AUTHOR'S NOTE: I provided all the merch for this festival this year
This was such a polarizing festival for me. On the one hand, the atmosphere was everything I hoped it would be. These hippie festivals always have great vibes, and from start to finish Pilgrimage certainly did not disappoint. However, at the same time there were a significant number of growing pains, and a lot of logistical details that made me want to pull out my hair and scream WHAT ARE YOU DOING? This review, since it's coming several weeks after the festival, will simply be a discussion versus highlighting the good and the bad. I do not feel I was able to see enough of the acts at the festival to create an ordinary festival review.
That said, I will say Beck was in an entirely different zip code than the rest of the acts of the festival, but this is more of a credit to how talented Beck is. If you ever get the opportunity to see Beck and enjoy live music, see him. Even if you hate his music, his show is more than worth seeing.
In stark contrast to 90's star Beck, you have 90's star Cake. I don't know what happened with this set, but John McCrea had clearly woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning because he was extremely grumpy from start to finish during this set, and it really rubbed me the wrong way. I did not remember McCrea being that negative during his performance at Bonnaroo a few years back.
But I want to talk about logistics. So, I gave Pilgrimage a free pass last year. I don't think anyone anticipated them being as successful as they were, but then this year rolls around and naturally they should be ready for it, right? Well.....not quite. While there weren't any ridiculous decisions, there were a lot of things here and there that really didn't make sense. Like why was there only one single file stairwell to get to and from the Harpeth River stage? It made for some pretty ridiculous bottlenecks when those bands were just starting or finishing their sets. To make this decision even more ridiculous, last year there were two entrances to this stage, but....they decided that with the rise in popularity....they would shut down one of those entrances? Totally makes sense. Getting in and out of the festival was a little difficult too, but I think that was more the result of people not knowing where the additional exits were besides the main one. The crew also ran out of maps pretty early on, which was surprising.
Also, and this was by FAR the biggest complaint of most, was the water. There were only two or three water stations spread out across the grounds, and none of them had good water pressure. Not to mention the water was extremely warm. Festival planners (and The Park at Harlinsdale Farm) need to improve the water issues next year or the growth of the festival will definitely be stifled.
However, at the end of the day, Pilgrimage did make some pretty noticeable steps to improve the overall experience, and it's setting is still just a gorgeous as it was last year. Watching the sun set behind Beck and Jason Isbell was a site to behold, and easily worth the cost of admission by itself. The overall quality of the acts were definitely better than last year, with plenty of gems hidden on the off-the-beaten-path Harpeth River stage too. Even Darryl Hall & John Oats were a good festival closer, despite being a last second addition. Now that Justin Timberlake has bought a major stake in his hometown festival, I can't wait to see what's in store next year. I know I will be making the Pilgrimage again in 2017.
Oh, and the merch was awesome. In case you were wondering.
By: Derek Jung
Midpoint Music Festival has been a staple of Over The Rhine in Cincinnati for over a decade, albeit in various incarnations. Most recently, the festival featured an all ages main stage in Washington Park and smaller 21+ shows in bars and theaters around the neighborhood. I've been going to the festival since 2012 when I first turned 21, and it quickly became one of my favorite weekends of the entire year. The festival is known for music discovery, and it wasn't uncommon to be walking down the street and be drawn inside a tiny bar by a band playing to a dozen or so people.
This year's festival, however, saw a change in format that condensed the festival to three main stages in a parking lot and a smaller free stage that featured mostly local artists. Many, including myself, were apprehensive of this change, and some argued that it was so different from the original spirit of the festival that it needed to be called something different. I decided to give the new format a chance. Here are my thoughts on the good, the bad, and the WTF of this year's MPMF.
Band of Horses
Sunday night's headliner were the perfect ending to the weekend's up and down adventure. Fresh off the release of their new album, Why Are You OK, Ben Bridwell and gang put forth everything they could muster in their nineteen song, hour and a half performance. Blazing through five songs from the new album including lead single "Casual Party", the band challenged legendary rocker Bob Mould for the biggest wall of sound produced that weekend. Bridwell's distinct voice echoed off the surrounding buildings and parking garage where many non-festival goers were watching. The band made good use of the largest crowd of the weekend, channeling the energy into one of the more entertaining performances of the weekend. Hearing one of my favorite songs "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands" live was special to me, and many in the crowd were stoked to hear hits like "The Funeral", "Is There A Ghost", and "No One's Gonna Love You". The on stage banter was minimal, but Bridwell was quick to give an appreciative "Thanks, y'all!".
