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: