Midpoint Music Festival is an old friend. Bill and Sean introduced us years ago. We’re not super close, but when I run into him, I’m glad I did. He’s a little older than me, but it doesn’t matter. I hope I’m that cool when I’m his age. He knows the great bars to hang out in and all the good bands I haven’t heard of yet. After hanging out, there’s always a list of things I want to look up.

We share a lot of great stories, like that time that we had to run down that dark, sketchy alley we had no business being in, just to get to Kaldi’s before the Phil DeGreg Trio wrapped up. Or when Larry and His Flask destroyed The Drinkery, and the crowd was so thick that our escaping humidity created its own weather system. There was the time that we couldn’t get into the new CAC Black Box when Why? was treated to a homecoming hero’s welcome. The year I sat on the floor of a derelict old gem of a theatre next to Jimmi Stanley, watching her husband perform through my puddling eyeballs. Or the time we saw The Walkmen, or Grizzly Bear, or Heartless Bastards, Man or Astro-man?, The Breeders, Caribou, Sun Kil Moon, Iron & Wine, or Wussy, or sometimes several in one night, usually in a venue that was too small and the bar nearly impossible to reach.

We spilled out onto Main Street and gave our ears a break from the amplifiers, drunkenly yelling into the sweet relief of October’s crisp air. We’d stumble home and the living room would be littered with our friends from neighboring towns. It was exhausting and amazing, uniquely Cincinnati.

But my buddy has hit a rough spot it seems. MPMF has just gotten out of a long relationship. CityBeat was good to him for a long time, but they’ve parted ways. His new girl is accomplished, she wants to clean him up and make him more presentable. He needs to behave like the other festivals his age. After all these years, she feels he should have something to show for all the hard work.

He’s no longer in those old bars with biennial names. Last year he set up shop in a parking lot. The lineup was stellar, but the atmosphere was, well, a parking lot. He moved indoors this year to a stately old theatre. Hundreds of us lined up to slowly shuffle down endless vendor-choked hallways and unmarked bottlenecks to hear the next band. We were greeted by rows of theatre seats and encouraged to sit while we struggled to not lose the grip on our eight-dollar craft beers (whose brewery was recently purchased by an overseas beverage megalith).

I hardly even recognize my old friend anymore.


“Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas” — or more simply stated by my brother Sufjan, “All things go.” We’ve all heard the sadness and anger coming from Main Street and how Midpoint Music Festival isn’t what it used to be — and it isn’t. But maybe that’s okay; it’s the natural progression of things. Perhaps all festivals should be given a predetermined sell-by date.

MPMF at its core is about exploration. In the early years, there were no big names to pull a crowd. There were no venues on the list that could support them if there were. Wristband-clad festivalgoers were free to roam a forgotten neighborhood, find your new favorite hangout, discover a new band to bring back to your friends. If you weren’t feeling what was playing, take a walk. You’d hear three more bands before you hit the end of the block. It was Christmas for music nerds.

Nostalgia can be blinding, but if we’re being honest, Midpoint has been monkeying with the method for a while. In 2011, an outdoor venue was born when the Midpoint Midway closed down 12th Street with a free street festival. With new owners and a newly renovated Washington Park at its disposal, 2012 saw the addition of erector-set stages filled with big-name acts like Grizzly Bear, Andrew Bird, and Iron & Wine. The following years saw the Taft Theatre and the Southgate House included as key venues, skewing Midpoint into a commuter festival. The largest divergence came in 2016 when CityBeat’s new owners, SouthComm, moved producing music festivals down the priority list and sold off the fest to local concert-producing powerhouse, MEMI.

There’s speculation and accusations galore, but anyone with a cursory knowledge of the inner workings of large event planning can point out several pitfalls in the old MPMF formula. The promoter’s massive organizational effort relied solely on sponsors and ticket sales. How long can you continue to negotiate with twenty bar owners, hundreds of bands, volunteers, sound engineers, doormen, sponsors, and marketing, and then hope people will find the sub hundred-dollar price tag worth it? The venues then took their cut from alcohol sales. But what bar is willing to turn away its Friday-night regulars for not ponying up for the price of festival admission? Fewer venues were interested in participating, with some complaining of losing money during the festival weekend. With ever waning options, the new owners moved it out of the bars and under a single organization’s control, temporarily a parking lot and most recently to their home turf of the Taft Theatre.

For those with a short memory, the festival was changing and folks weren’t happy. But Midpoint was just being Midpoint, remaining fluid and adapting to the situation. What was once merely a herculean task now found itself facing an even greater foe, gentrification. The shrinking list of venues willing to reduce profit for the preservation of our beloved cultural event, the city’s unwillingness to disrupt a neighborhood on the rise, the escalating cost of getting anything accomplished in Forbes’ new darling neighborhood all point to where we are now. Still, the folks at MEMI have always struck me as cheerleaders for this city, so the judgments of greed and ruination seem heavy-handed and misguided.

Ultimately, MEMI may be guilty of a misstep in festival titling alone. Had MPMF simply ceased to be and a new festival under different branding sprung up out of nowhere, the public reaction would probably have been quite different. Comparisons could then be left behind. Don’t let your fondness for MPMF memories of old block your ability to forge new ones. MEMI has created something we should all be happy to champion: a unique event, in a unique venue, with plenty of music to be discovered. Point out the festival poster listing Reggie Watts, Kamasi Washington, Antibalas, and Bob Mould – Valerie June, William Elliott Whitmore, Seun Kuti, Broken Social Scene, and Walk the Moon – it won’t be within five hundred miles of Cincinnati and will require much deeper pockets.

Now is the time to lament and move along.

Midpoint is dead! Long live Midpoint!


Midpoint Music Festival was held at the Taft Theatre and neighboring Masonic Lodge on September 23 and 24 in downtown Cincinnati.  Highlight performances included Pile, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, Valerie June, Frightened Rabbit, Noname, Aaron Lee Tasjan, William Elliott Whitmore, and hometown heroes Walk the Moon.