuck in and around that area. There were only a few acts that were inundated by drugged up high schoolers, one of which made the bad list above. There weren't many other noticeable changes to the festival format. Of course, everyone was bummed that Thursday's headliners were cut short because of severe weather. I was at Lorde and Joseph was at Muse during that time.
The best change for 2017 was the addition of separate urinals, which really sped up bathroom wait times, and also flushable toilets, which kept them cleaner for longer. If I were to take a stab at attendance, I'd say that this year was better attended than last year, especially on Saturday for Chance the Rapper's hometown headlining set.
All of that being said, I still think Lollapalooza has an identity and culture problem. So many people, especially over the age of 20, continue to decry the existence of Perry's, and Perry himself has teased the possibility of running his own underground house music festival to counter the mostly generic EDM that is featured on the stage bearing his name. The problem, ultimately, is that EDM brings the crowds and money that indie music can't bring anymore. Those that grew up in the early-mid 2000's during indie-rock's boom aren't attending as many festivals, and electronic music is the name of the game for the high school and college demographic. And when it comes down to it, Lollapalooza exists to make money, and it certainly does year after year. I think it's safe to say, however, that they won't be getting any more from me. Maybe I'm just getting old.
Joseph: Lolla 2017 was a Jekyll-and-Hyde tale for me. Unlike Derek, I don't necessarily mind the identity/culture problem. I think that can be summed up as "We're old and no longer the most important demographic for music, and we're just not that into EDM." What I do mind, however, is people who can't get their act together and, frankly, handle their shit. I see more people passed out at Lolla than at any other festival, and that's saying something since I go to a 4 day camping festival in the middle of the TN summer every year in Bonnaroo. I just don't understand why people feel the need to have a total disregard of their limits. Why is that even a thing? What benefits do you get out of it other than waking up in an ambulance or medical tent having no idea where your phone is and realizing you missed the headliner you wanted to see because you were passed out?
Additionally, I am so frustrated by the selfish, entitled mentality that comes with so many of the crowds at Lolla. The day Chance headlined was undoubtedly the worst of this. While I had a great time at Chance's set, and will likely be talking about it for years to come as it was one of the biggest crowds for a Lolla headliner ever, I came home to read horror stories on Reddit of entitled Chance fans ruining the show for everyone else who camped the Grant Park Stage right before he went on.
That said, there are still many things Lolla does better than any other festival I go to. Front and center is their easy to use cashless wristband system. No other festival has their act together as much as Lolla does with this system, and it's paired with some incredible food which, believe it or not, is the cheapest I saw at any festival in 2017. Believe me when the year started I did not think I would be typing that sentence, but $5 for a slice of authentic Chicago-style deep dish pizza was the deal to beat at any music festival in 2017. As Derek mentioned, the flush-able toilets (and urinals) were an EXTREMELY welcomed addition to the festival this year, and the festival crew added an extremely welcome third set of speakers at the main stage as well. Security started out pretty lax but got their act together as the weekend went on, and the watering stations are still the best of any festival I go to.
Unfortunately, though, the negatives outweighed the positives for me this year, and I am going to have to side with Derek on my final takeaway. As much fun as it's been going to Lolla these last two years, it would take an absolutely incredible lineup in 2018 for me to even consider coming back and dealing with all the BS that comes with the festival. And given the overall trend of these festival lineups the last two years, I am not holding my breath for a stellar lineup in 2018. It's been real, Lollapalooza. Thanks for the memories.
By: Derek Jung
After missing the previous three years, it was nice to finally return to the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville, KY for another round of Forecastle. 2013's edition was my first music festival ever, and the experience that I had there set the bar for three day marathon-style music festivals that I've attended ever since. Yes, the musical landscape has changed quite a bit even in those few years, but what I found was that the essence of Forecastle was still in great shape, even with the negative vibes that the EDM/rave culture brought to two of the stages during the festival. Below I've highlighted some of the good, the bad, and the ugly from this year's beautiful Forecastle Festival. Welcome aboard, reader.