Thank you, Band of Horses. Thank you.
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
English singer-songwriter Frank Turner brought his full band to Midpoint on Sunday evening and proceeded to melt the faces off of everyone in attendance with their blend of irish punk and gritty folk rock. Turner had some of the most fun on-stage banter of the festival, and generally seemed to be having a blast performing. One of the memorable moments was when he had the crowd create a circle pit during "Out of Breath" and before performing "Photosynthesis", he lamented about not being in the band Slayer but really wanting to be. To fulfill his Slayer dreams, he wanted to do a "wall of death", but instead of running and bashing into each other, the crowd was instructed to hug the person across from them, thus dubbed the "wall of hugs". It was quite the scene, and yes, I hugged a few extremely sweaty strangers. Worth it.
It's been a summer of turbulence for the Scottish indie rockers. Soon after Joseph and I saw some of their set at Lollapalooza, lead singer Scott Hutchison had a massive Twitter meltdown and checked himself into rehab for a bit, forcing the band to cancel their next few appearances. Fast forward a few months and the band is back on the road and sounding better than ever. Thundering through their 45 minute set, they spent most of their time playing songs off of this year's Painting of a Panic Attack. They were focused, sharp, and ferocious. Much better than when they played at Lollapalooza, and easily one of the highlights of Saturday night for me.
Langhorne Slim & The Law
The inclusion of Antibalas on this list has nothing to do with how the band played, their talent, or their stage presence. Their inclusion has everything to do with the crowd. The smaller Friday evening crowd quickly grew bored of the extensive jamming and repetitive nature of Antibalas' music. After an extremely hot afternoon of roasting in the sun, I don't think anyone had it left in them to dance and groove with them. I know I didn't. They were probably the biggest casualty of the parking lot environment, but certainly not the only ones. Sorry fellas.
JJ Grey & Mofro
Another band that was completely misplaced on this year's bill, JJ Grey & Mofro had the smallest crowd for a headliner, and it was on Saturday night. Not only was the crowd lackluster, but the energy mustered by those in attendance did nothing to liven the dated sound of the band. As someone who really likes neo-soul, dirty blues, and classic rock, I found the band to be ho-hum, generic, and uninspired. The man has a great bluesy, soulful voice, but the songs were no better than any that I've seen at a local blues night at a bar. There was no standout musician to feature; the guitars were subdued with minimal soloing. The focus was on Grey, and unfortunately he didn't have enough to keep my attention.
The James Hunter Six
Personally, I really enjoyed Future Islands' set. For not having any new material to tour on, the crowd was extremely receptive to the songs from their 2014 massive hit album Singles. For those that were uninitiated to Future Islands, though, they were in for quite a surprise when lead singer Samuel T.'s signature live growl made its first appearance. There were quite a few drunken imitations throughout the crowd for the rest of the evening. But you know what they say: imitation is the highest form of flattery. Right?
Samuel T. is definitely the heart and soul of the band. Grumbling from one side of the stage to the other, his mannerisms are violent, heartfelt, and purposeful. I was immediately entranced by the way he carried himself on stage and the way he expertly portrayed each song's story. I can't wait to hear what new material they're working on. They played a few to give us a taste. I want more.
Overall it's hard to pin down how I feel about this new incarnation of the festival. From someone who's been going to this festival since I was old enough to attend, it hurts (both physically and spiritually) to be stuck in a blacktop parking lot all day for three days. I will never forget the great bands that I happened upon in bars that turned into some of my favorites: Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel at MOTR Pub, multiple bands at Arnold's and Mr. Pitiful's, and The Drinkery. Midpoint this year felt so sterile compared to years past, and you could feel that energy in the veterans who attended. For first time attendees, they probably experienced something similar to Bunbury, except more compact and less grassy. They probably enjoyed it. Why wouldn't they? The bands as a whole were great, the food options were fantastic, and even the beer selection was better than ever.
