MidPoint Music Festival changes draw mixed reactions

MidPoint Music Festival changes draw mixed reactions
Posted at 12:00 PM, Oct 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-16 12:08:22-04

CINCINNATI -- Some cynics were ready to bury the rebooted MidPoint Music Festival before a single band plugged in, upset that the once-scrappy September event defined by its Over-the-Rhine bar-hopping set-up had completely changed its format for this year's edition.

Would things be the same with MidPoint moved to a pair of parking lots on the edge of OTR? And most importantly, would fans show up to give it a fair shake?

While there was certainly plenty of cyber-grumbling about the new format, spoke to a number of MidPoint veterans who said they were not that bothered by the changes -- even if they had plenty of suggestions for 2017.

"I've been [just about] every year since the beginning, and I was in [co-founder] Sean [Rhiney's] kitchen when he and Bill [Donabedian] were dreaming it up," said guitarist/songwriter Dave Purcell, who previously played MidPoint both with his band Pike 27 and with Rhiney in Clabbergirl.

"I don't think the parking lots were ideal, but they weren't as bad as people were expecting," he said of the adjoining lots at 12th and Sycamore streets that made up the biggest part of the festival's footprint.

Purcell, who attended the second day of MidPoint, said that as much as he loved going from club to club in the past – when a long walk would sometimes result in turning right around after the band didn't live up to expectations or he couldn't get into the venue – he felt some people were glamorizing the old days.

"Sometimes you couldn't even get a beer, but with this format, if Car Seat Headrest wasn't any good, you could bop across the parking lot to another stage," he said. "There was lots of charm [to the old structure], but this way you could see so much in such a short span of time, and that was great."

However, Purcell agreed with criticism online -- and from a number of people in attendance that this reporter spoke with -- that the bare-bones space indeed lacked charm and that sound bleed between the main stages was noticeable at times.

MidPoint organizer Rick McCarty said none of the artists raised the issue with him of sound bleed between stages – though several commented during their sets about the sound of nearby bands – and, in general, they were "very, very excited about the way the event evolved and the layout."

He said a few scheduling snafus resulted in stages going off schedule temporarily on the second day and noted that there were some complaints about the VIP section not being what patrons expected. However, those issues were addressed and fixed by the second day, he said.

"This is a massive undertaking, with a million moving pieces, and it's not as simple as a really ardent fan standing and watching a band and wondering why it didn't go perfectly," he said.

When initially contacted for comment in the days immediately following the festival, McCarty said a final report on the event was imminent; at press time it was not yet available.

McCarty told WCPO that Music and Event Management Inc., a subsidiary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra that bought the festival last year, would not release attendance numbers, but he was "satisfied" with the figures; last year's event reportedly drew more than 25,000 attendees. 

The outlook was not as rosy for Damian Dotterweich, communications manager for downtown management consulting agency 84.51° and a five-time MidPoint attendee.

"[I] liked the music lineup, but the venue was downright depressing ... no charm, no character, no vibe, no friggin' place to hide from the asphalt furnace," he said in an email. "And a lot of sound bleedover from the dual stages to the WNKU stage."

Unlike similar multi-day, multi-stage festivals in other cities, there were few options that offered shade during the hot afternoon, places for patrons to rest or diversions (aside from alcohol) between bands. Dotterweich said he also didn't like that the food, local craft brews and poster vendors (as well as the water refilling station) were located on the midway outside the main stage area.

"[They] also segregated most of the local bands and relegated them to the faraway stage," he said of the free stage at 14th and Sycamore streets that hosted a number of local and regional bands. 

WNKU DJ Matt "Sledge" Waller, who attended the first two nights, said he heard complaints about the sterility of the parking lot set-up but he had no problem with it.

"A lot of people wanted the old format back, but my informal research in talking to people found that to be a generation gap," he said.

McCarty had no other comment at press time, saying that a statement is slated for release next week.