After what was reported as an uncharacteristically rough performance at Pitchfork Festival in Chicago the night before, James Murphy and crew brought their A Game to their Saturday headlining slot on the riverfront. For an hour and fifty minutes, the field of festival goers were dancing and grooving to the band's signature sound. Between last year's headlining set at Lollapalooza and this one, the setlist was very similar, save for the addition of the two new singles from their impending new album. "Call The Police" was especially poignant, it's driving repeated riff climaxing to Murphy's exclamatory outro chorus. As always, it was a wondrous experience to see tens of thousands of people dancing together, specifically during "Dance Yrself Clean" and my personal highlight, "All My Friends".
The band also performed what Murphy admitted was their first festival encore ever, so that was a nice little piece of history to witness. I have a feeling, however, that it was unintentional. They left the stage exactly at 11, but their set was scheduled until 11:20. Nontheless, it was a great set and my favorite of the entire weekend.
Yr City's a Sucker
Daft Pink Is Playing at My House
I Can Change
You Wanted a Hit
Call The Police
New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down
Dance Yrself Clean
All My Friends
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
Seeing a cancer free Charles Bradley smiling at a field of hot, sweaty, Sunday afternoon festival goers was immediately one of the highlights of the entire weekend. Since I saw him last at Bunbury 2016, Bradley underwent treatment for stomach cancer and had to cancel a number of tour dates in the process. But the 68 year old, nicknamed the "Screaming Eagle" for a reason, brought the soul to the waterfront, and his energy woke all of us from our heat-induced slumbers. At his age, he's still incredible mobile, and twice jumped down from the stage to sing and dance. After his rousing cover of the Ozzy Osbourne classic "Changes", he brought a dozen roses and handed them out to the crowd. A little girl on her dad's shoulders in front us got one of the roses, and everyone around her gave her high fives. The smile on her face said it all. That's a moment she'll remember for a long time, and is exactly the good vibes that I've come to expect from the festival.
Perhaps the most intimate performance of the weekend took place on the small Port stage, which was situated across a small docking area to the right of the main stage. John Moreland, a singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, took the stage in the late afternoon on Friday. I had seen Moreland open for Shovels & Rope earlier this year, and immediately fell in love with his hard cutting, deeply personal lyricism and his gravelly, Springsteen-esque voice. Seeing Moreland at the festival was a last second decision for us. His time slot was one of the biggest conflicts of the weekend; Capital Cities lined up with all but 15 minutes of his set and Cage The Elephant started on the main stage a half hour before he ended. Despite all of that, once we arrived on the sparsely populated lawn, there was no leaving him. With little fanfare and only he and an accompanying guitarist to his right, Moreland dove into his new record, the fantastic Big Bad Luv, as well as a number of songs off his older records. It was a perfect setting as the sun slowly set under the Ohio River.
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Run The Jewels
RTJ, the hip hop duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P, was one of my most anticipated sets of the festival. Unfortunately for me, the mix was one of the worst of the weekend. Now, maybe this is just Grandpa Derek rambling here, but the bass and low end was so loud that it was drowning out a lot of the rapping, especially Killer Mike. What's the point if you can't hear the rapping?
I enjoyed everything else about their set. Their stage presence was great, the crowd interactions were hilarious, and I have nothing else bad to say about them. But the bass-heavy mix completely ruined it for me. Joseph and I are probably going to catch them in a few weeks at Lollapalooza. Hopefully they have things balanced a little better there, but I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out sounding like Bastille last year.
Judah & The Lion
For the most part, there weren't many bad sets this year, which is a great sign that they're doing things right on the riverfront. The worst performance of the weekend was definitely from Judah & The Lion, although I suppose I should give them credit for living up to the name of their album Folk Hop N' Roll. But it was that lack of identity that really turned me off of the band's show. Much of the new album is very poppy - pop hooks, pop lyrics, pop sensibilities. Their show, however, tried a little too hard to be like X Ambassadors, and it felt forced and uncharacteristic for a group whose first two albums were mostly folk/americana. Come on, fellas. No need to be what you're not for the sake of a paycheck.
