MPMF.13 MidPoint Music Festival Cincinnati

By: Taylor Fulkerson

  A look into the history of Midpoint and its connection to Over-the-Rhine

Sean Rhiney, director of the Eigel Center for Community Engaged Learning at Xavier University, gives personal insight about the founding of Midpoint Music Festival with his friend Bill Donabedian.

Xavier Newswire: How did Midpoint get started, and how were you involved?

 Sean Rhiney: We conceived the idea of doing this independent music festival that would bring unsigned acts from all over. It was different (from) South by Southwest (SXSW), which is sort of the granddaddy of music festivals (and shifted towards major-label bands). . . It’s exactly how SXSW started, with sort of, unsigned independent bands.

We realized that most bands don’t have that sort of education to support the work that they’re doing, so we (asked), “Why don’t we create a conference as part of our music festival as well, so that it’s not just three nights of music?” It’s three days of conference programming, where you bring in all these great music minds: lawyers, managers, artists’ reps, people from all over, labels. . . So, we made that part of your package if you were selected for the festival, you got a badge and you got into these three days of conference. You didn’t have to pay anything else to do it.

And we said, “We wanna create this walkable, dense music festival where you can walk from place to place.” You don’t have to drive all over to do it, and Over-the-Rhine (OTR) is the only neighborhood that offers that dense, walkable neighborhood. And then, for us, it was really kind of a calling that we wanted to be a part of helping to revive this area. By bringing people down there, letting them see how great it is, injecting some energy into it, it would expose all these folks to this community.

And it’s funny that not everybody was very receptive, at first. You know, some owners of businesses said, “We’re not really interested.” I remember literally going door-to-door, asking every business owner and every landlord, “Will you just turn your lights on for the weekend?” Because we want people to see how beautiful this area is and how vibrant it could be, as well. That’s 2002, so we’re 12 years down the road; it’s a very different Main Street, a very different OTR that the festival’s headquartered in now.

If you were good enough to get into the festival, we didn’t care what your genre was. . . [and] the audience was really diverse because it was really affordable. Midpoint was, and still is, pretty affordable. It’s a lot of music fans, and it’s a lot of hipsters and it’s a lot of adults.

 XN: How has the festival changed, and how has it changed OTR?

SR: The festival is very different now than when we started it. So in 2008 we sold the festival to CityBeat. So CityBeat runs it now and has changed the direction. They don’t do the educational conference piece and their target-their vision for it-is much larger, more big-name acts with some local representation and some unsung representation. But they’ve transformed it into a much larger, different-good in its own way-but different festival.

XN: What about gentrification?

SR: We weren’t part of gentrification. Do I think businesses started and/or people came down to OTR because of Midpoint? Sure, we were one of the pieces of many pieces that have really encouraged it. OTR’s always been a great place to come and see culture and music, so it was a natural (decision) for us to want it to be there.

I challenge students, “gentrification” is an interesting word. And I think when that word is shared, people automatically assume it’s a critical analysis. And I can tell you as a guy who has been involved in non-profit/historic renovation and rehabilitation, many of the historic buildings, like in OTR, were almost lost without gentrification. Stabilizing a neighborhood is not a bad thing.

(Questions such as) “What will you do when you graduate? Where will you live if you have a job here in the city?” … (I think are) what’s neat about OTR, (is) it is evolving.

One of my bandmates said last night that, “it’s a big love fest.” It really is. And what started it, is very much a love fest amongst our music community, so the first year, it was mostly the music community that came out.

There’ll still be lots of skinny jeans walking the streets. Hipsters galore, I promise you.

“It’s a lot of music fans, a lot of hipsters and it’s a lot of adults.”
Sean Rhiney

Some Bands Worth Checking Out:
 Thursday  Friday  Saturday
 The Harlequins
(Cincinnati, Ohio)
7:00 p.m.
Grammer’s Stage
 The Head and the Heart
(Seattle, Wash.)
8:45 p.m.
Washington Park
 The Breeders
(Dayton, Ohio)
7:00 p.m.
Washington Park
 Nerves Junior
(Louisville, Ky.)
10:45 p.m.
(Los Angeles, Calif.)
9:30 p.m.
Grammer’s Stage
 The Ghost Wolves
(Austin, Texas)
12:30 a.m.
Mainstay Rock Bar