The second night of the tenth annual MidPoint Music Festival got off to a much smoother start for myself than a day earlier. Traffic getting across the river was a little less light, and the chilly temps and rain from earlier in the day had vanished by late afternoon.
I arrived in time to catch a couple of the bands that were performing at our unofficial day parties at Southpaw Prints. Both the Black Owls, an established psychedelic, garage rock band from Granville, Ohio, and local up-and-coming noise rockers, Public Housing, blasted out heavy guitar licks and pounding drums that became the soundtrack to those walking around and hanging out in the 1300 block of Main Street.
During the 7 o’ clock hour I made my way up to Grammer’s for the first official showcase of the evening, the Parson Red Heads. I only managed to catch the last few songs from these psychedelic, folk rockers from Portland, Oregon, but despite a small audience, the band put an epic finish into the four-part harmonies of “Burning Up the Sky”, which was dedicated to the people of Cincinnati.
Much of the rest of my night would be spent rotating between two theater’s inside of the School of Creative & Performing Arts. This would be my first time inside of the luxurious structure, and I can’t applaud MidPoint’s organizers enough for including this as a venue, as well as the efforts they’re taking to include a younger audience.
While Unknown Mortal Orchestra put on an excellent show, my award for “Most Pleasant Surprise” of the evening goes to Brooklyn’s Ava Luna. Not at all what I was expecting to find when I walked through the theater doors, the seven-piece outfit put a soulful spin on modern day indie rock thanks to the three lovely female singers gracing the front and center stage.
But perhaps the greatest two performances I would ever witness in MidPoint history would come with my final two bands of the night. And if my memory serves me well, the Low Anthem put on one of the most heartfelt performances I’ve seen in my entire life, while the legendary Booker T. Jones provided me with the overwhelming joy of a child on Christmas Day, also becoming the one artist that has gotten me off my butt and dancing.
Rhode Island indie-folk quartet the Low Anthem took to the stage rather quietly, with the members huddling around just one microphone for “Ghost Woman Blues”, the first track off of their latest release Smart Flesh.
Just as in the way they began their set, they would finish in a similar matter. The band came out for a one-song encore, a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire.” With no microphones at all, the four members stood at the edge of the stage, singing “a cappella style”, while Miller gently strummed an acoustic guitar. As the song progressed, Miller urged the crowd to join in and sing along to the chorus. Being just shy of the front and center row, it would have been the perfect time for me to snag a picture, but I was just too wrapped up in the beauty and magic that was taking place a mere few feet in front of my eyes.
Throughout their entire performance, each of the four members rotated between their instrumental duties on each and every song, and sometimes even within the same song. On a song like “To the Ghosts Who Write History Books”, we see front man Ben Knox Miller managing the tasks of playing the one-hundred year old pump organ, harmonica and singing, while Jocie Adams jumps around from the oboe to bass guitar, Jeff Prystowsky from bass to drums and Mike Irwin from drums to trumpet.
Unlike the Low Anthem, who gave the type of performance where you get lost from the sounds and everything else that is happening on stage, Booker T. Jones gave the type of performance where you just have to let loose.
When I arrived at the Cincinnati Club, it was just past his 11:30 start time, and I found that the venue was at capacity. Fortunately I made the right decision by waiting it out, and not even fifteen minutes later I had found myself inside the club.
Jones ran through a number of his own hits spanning a 50-year career, such as “Hip Hug-Her”, “Born Under A Bad Sign” and the highly recognized “Green Onion”, which I unfortunately was not around to see. He also threw in several covers throughout his 90-minute plus performance, including Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”, OutKast’s “Hey Ya” and Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, to which he mentioned he was sitting at the Cincinnati Airport on the day Redding’s plane went down.
By the time it was all said and done, it was just past 1 am, and I had managed to spend most of his set right up front on the side of the stage. It was such a sight to see such an influential artist perform up so close, but even more, it was an honor to shake Jones hand as he walked off the stage.
That’s where my night came to a close. A special thanks to Chuck Madden for providing the pictures of Booker T. Jones, and to Amy Hartman, for capturing all of the bands I wasn’t able to get around to see.