CINCINNATI -- The windows of the Northside Tavern’s small front room rattled, drawing condensation from the dense heat of too many bodies jammed into a tight space to see self-described “trash pop” band The Tweens.
“When you see the windows start to sweat in the summer, you know something amazing is happening,” said Jason Snell, co-organizer of the Northside Music Festival.
That was June 2015, the year festival organizers also coaxed The Soledad Brothers out of hiding to play their "little festival." Snell said this tension and the energy of not knowing exactly what might transpire is what makes the event so memorable.
The ninth edition of the Northside Music Festival, scheduled June 24-25, will bring 16 bands to three stages for two nights of music. The best part – it’s all free.
“People can relax and have a good time and not worry about getting the most bang for their buck,” said co-organizer Mike Gibboney. “We hope all the bands will bring merch(andise) to sell and that our attendees will buy to help support and help the local bands survive and the traveling bands to get some gas money.”
“Art rap” performer Open Mike Eagle will headline the first night, while local punk rockers The Dopamines anchor the second. Snell is also particularly excited to host the “crazy psych” band EYE out of Columbus.
“We’re all about rock ‘n’ roll, but we know it can’t just be that. We want to open the doors and experiment a little bit,” Snell said.
This is the first year that Cincinnati's longest-running independent music festival will host a hip-hop artist. Open Mike Eagle happens to be friends of Cincinnati native Yoni Wolf and his collaborator Serengeti.
“It was an awesome coincidence, and honestly, it’s kind of a testament to how far-reaching the Cincinnati music scene really is for our artists to have connections across the country with these successful artists,” Gibboney said.
There is no submission process for bands to be considered to play. Snell, Gibboney and co-organizer Scott Torres curate the artist list each year based on regional bands they enjoy and those they think their neighbors would as well. The organizers are proud they don’t often repeat bands’ performances from previous years, which allows younger bands and those who haven’t played for a while to get some love on the stage.
“The curtain is dropped,” Snell said. “You’re going to see a larger band sitting and having a sandwich and having a beer with the band who is 22 years old. That’s fun and what it’s about – community and being able to share the stage with someone who’s done a great job of it.”
Some 700 to 1,000 attendees will filter in and out during the two nights’ performances, Snell estimated, if previous years are any indication. Snell and Gibboney both said being free allows the festival to open up to a larger audience than more commercial festivals like Bunbury and Buckle Up.
“Kids can’t spend 100 bucks on a ticket. Who can do that all the time?” Snell asked. “The spirit of it is walking in on a Friday or a Saturday at 6 or 7 o’clock and it’s a nice, beautiful day, and seeing strollers come up and also seeing metalheads hang out. You just see this cornucopia of the neighborhood and the community that is going to see a really good band.”
That community spirit is what first pushed Snell to suggest a festival to Northside Tavern owner Ed Rush in 2008 as an excuse to make some art and hang out with his buddies in the courtyard. Rush met Snell and Gibboney shortly after opening the Tavern in March 2002 while booking shows with Snell's various bands through the years. That long relationship allows Rush to provide them free reign in putting together the weekend's lineup.
"I generally stay out of the way and let Jason and Mike run this show. I've always had luck working with people who have experience and letting them do their jobs," Rush said. "I take all sorts of musicians and bands, and anybody who has a good show I’ll take a listen to them."
If You Go
The Northside Music Festival kicks off at 7 p.m. June 24 and 25 at the Northside Tavern. It serves as an unofficial lead-in to the Northside Rock ‘n’ Roll Carnival, scheduled July 1-4.