Yes, there will be more than 80 bands, from local and regional acts to some major national and international stars, rocking on four stages. And yes, there will be plenty of beer, food trucks and other diversions to keep you busy as you amble from one stage to the other. However, the 2016 edition of the venerable Cincinnati music gathering has thrown out one of its defining characteristics: scattering bands in and around spaces in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown.
Earlier this year, Music and Event Management Inc., a subsidiary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, announced a partnership with CityBeat to take over production of MidPoint, and new owner MEMI has streamlined MidPoint’s stages. This year's MPMF will set up shop in four spots in or near Over-the-Rhine; three of the stages will be ticketed, while the fourth will be free. Also, this year MidPoint is entirely all-ages for the first time, a change that organizers hope will draw bigger, more diverse crowds than in the past when younger music fans were unable to gain entry to age-21-and-up bars.
"We don't think you should limit the audience, and we knew it would start in the daytime and run into the nighttime, so it made more sense," explained festival organizer and veteran local music promoter Rick McCarty of the decision to make MidPoint all ages. "There's no sense in limiting access to these new artists if you don't have to."
Here’s what else to expect at this year’s MidPoint.
The stage setup
This is actually the second time the festival has changed hands. Weekly paper CityBeat bought the event from founders Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian in 2008 and then sold it to MEMI in 2015. CityBeat is still the presenting sponsor and festival media partner, and publisher Tony Frank said he thinks people will be able to experience more of the festival because it is more concentrated this year.
"Travel times are way lower, and while there are some conflicting times I think people will be able to hear more music," Frank said. "While the format has changed, it's still implementing some of the same experiences and activations that made MidPoint special: the free midway and the Eli's BBQ stage with local, national and international bands playing for free."
The Skyline and Elliot main stages will sit side by side (with staggered, alternating set times) at the corner of 12th and Sycamore streets, while the WNKU stage will be across the street and the Eli’s BBQ free stage will be two blocks away at 14th and Sycamore.
"They're all far enough away that there shouldn't be too much sound bleed if the set times cross over, but close enough that it's easy to maneuver on foot," McCarty said, adding that a super-motivated ticket-holder could conceivably hear a bit of every artist if they hustled.
In between the stages on Sycamore there will be the usual complement of food trucks, beer and merch vendors. Frank noted that the poster expo traditionally hosted by Covington's Powerhouse Factories has transformed into a full-on poster expo sanctioned by the American Poster Institute, with six to eight artists signed on to sell posters created for some of the bands playing MidPoint. There also will be food from a number of food trucks and local vendors, including Caveman Crepes, Chicken Mac Truck, Deeper Roots Coffee, Eli's BBQ, Mazunte, Queen City Pops, Red Sesame and Ulysses.
Click on the icons to see details of stage and vendor locations in the Google map below.
Out of the mix this year is the Washington Park stage, which had become a staple of the event over the past few years, hosting a number of major acts. Also out are the many bars on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, which has caused grumbling from some business owners about being frozen out of the action this year.
Dan McCabe, co-owner of MOTR Pub and the Woodward Theater and a former MidPoint booker, said he's not worried, though.
McCarty said he was focused on keeping the level of local and regional acts at or above the 50 percent mark, with the bar raised considerably for big-name headliners. Major draws on tap for this year include Band of Horses, Nada Surf, Josh Fitter, JJ Grey & Mofro, Bob Mould, Kamasi Washington, the Mountain Goats, Car Seat Headrest, Reggie Watts, Tokyo Police Club, Antibalas and Future Islands.
"I think there's a lot more bands people are dying to see and that's the biggest part of it," said McCarty. "It's a more diverse lineup in that respect than it has been in the past and I think the spirit of the event is the same, even if there are logistical differences."
While McCarty said he was not able to share ticket sales data at press time, he said sales were "very strong" two weeks out and already had surpassed total 2015 figures.
"While things have changed, a lot of elements remain the same, and the fact that the streetcar is up and running and you will have shows on Main Street, the Bengals in town, Comic Expo, the Food and Wine Classic … the Connector will be connecting all that," said Frank. "It will allow people to take away that time element of a music festival and make it more walkable."
If you go: MidPoint Music Festival
When: Friday-Sunday. Gates open at 12th and Sycamore streets at 3 p.m. Friday, 12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The festival ends at 11 p.m. all three nights.
Stages: Wristbands are needed for the Skyline, Elliot and WNKU stages; the Eli's BBQ Stage will be free; the midway is also free.
Buying tickets: Single-day passes are $50 (plus fees) and can be redeemed for wristbands at the onsite box office near 12th and Sycamore. Purchase tickets at mpmf.com/tickets or Ticketmaster retailers (Kroger, Taft Theatre, Riverbend Music Center box office). Children ages 2 and under are free.