Weezer's cover of "Hey Ya" - Outkast
The Party Cove Stage
For a band with such great potential, lead singer Sam France continues to derail their live performances with his on stage antics and unstable performances. After seeing them twice, I'm still not sure who he's trying to emulate, but it's perhaps best described as a less talented Mick Jagger on methamphetamine. Despite France's best efforts to attract all of the attention to himself by yelling nonsense and being the most distracting lead singer I've ever seen, the rest of the band's performance was pretty great. That only makes his meltdowns even more disappointing. The saddest part is that as the band's material has gotten more ambitious, on Hang especially, the level of France's outrageous behavior has, as they say, gone to 11. And I make that last statement in the worst light possible. He was dressed in white face at Forecastle.
Until France gets himself under control, Foxygen live is a hard pass from me.
All in all, it was another great showing for the Louisville mainstay. Most of the changes since my last visit in 2013 were positive, especially moving the smallest stage to its current location. I'm still advocating for them to limit the amount of EDM/Rave culture that they allow into the festival, because it brings the most negative crowd of hormonal teenagers who just want to get high and fuck. For a good vibes festival like Forecastle, the two don't mix, and there are plenty of other festivals where that crowd can blow their loads, literally and figuratively. But unfortunately, I am also well aware of the economics involved. EDM is where the money is at the moment, and the festival needs to make a profit to survive. All that being said, Forecastle has done well to balance the good with the necessary evils, and I look forward to my next trip to the waterfront.
By: Joseph Kathmann
New Paint Job, Same Old Roo
Another year, another Roo. I, like many, was pretty disappointed when the 2017 Bonnaroo lineup dropped. Gratuitous amounts of hip hop and EDM found its way into what was once a hippie-fest, and I was very concerned that those fans wouldn't come to Roo in droves. After all there are dozens of EDM festivals out there, why would those fans come to Roo when none of the headliners are in the genre? Well, the answer was.....many. To my surprise, Bonnaroo's attendance actually increased from 50k last year to just over 65k this year. However, this still marks the third lowest-attended Roo since 2006, so we have a long way to go to get back to the 75k average the festival had before Live Nation purchased the festival. And, despite being one of the older fellas at the festival, I still felt like it was the same old Roo. The vibe that brings me back every year was alive and well despite the lackluster lineup, and I still felt like I was right at home on the farm once again. While 2014 is still my favorite Roo, I can say with absolute certainty that this year's Roo was more enjoyable than 2016's. And believe me when I say I was not expecting that heading into the festival this year.
Best Set: Royal Blood
I'm actually pretty surprised I ended up calling this my favorite set of the weekend. Heading into the festival I was looking forward to other sets far more than Royal Blood's. Shows like Future Islands, U2, Lorde, and Portugal. The Man, caught my eye far more than this British rock duo. But boy was I wrong. Frontman Mike Kerr puts on a heck of a show. He is the vocalist, guitarist, and bassist.....all simultaneously. Needless to say it was pretty mesmerizing watching him play these incredibly complex bass/guitar on one instrument while singing. And it also helped that his drummer, Ben Thatcher, was pretty dang good too. Royal Blood is on top of the rock world right now, and with a new album dropping that is my favorite of the year so far, this is one set you shouldn't miss.
Best/Worst Set: Lorde
I wanted to include Lorde's set on here for one main reason:. From the get-go her set was marred by technical problems, as it actually started with a 30 minute delay as the crew tried desperately to fix her monitors. Whatever solution they finally presented was a very shoddy one, as it seemed the crew merely put a band-aid over the problem and told Lorde that was the best they could do. What followed was confirmation of why Lorde is one of my favorite people in the business: she came out and she gave Roo her all, despite the fact that her sound issues were nowhere near solved. She kept signaling off-stage for the crew to adjust her monitor's EQ, and several times she just took out her in-ears so she could actually hear. She was clearly frustrated, and yet she did everything she possibly could to give her fans the best possible show she could. Lorde may only be 20 years old, but that night on the farm she acted like a 20 year veteran.
Worst Set: Cage the Elephant
I really didn't see a bad set at Roo this year. Cage just gets this title because frontman Matt Shultz was sick. No fault of his, just bad luck, but because of this their songs sounded, well, terrible. Shultz had to take most of the songs down an octave to compensate, and he didn't even try any of the screams. Fortunately for his fans, he didn't hold back in his performance. He was the same ol' Shultz we know and love there, he just sounded terrible. That and the fact that I have to have a "Worst Set" category are the only two reasons Cage finds itself on this list. Thank God the great Red Hot Chili Peppers followed them up.