But for the rest of us, something essential was missing. It wasn't until the evening, as the sun set just below the surrounding buildings and it started to cool off, that I finally felt the energy of the Midpoint return. Not all of it, but just enough to give me hope that someday it will return. I think the festival organizers heard our complaints loud and clear. Whether they do something with them is another question altogether, but I don't think the festival will receive the support that they need going forward if changes aren't made. The parking lot, which sloped down away from the stage, was not conducive to watching, especially for shorter attendees. The WNKU stage heard everything that happened on the two main stages, and it really took away from some of the bands' experiences. Langhorne Slim timed his slow songs in between the thunderous bass of Tokyo Police Club. Dead Horses, HOOPS and Oh Pep! looked visibly annoyed with the sound bleed and complained that they couldn't hear themselves play.
Beyond that, things went better than expected.
By: Derek Jung
Kevin Barnes and gang have kept their touring regiment fairly consistent over their first twenty years of existence. Since I started following them five or so years ago, the band has made a yearly stop in Cincinnati to play. When I first saw them in 2012, it was at Madison Theater. Year by year though, their crowd has shrunk, and because of this, their past two visits have been at Woodward Theater, which is much smaller. But while the theaters have gotten smaller, the energy and theatrics of their live show are just as wild and sexually charged as ever.
Touring on their most recent release, Innocence Reaches, the band swept through two hours of songs from that album, Skeletal Lamping, as well as some from Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?. The thing that I've always liked about of Montreal is they transition from one song to another seamlessly. There are no breaks for water, tuning, or new instruments. If a band member needs to tune up or, in Barnes' case, change outfits, they just do it. There's always so much action going on between the music and the staged skits that it's hardly noticeable.
Speaking of the stage skits, the band is on a much lower budget than they were in years past, but they're still amusing and wildly sexual. Barnes himself often portrays female characters, blending his gender identity, and tonight was no different. Skit performers in skin suits with nipples painted on them danced around stage and with Barnes. Another actor later came on stage in a giant inflatable penis outfit wearing a Donald Trump mask. It's bizarre, intriguing, and sometimes hilarious. A few more memorable moments were when a two person possum costume (think a horse costume where one person is the head and another is the rear) fully equipped with blinking eyes and a movable mouth danced about on stage. This was followed by two actors dancing on stage with leaf blowers that had pouches that looked too similar to testicles to ignore the fact that when they blew feathers into the crowd, it was basically like them ejaculating. These skits are the highlight of the show for me, and why I invite friends to attend at least one of their shows, even if they don't enjoy the music.
Keep on being you, of Montreal.
By: Derek Jung
Andrew Bird, the acclaimed Chicago violinist, whistler, and indie darling, is deep into the touring cycle for his latest release, Are You Serious, an album we reviewed a few months back. The last time Bird was in the Cincinnati area, he was headlining Midpoint Music Festival in 2012. This time, he was across the river in Covington, KY at Madison Theater. The theater, currently undergoing some renovations that left two of the three levels bare and without carpet, was in stark contrast to his packed 2012 set in beautiful Washington Park for MPMF. As show time approached and the theater was not filling up like I expected, I wondered if the condition of the theater would be an ominous omen to what the show would be like. Unfortunately, the omen partially came true, but Bird and gang gave those who were there a solid performance.
I was surprised to see that Bird's backing band was completely different from the musicians that joined him in 2012, and their style was much more indie rock than the folk/country band that previously supported him. This made sense because Are You Serious is a more rock-centric album than Break It Yourself was. There was certainly much to enjoy during his nearly two hour set. The band opened with a cover of Alice Coltraine's "Journey in Satchidananda" and transitioned straight into "Capsized", the lead single from the album. I was immediately struck by how quickly the song comes alive with its jazzy drumming and rousing chorus.
Bird's looping is still the most fascinating part of his set. He crafts the backbone of the songs perfectly, layering one after the other on single takes. By the time the song actually begins, the song is so full sounding you'd think there are ten people on stage instead of four. His whistling was once again a marvel to hear live; it's so precise and the vibrato is amazing.
Most of the songs from Are You Serious sounded great live, with the lone exception of the Fiona Apple duet "Left Handed Kisses". Obviously Fiona Apple isn't touring with Bird, so he had to take both vocal parts. The conversation from the song gets a little lost in translation when both sides are coming from the same person. I think it would be a good idea if one of Bird's bandmates took the other half of the duet. Even though Bird played it off humorously, having an actual duet would give the song more coherency. Another surprising cover was Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" to open the encore. I'm not sure about perfect, but it was certainly a pretty great night.
Check out Are You Serious on Spotify.
Check out a crowd shot from the show of the title track "Are You Serious" below.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: