Dan McCabe's been keeping a close eye on the transformation of Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park since last October. Closed for almost 18 months, Cincinnati's second-oldest park reopened this July after a meticulous renovation and expansion that cost more than $50 million.
"MidPoint's kind of a biological parallel," says McCabe, MidPoint Music Festival's executive producer. (Full disclosure: McCabe is a CityBeat employee overseeing the production of MPMF, which CityBeat owns and operates.)
"A fish can only get as big as its pond will let it expand and grow. Washington Park is an expansion of Over-the-Rhine, and it makes perfect sense that it would also be an expansion for MidPoint Music Festival."
Entering its 11th and largest year yet, MPMF (held Sept. 27-29 in downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine) has prided itself on being the showcase arena for burgeoning local, regional and national musicians. That arena will include a stage built specifically for MPMF at Washington Park. McCabe worked hand-in-hand pioneering a gated event at Washington Park with Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). Positioned in front of Music Hall at 14th and Elm streets, the Civic Lawn at Washington Park will serve as the main stage for MPMF, with headliners including Andrew Bird, Grizzly Bear and Sleigh Bells.
"My god, it's a gem," McCabe says. "Washington Park has served over the past couple of months as a gateway to the suburbs for a lot of people. [They're] exploring Over-the-Rhine. It's hard to ignore. Not only has the park turned out beautifully and impeccably done, but the surrounding Over-the-Rhine architecture while you're standing there looking around at the rooftops, it's something to be excited about and proud of and for all of Cincinnati to share in."
To further encourage excitement, McCabe has introduced more all-ages venues for this year's MPMF.
"MidPoint has been constrained in terms of audience. It's typically been, in its lifespan, filled out in bars. With the inclusion of Washington Park and this year the Contemporary Arts Center, we've got the capacity to sustain it there. It's uniquely all-ages," he says.
Without 3-day wristbands, Thursday's Washington Park ticket is $25 and Friday's and Saturday's are each $30. Re-entry to the park is permitted.
Another first for the festival this year is the inclusion of the historic Emery Theatre, located just around the corner from Washington Park at 100 E. Central Parkway. Built in 1911 with funds donated from philanthropist Mary Emery, the Emery Theater has been the one-time home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, a touring Broadway stop, a lecture hall and a film theater, among other incarnations.
Shuttered since 1999, Emery Theatre found a savior in 2008 with The Requiem Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and reopening of this acoustically pure, 1,600-seat capacity venue.
"I've been excited about the Emery for years and its potential for Over-the-Rhine," McCabe says. "We brought the (Cincinnati Entertainment Awards) there in 2008 in an effort to try to expose what a lot of people had no idea existed in the heart of OTR. I had been on the [advisory] board for a couple years, so I was familiar with the struggle. I was also familiar with the efforts of the new people in place at the Requiem Project, and we talked to them [most recently] to see if they'd be interested in showcasing the Emery during MPMF."
The Emery will be used all three nights of MPMF. Without 3-day wristbands, tickets for Thursday night are $25, and both Friday and Saturday are $20.
"I programmed the room with artists I felt would use that space well. Instead of dropping in some high-octane rock band, we've got some pretty picturesque music with Dirty Projectors, The Antlers and Ralph Stanley deployed in there over three days," McCabe says. "We're excited about the artists we were able to get ahold of … they're excited about helping out and participating in this."
Saturday performance by Ralph Stanley marks a return to the theater for the Bluegrass icon, once signed to famed local label King Records. Volunteers from the Requiem Project will be on site to accommodate audience interest and involvement.
"My hope is that MidPoint Music Festival introduces [the Emery Theater] to a lot of people, and the Requiem Project gets more and more interest and access to more help from the community," McCabe says. "It's my intention to use it every year, as we intend to use Washington Park every year and hopefully help build and nurture both pieces of Over-the-Rhine."
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