WTF Set: Travis Scott
I came into this set a bit late as Lorde's technical difficulties caused her to go 30 minutes over, but once I got there I was almost wishing I had made my way over earlier. Apart from the rapper putting on a really solid set, the dude had a GIANT eagle animatronic on stage. See him in the picture? Kind of? Ya, that's a freaking eagle, because why not? As I continue to watch more and more rap sets, I've seen a certain trend develop: memorability comes not from your skills as a rapper, but the show you put on. The more crap you put on your stage, whether it be fire or confetti or whatever, the more people will go nuts. Travis Scott definitely recognized this. Did I mention it also breathed fire? Because.... why not?
Biggest Disappointment: Chance the Rapper
Heading into Bonnaroo, this was one of my most anticipated sets. After all, Chance had become the unofficial "Mayer of Bonnaroo" over the past few years, frequently making surprise appearances at various sets (he made a cameo at Macklemore's set last year) and even stealing a surprise set at the Silent Disco back in 2016. But he was never given a full set until now. Who was going to show? Was fellow Chicago native Kanye West going to make an appearance? Lil Wayne? Future? Francis & The Lights? (Who was at the festival just a day earlier, too) Anyone? Sadly, the answer was no, and Chance stayed on stage for his 75 minute set (that might as well have been a headlining one) by himself. While his set was good, I couldn't help but be devastated by the thought of what could have been. This was an easy choice for biggest disappointment of the weekend.
Biggest Surprise: Tank and The Bangas
A very last-minute addition to the festival, Tank and The Bangas have been riding a wave of success after NPR named them the unanimous victor of their 2017 Tiny Desk concert. Their set was clearly tacked on-they found themselves opening one of the tents at 12:30 (which is stupid-early for a festival that goes until 4 or 5 AM every day) on the final day of the festival. A small, very exhausted group of festival-goers (including myself) stumbled over to the "This Tent" for their early set, most brought together by NPR's coverage. And we quickly discovered that the hype was real. The group's marvelous (and unique) combination of gospel, psychedelia, and hip hop plus the energy and vigor of the group's frontwoman, Tarriona "Tank" Ball, helped the small crowd wake up for the final day of the festival in a big way. While the band will probably never reach star status, they will likely be a festival staple of years to come. Thank you, NPR.
Overall, Bonnaroo continues to set a great standard for how a big festival should be run. The flush-able toilets continue to be a wonderful addition for the festival, but it still didn't prevent the port-o-lets from being a crap shoot by Sunday, despite considerable efforts to keep them at least somewhat clean. Food is crazy-expensive, which can be a little frustrating since you're on an island at Bonnaroo, but the food out in the campgrounds was very reasonable and delicious. Nothing like a coffee and a breakfast burrito for $5 to get your day started. I also made it over to the cinema tent for the first time this year, as I had the chance to get in Centeroo early on Saturday to check out a screening of Donnie Darko with director Richard Kelly on hand to answer questions afterwards. Personally I don't see much appeal in skipping out on music to see a comedian or movie (though I know that's one of the things that makes Roo so unique) but the space is certainly nice, and it's always great to get into some a/c to escape the Tennessee heat. I'm also glad Bonnaroo is going the route of Lollapalooza and giving EDM its own stage. "The Other Tent" has increasingly housed the EDM acts of Roo, (last year the only set I saw there was Third Eye Blind) and this year the festival finally built the stage from the ground up for EDM, removed the tent, and changed the name to "The Other." I went over there for a bit just to check it out, and the stage seemed to be a wonderful haven for EDM/hip hop fans, as there were ample video screens on the stage for the artist to play with and the EQ was overwhelming bass-heavy. This is how all festivals should do it because if not you'll get a bass heavy EQ at the main stage like Bunbury did just a week prior. Dear God, PromoWest, can you please look at Bonnaroo and run your festival even half as efficiently as Live Nation does?
