Excitement and anticipation are tricky things. They can lead to overblown and somewhat unreasonable expectations. They can – and do – work against the very thing causing the excitement in the first place. Case in point – this year’s Bunbury Festival, being held in Cincinnati this July.
Last year was a success, no matter how you look at it, if only by virtue of its existence. It was the first year something like this happened in the area. Sure, there’s Forecastle, and there’s MidPoint Music Festival – but let’s be honest here; MidPoint’s offerings are relatively unknown and considerably more “indie”, barring a few notable bands, and Forecastle is, well, Forecastle. Bunbury, in contrast, aims to be a little more “pop.” It’s embracing a larger spectrum of the mind-numbingly vast world of music. But why? There are already dozens, maybe hundreds of music festivals doing the same thing. What’s the point?
That’s actually pretty simple when you take a close look at who is playing the festival.
There were some lamentations – my own included – about who was and wasn’t playing this year’s fest. Compared to last year’s inaugural lineup, it seems a bit… underwhelming. In the midst of a somewhat sarcasm laden conversation, I had a bit of a realization, though – the “big” bands aren’t really the point. Cincinnati has been off the national radar for a long time now (at least the last decade, and I’m willing to argue that with anyone). Somewhere along the way, national touring acts started forgetting about us. Either by accident or by looking at things like attendance and ticket prices and venues, finding Cincinnati lacking on all accounts. Even smaller bands stopped coming around, not for lack of trying, but for lack of any way in to the area (one of the things The Lonely House has been working on, though). The local music scene suffered in a big way, too. There was a significant amount of time that it was basically dormant – or, that very least, hiding well underground. MidPoint changed that in a big way. The proverbial breath of fresh air. I’d be willing to argue that when MidPoint started, Cincinnati music started to wake up from its too long slumber.
So what does that have to do with Bunbury? Right.
What we have with Bunbury is a local showcase in the guise of a regional music festival, with internationally known bands and musicians. The way a good festival should be put together. Plain and simple. It’s 3 days of some extremely well known acts – bands that have been around for a while (Tegan and Sara, The National, MGMT) or bands that have been making more recent waves (fun.), but almost everything leading to those acts is locally owned and operated. Bands, businesses, location. This is meant to celebrate Cincinnati. The local bands announced are kind of all over the place sonically, but each one is set to play on a day where they more or less line-up with a headliner of similar qualities. That’s not an accident. Going to see fun.? Awesome. Show up early and see Walk The Moon and The Mitchells. You dig MGMT? Great! Get there in time to see You, You’re Awesome and The Pinstripes. Even better, with each day’s programming being laid out like this, you might only need to go one day out of the three. So when Forecastle announces their line-up, you can plan accordingly. There’s room for all of these things. Too many choices is a good problem to have.
You don’t have to be a fan of a single band playing Bunbury this year. And I get it if you’re not. But instead of complaining about what’s not happening in Cincinnati, who’s not coming around or hasn’t been booked, trying having a bit of pride about what is happening. Be excited that anything at all is taking place in a city that a lot of bands, labels, booking agents, and PR people had written off not too long ago.
I don’t know if you’ve been out and about in Cincinnati recently. There’s a lot happening. There are people doing what they can to make this city better, to make it important in some way, to make it fun. They’re not always going to get it 100% right, by your terms or theirs. But they’re trying. Bunbury, whatever you choose to make of it, is undeniable proof of that.