CINCINNATI – It turns out that Smale Riverfront Park makes one heck of an outdoor music venue.
The park proved spacious enough for two stages of live music, vendors and the approximately 16,000 people who attended the inaugural Homecoming Music Festival. Smale also offered some spectacular views during the two-day festival.
Homecoming kicked off at 1 p.m. Saturday with a performance featuring Bryce Dessner, whose Cincinnati-formed band The National organized the festival. The festival ended with Dessner and the rest of The National performing "Boxer," the band's 2007 breakout album, starting at 9 p.m. Sunday on the festival's main stage.
In between the opening and closing of those sets, there were a lot of things worked for the first-time festival and one thing that didn't.
What didn't work
The biggest issue with the first day of the festival were the lines to get into it. The entry point to the fenced-off Smale Park proved inadequate as more people came to the festival.
By 3 p.m. Saturday, the line of concert goers went from the entrance near the Roebling Bridge to past Paul Brown Stadium along Mehring Way. Some people waited for more than 40 minutes to get into the park, missing Lord Huron's performance.
The entry line did eventually speed up and security opened the VIP entrance so people who already entered the park and left could re-enter more quickly.
Lines were not a problem at all for the second day of the festival, which saw bigger crowds than the first day.
What did work
Other than getting into Smale Park on the first day, Homecoming went smoothly. Mobile ATMs worked without a glitch and the multiple food and drink vendors in the park ran credit cards without issues. Organizers even brought in a second Rhinegeist beer truck on Sunday to cut down on the long lines people experienced to get craft brews on Saturday.
Cell phone coverage was pretty reliable as well.
Performers started on time and it was easy to move from one stage at one end of the park to the other. There was also room to throw down a blanket and watch bands perform near both east and west stages. The acoustics were particularly nice from the west stage as music bounced off the Roebling Suspension Bridge.
And as the day moved into dusk, the bridge and riverfront skyline acted as a perfect backdrop for the bands.
Being near the river did make one thing no one can control -- temperatures -- a bit uncomfortable as night set in on Saturday. Luckily, Sunday's warmer weather made for a more pleasant overall festival experience.
Overall, Homecoming proved Smale Park is a viable and welcoming venue for an outdoor concert series. The National also managed to put on an outdoor festival with a few logistical issues as possible, which is something deserving a round of applause.