At the end of the day, despite the less-than-stellar lineup that featured WAY too much EDM, my love for these few short days spent on the farm has never been stronger. I have every intention of making the pilgrimage again next year, no matter how EDM-heavy the lineup is. Bonnaroo will never die, it just has a new makeover.
By: Joseph Kathmann
A Festival Without an Identity
To say I wasn't all that excited for this year's Bunbury is something of an understatement. After the festival dropped its clusterf*** of a lineup, it quickly became one of the laughing stocks of the festival season, despite its undeniable uniqueness. The lineup was so lackluster that Derek sold one of his passes to me and took a rather large loss on his second pass. By the time he sold it, passes were going for $60 UNDER face value. Despite the fact that PromoWest announced that 3 day passes conveniently sold out the day before the festival began, there was a noticeable lack of crowds from start to finish.
However, there was a strong presence of day passes, as the festival did do a good job of organizing the genres into daily schedules. (hip hop on Friday, EDM on Saturday, rock on Sunday) Overall the festival has taken a lot of the feedback it's received over the years to heart, however why can't they figure out how to incorporate Square at food/beer booths???? Last year the festival had this totally ridiculous cashless system that everybody hated, so they took the feedback by dropping that system and replacing it with....? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Having the entire festival cash-only just seemed lazy on the part of PromoWest. I was definitely disappointed by this. Fortunately, outside of this the rest of the festival was run fairly well. Though it helps when you have lower attendance numbers. But sadly for me the festival went pretty much exactly how I expected it to. The shows I expected to be good were good, and the shows I expected to be bad were bad. I expected Saturday to be crazy and ridiculous, and Saturday was.....you guessed it, crazy and ridiculous. So let's get into the shows, shall we?
Best Set: Muse
It's almost unfortunate that Muse was the best set of the weekend, but it comes as no surprise because Muse still puts on a heck of a show. The band was easily my favorite group during my high school years, and I haven't seen them in 7 years but I worried, not excited. The band is coming off easily its worst album to date in Drones, and before that another lackluster album in The 2nd Law. Fortunately the band's festival set is composed mostly of hits, and the band played more songs from albums like Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations than their newer material. Additionally, the band just shreds it live, as their performances are full of jams and breakdowns. Not to mention the entire video show, which has been a staple of their sets since the before I saw them for the first time in the late 2000s. Seriously, even if you are just a casual fan of the band, there aren't many better groups to see live than Muse. Bunbury saved the best for last, and I am definitely happy that Muse closed out the festival.
Worst Set: Tech N9ne
I don't deny that I am not the biggest fan of hip hop, but there's no doubt that fans of the genre worship acts like Tech N9ne. So I was definitely excited to see them. While their show is pretty over-the-top, I was very disappointed by the fact that the rapper was.....lip syncing. That's right. It's 2017, and we are still seeing artists lip sync at their shows. Unbelievable. Oh! Something I didn't mention earlier. The balancing at the main stage was TERRIBLE all the way until Muse's closing set, and with Tech N9ne the bass was so overwhelming I couldn't even hear the vocals. While there seemed to be plenty of people having a blast at his set, I pity them. Because this is not just the worst set I saw at Bunbury, it is easily the worst set I've seen to date this year.
WTF Set: Wiz Khalifa
This was an interesting set. Part of me has always wanted to see Wiz live, and I am certainly glad that I can cross him off the list, but.....what? There was the blatantly weird-Wiz smoking a joint on stage and passing out to the crowd-as well as the strange-Wiz playing popular songs he's only featured in simply because they're popular songs. Heck some of the songs, like "Sucker for Pain," he only played snippets of....for some reason. Not quite sure the rationale behind this other than Wiz basically saying "Hey everyone! Look at all the pop music I've been featured on!" While I did enjoy hearing some of these hits, like "See You Again" and Wiz's classic "Black and Yellow," it was definitely the weirdest set of the weekend.
