Usher, Mary J. Blige headlining Cincinnati Music Festival

Posted at 10:12 AM, Jan 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-28 06:12:57-04

CINCINNATI — The 2017 Cincinnati Music Festival kicks off Thursday with one of its most ambitious lineups in the R&B event's 50-plus-year history, according to promoters.

“We’ve had a lot of great performances at the festival in the past, but this year is going to be truly big,” said Fran Santangelo DiBattista, marketing director for the Santangelo Group when announcing the 2017 lineup in January.

R&B stars Mary J. Blige and Usher take top billing at this year’s festival. Blige will end Friday's performances after KEM, SWV, En Vogue and Bell Biv Devoe take the stage at Paul Brown Stadium.

Usher will close out the festival Saturday after Fantasia, Anthony Hamilton, Confunkshun and Ro James perform earlier in the day.

“He is a household name,” DiBattista said of Usher. “To have an artist that is this current, yet well known with older music fans as well, is fantastic.”

Doug E Fresh, Kid Capri and Rob Base kick off the festivities inside Paul Brown Stadium at 7 p.m. Thursday during Throwback Thursday, a third day added to the festival last year geared toward young professionals.

“This is how we are trying to grow the festival,” DiBattista said. “By continuing Throwback Thursday we hope to grow the Cincinnati Music Festival into a three- or four-day event. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to bring Throwback Thursday outside to the stadium versus having a club show.”

The Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau’s multicultural platform Vibe Cincinnati is once again sponsoring Throwback Thursday. The bureau will donate a portion of Throwback Thursday ticket sales to fund its new Institute for Hospitality Leadership.

The institute will work with schools, colleges and hospitality businesses to educate more skilled workers and leaders in the travel and hospitality sector, said Jason Dunn, vice president of multicultural and community development for the bureau.

The Cincinnati Music Festival, the second-largest R&B festival in the country, started as the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival in 1962. It was renamed the Macy's Music Festival in 2005 before being rebranded again in 2014 after Procter & Gamble became its primary sponsor.

Tickets for Friday and Saturday's shows are still available at

Doug E. Fresh performs at “Throwback Thursday” in 2016.

Another VIBE Cincinnati event, Cincy Soul: Black Taste, also returns this weekend in conjunction with the music festival. Cincy Soul will take place 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and noon-7 p.m. Sunday on Downtown's Fifth Street between Vine and Walnut streets. 

Local business owner Julian Rodgers said he introduced Cincy Soul last year as a one-day event to expose more people to small, minority-owned restaurants in the city. Rodgers estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people sampled food from 28 vendors during the inaugural event. He said Cincy Soul will showcase about 36 vendors this year, and national acts El DeBarge, Special Ed and Dwele will perform at nearby Fountain Square during Cincy Soul.

This year's Cincinnati Music Festival is expected to draw more than 70,000 attendees. The visitors bureau estimated last year's the three-day event had an $11 million economic impact on the city.

“This is the hottest show we’ve ever had,” Joe Santangelo said. “It’s going to be a dance party like you’ve never seen.”