Saturday, August 31, 2002

Leaders getting into groove

MidPoint Music Festival being hailed as possible panacea

By Larry Nager,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Facing a slumping downtown, ongoing racial unrest and continued negative national publicity, Cincinnati government and business leaders are singing a new tune: “We rebuilt this city on rock 'n' roll.”

        Cincinnati City Council, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and other corporate and government entities are throwing unprecedented support behind the MidPoint Music Festival, the Sept. 26-28 showcase of local and regional rock bands in Over-the-Rhine clubs and Newport's Southgate House. The event is being produced by two rookie promoters, local rock musicians Sean Rhiney, 32, and Bill Donabedian, 34, of the band Clabbergirl.

        “Local entertainment and the young talent in this city is enormously undervalued,” said Councilman John Cranley.

        “I think it's a key to our long-term economic success and diversity as a region.

        “These guys, through their own diligence, have created a complete product, organizing the bands, the venues, the hotels, the trade groups.”

        The festival will include band performances and industry seminars involving more than 150 acts with a total of more than 700 musicians.

        MidPoint is modeled after Austin, Texas' “South by Southwest,” an annual music showcase that many believe helped turn that city - which bills itself as “America's live music capital” - into a major technology boom town. It began in 1987 and has an annual economic impact of $25.5 million.

        “This type of thing is definitely within the mission of what we're trying to accomplish,” said Randy Welker, director of client management for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        He cited The Rise of the Creative Class, a book by Richard Florida, professor of regional economic development at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University.

        “Music, in particular, is the foundation of the new community development,” said Mr. Welker.

        In the book, Mr. Florida analyzes what makes a modern city great and credits the new “creative class,” a young, racially, culturally and sexually diverse group that often straddles the worlds of rock and technology.

        Cincinnati ranks among the bottom third in attracting that class, and local government and business leaders hope to improve that ranking.

        The MidPoint Music Festivalhas become the flagship event symbolizing that new attitude. In addition to such music-oriented sponsors as WEBN and the Guitar Center, Cinergy is providing wristbands and TANK is offering reduced fares and extended hours during the festival. Such corporate assistance is unprecedented for an independent, alt-rock event in Greater Cincinnati.

        “In some ways it's unfortunate that things have happened that have made this so important to city government,” said Mr. Rhiney, who, when not playing bass and singing in Clabbergirl, is a lawyer and corporate recruiter for Special Counsel. “I think the Florida report has a lot to do with all this. Austin is one of the cities he talks about.”

        The corporate support for MidPoint seems to be just beginning.

        Cinergy and WEBN anted up this past week. Discussions are now being held with Delta Airlines and other major corporations.

        “I just think the timing's right,” said Chris Frutkin, president of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody's looking for something positive like this.

        “It's broad-based, diverse, community-oriented. We're just really looking forward to it in Over-the-Rhine. These guys (Mr. Florida and MidPoint's organizers) are sort of saying the right things at the right time. And everybody's listening,” he said. The days of gloom and doom are over. It's time to get rolling.”

        Tickets for admittance to all performances and seminars are $75, $20 for performances only. Nightly performance tickets are available for $10. Tickets can be purchased on the festival's Web site at


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