Biggest Surprise: Arkells
I didn't know much about this band going into their early Sunday afternoon set, but I was hooked within a matter of moments. Frontman Max Kerman is absurdly charming and charismatic, and he knew exactly how to woo the small crowd that showed up early. He had a wireless mic-unusual for a band the size of Arkells-but I quickly found out why. Kerman didn't just hop into the crowd to get them fired up, he hopped into the crowd and ran to the back of it so he could get EVERYONE fired up. He also brought up a random guy (the dude wearing the green bandanna in the photo above) to play some guitar chords for one song. Because why not? All of this on top of some pretty good music too. Discovering bands like Arkells is the reason why I go to festivals.
While there was enough to like at this festival to keep me entertained, I couldn't help but leave feeling unsatisfied. PromoWest definitely went for the most diverse lineup they could find, but in the process left everyone wanting more. Additionally, because of the heavy hip hop/EDM presence at the main stage, the balancing there was terrible. I hinted at it before, but every act that performed, with the exception of Muse, had to deal with overpowering bass during their set, and it was really really frustrating. Hopefully next year they just embrace one side of the spectrum or the other, versus trying to appeal to everyone. Either way, I can't help but be excited to see what PromoWest has in store for the festival next year. And yes, I do feel like something of a sucker for feeling that way.....
By: Derek Jung
The National guitarist Bryce Dessner once again put together a diverse and eclectic lineup for the 11th installment of his MusicNOW Festival, which takes place every year in various locations around downtown Cincinnati. This year, the festival kicked off with a performance by legendary rhythm guitarist and founding Grateful Dead member Bob Weir. Dessner and the rest of The National are fresh off the release of their massive 10 LP collaborative box set of Grateful Dead covers (which, if you haven't listened to it yet, it is stunning), so it wasn't surprising that Dessner tapped Weir to perform. Weir himself released Blue Mountains last fall, which was his first album of all original material in nearly 30 years.
Weir came out alone on stage to begin the first of two sets, diving straight into the aforementioned Blue Mountains accompanying himself with only an acoustic guitar. Weir's voice, strained with age, echoed wonderfully off the enormous Aronoff Center facade. Before long, Weir was joined by "The Campfire Band", or Aaron Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, and Scott Devendorf of The National as well as Jon Shaw from Shakey Graves and Josh Kaufman, who co-produced Blue Mountains. Vocalist Lisa Hannigan also contributed her beautiful voice to a few songs, including "Lay My Lily Down" during the first set and "Peggy-O" during the second. The setlist was pretty diverse, with a healthy mix of solo material from Blue Mountains and classic Grateful Dead songs. The jams were adventurous, but for the most part did not stray away from a defined structure, with Weir physically signaling to the group when he wanted to transition. Some of those transitions were a bit clunky, but I'll attribute this more to not having years and years of experience with each other.
The crowd was a pleasant mix of older Dead Head stoners, and young people. It was amusing watching the terrified looks slowly grow on the Aronoff Center ushers' faces as the unmistakable aroma of marijuana grew heavier as the show went on. I think it's safe to say that more weed was smoked that night than has even been smoked in the theater before. But it was mood spoiler during the second set when ushers got strict with any suspected puff of smoke or cell phone light. You'd think the Aronoff Center would have anticipated the crowd would be lighting up.
All in all, another great act put on by MusicNOW. The show was well attended for a Thursday night, and I was happy to see a crowd so engaged and enthusiastic. We owe Dessner quite a bit for bringing such great collaborative music to Cincinnati, and we need to be sure that it continues well into the future.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I provided all the merch for this festival this year
This was such a polarizing festival for me. On the one hand, the atmosphere was everything I hoped it would be. These hippie festivals always have great vibes, and from start to finish Pilgrimage certainly did not disappoint. However, at the same time there were a significant number of growing pains, and a lot of logistical details that made me want to pull out my hair and scream WHAT ARE YOU DOING? This review, since it's coming several weeks after the festival, will simply be a discussion versus highlighting the good and the bad. I do not feel I was able to see enough of the acts at the festival to create an ordinary festival review.
That said, I will say Beck was in an entirely different zip code than the rest of the acts of the festival, but this is more of a credit to how talented Beck is. If you ever get the opportunity to see Beck and enjoy live music, see him. Even if you hate his music, his show is more than worth seeing.
In stark contrast to 90's star Beck, you have 90's star Cake. I don't know what happened with this set, but John McCrea had clearly woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning because he was extremely grumpy from start to finish during this set, and it really rubbed me the wrong way. I did not remember McCrea being that negative during his performance at Bonnaroo a few years back.
But I want to talk about logistics. So, I gave Pilgrimage a free pass last year. I don't think anyone anticipated them being as successful as they were, but then this year rolls around and naturally they should be ready for it, right? Well.....not quite. While there weren't any ridiculous decisions, there were a lot of things here and there that really didn't make sense. Like why was there only one single file stairwell to get to and from the Harpeth River stage? It made for some pretty ridiculous bottlenecks when those bands were just starting or finishing their sets. To make this decision even more ridiculous, last year there were two entrances to this stage, but....they decided that with the rise in popularity....they would shut down one of those entrances? Totally makes sense. Getting in and out of the festival was a little difficult too, but I think that was more the result of people not knowing where the additional exits were besides the main one. The crew also ran out of maps pretty early on, which was surprising.
Also, and this was by FAR the biggest complaint of most, was the water. There were only two or three water stations spread out across the grounds, and none of them had good water pressure. Not to mention the water was extremely warm. Festival planners (and The Park at Harlinsdale Farm) need to improve the water issues next year or the growth of the festival will definitely be stifled.
However, at the end of the day, Pilgrimage did make some pretty noticeable steps to improve the overall experience, and it's setting is still just a gorgeous as it was last year. Watching the sun set behind Beck and Jason Isbell was a site to behold, and easily worth the cost of admission by itself. The overall quality of the acts were definitely better than last year, with plenty of gems hidden on the off-the-beaten-path Harpeth River stage too. Even Darryl Hall & John Oats were a good festival closer, despite being a last second addition. Now that Justin Timberlake has bought a major stake in his hometown festival, I can't wait to see what's in store next year. I know I will be making the Pilgrimage again in 2017.
Oh, and the merch was awesome. In case you were wondering.
By: Derek Jung
Midpoint Music Festival has been a staple of Over The Rhine in Cincinnati for over a decade, albeit in various incarnations. Most recently, the festival featured an all ages main stage in Washington Park and smaller 21+ shows in bars and theaters around the neighborhood. I've been going to the festival since 2012 when I first turned 21, and it quickly became one of my favorite weekends of the entire year. The festival is known for music discovery, and it wasn't uncommon to be walking down the street and be drawn inside a tiny bar by a band playing to a dozen or so people.
This year's festival, however, saw a change in format that condensed the festival to three main stages in a parking lot and a smaller free stage that featured mostly local artists. Many, including myself, were apprehensive of this change, and some argued that it was so different from the original spirit of the festival that it needed to be called something different. I decided to give the new format a chance. Here are my thoughts on the good, the bad, and the WTF of this year's MPMF.
Band of Horses
Sunday night's headliner were the perfect ending to the weekend's up and down adventure. Fresh off the release of their new album, Why Are You OK, Ben Bridwell and gang put forth everything they could muster in their nineteen song, hour and a half performance. Blazing through five songs from the new album including lead single "Casual Party", the band challenged legendary rocker Bob Mould for the biggest wall of sound produced that weekend. Bridwell's distinct voice echoed off the surrounding buildings and parking garage where many non-festival goers were watching. The band made good use of the largest crowd of the weekend, channeling the energy into one of the more entertaining performances of the weekend. Hearing one of my favorite songs "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands" live was special to me, and many in the crowd were stoked to hear hits like "The Funeral", "Is There A Ghost", and "No One's Gonna Love You". The on stage banter was minimal, but Bridwell was quick to give an appreciative "Thanks, y'all!".
Thank you, Band of Horses. Thank you.
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
English singer-songwriter Frank Turner brought his full band to Midpoint on Sunday evening and proceeded to melt the faces off of everyone in attendance with their blend of irish punk and gritty folk rock. Turner had some of the most fun on-stage banter of the festival, and generally seemed to be having a blast performing. One of the memorable moments was when he had the crowd create a circle pit during "Out of Breath" and before performing "Photosynthesis", he lamented about not being in the band Slayer but really wanting to be. To fulfill his Slayer dreams, he wanted to do a "wall of death", but instead of running and bashing into each other, the crowd was instructed to hug the person across from them, thus dubbed the "wall of hugs". It was quite the scene, and yes, I hugged a few extremely sweaty strangers. Worth it.
It's been a summer of turbulence for the Scottish indie rockers. Soon after Joseph and I saw some of their set at Lollapalooza, lead singer Scott Hutchison had a massive Twitter meltdown and checked himself into rehab for a bit, forcing the band to cancel their next few appearances. Fast forward a few months and the band is back on the road and sounding better than ever. Thundering through their 45 minute set, they spent most of their time playing songs off of this year's Painting of a Panic Attack. They were focused, sharp, and ferocious. Much better than when they played at Lollapalooza, and easily one of the highlights of Saturday night for me.
Langhorne Slim & The Law
The inclusion of Antibalas on this list has nothing to do with how the band played, their talent, or their stage presence. Their inclusion has everything to do with the crowd. The smaller Friday evening crowd quickly grew bored of the extensive jamming and repetitive nature of Antibalas' music. After an extremely hot afternoon of roasting in the sun, I don't think anyone had it left in them to dance and groove with them. I know I didn't. They were probably the biggest casualty of the parking lot environment, but certainly not the only ones. Sorry fellas.
JJ Grey & Mofro
Another band that was completely misplaced on this year's bill, JJ Grey & Mofro had the smallest crowd for a headliner, and it was on Saturday night. Not only was the crowd lackluster, but the energy mustered by those in attendance did nothing to liven the dated sound of the band. As someone who really likes neo-soul, dirty blues, and classic rock, I found the band to be ho-hum, generic, and uninspired. The man has a great bluesy, soulful voice, but the songs were no better than any that I've seen at a local blues night at a bar. There was no standout musician to feature; the guitars were subdued with minimal soloing. The focus was on Grey, and unfortunately he didn't have enough to keep my attention.
The James Hunter Six
Personally, I really enjoyed Future Islands' set. For not having any new material to tour on, the crowd was extremely receptive to the songs from their 2014 massive hit album Singles. For those that were uninitiated to Future Islands, though, they were in for quite a surprise when lead singer Samuel T.'s signature live growl made its first appearance. There were quite a few drunken imitations throughout the crowd for the rest of the evening. But you know what they say: imitation is the highest form of flattery. Right?
Samuel T. is definitely the heart and soul of the band. Grumbling from one side of the stage to the other, his mannerisms are violent, heartfelt, and purposeful. I was immediately entranced by the way he carried himself on stage and the way he expertly portrayed each song's story. I can't wait to hear what new material they're working on. They played a few to give us a taste. I want more.
Overall it's hard to pin down how I feel about this new incarnation of the festival. From someone who's been going to this festival since I was old enough to attend, it hurts (both physically and spiritually) to be stuck in a blacktop parking lot all day for three days. I will never forget the great bands that I happened upon in bars that turned into some of my favorites: Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel at MOTR Pub, multiple bands at Arnold's and Mr. Pitiful's, and The Drinkery. Midpoint this year felt so sterile compared to years past, and you could feel that energy in the veterans who attended. For first time attendees, they probably experienced something similar to Bunbury, except more compact and less grassy. They probably enjoyed it. Why wouldn't they? The bands as a whole were great, the food options were fantastic, and even the beer selection was better than ever.
But for the rest of us, something essential was missing. It wasn't until the evening, as the sun set just below the surrounding buildings and it started to cool off, that I finally felt the energy of the Midpoint return. Not all of it, but just enough to give me hope that someday it will return. I think the festival organizers heard our complaints loud and clear. Whether they do something with them is another question altogether, but I don't think the festival will receive the support that they need going forward if changes aren't made. The parking lot, which sloped down away from the stage, was not conducive to watching, especially for shorter attendees. The WNKU stage heard everything that happened on the two main stages, and it really took away from some of the bands' experiences. Langhorne Slim timed his slow songs in between the thunderous bass of Tokyo Police Club. Dead Horses, HOOPS and Oh Pep! looked visibly annoyed with the sound bleed and complained that they couldn't hear themselves play.
Beyond that, things went better than expected.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: