The Cincinnati area has had a strong music scene for decades. Today, the options have exploded.
Thanks to the efforts of a number of local enterprising promoters and a reliably rabid base of music superfans, there's a music festival for just about everyone these days. From a stadium filled with R&B legends to the most cutting-edge classical compositions and fields filled with some of the biggest names in indie rock and pop and a tunnel that draws huge hip-hop and dance stars, you don't have to travel far to find amazing festivals these days.
Here are seven of our favorites:
Bunbury Music Festival
Founded in 2012 by the same local promoter behind the popular MidPoint Music Festival, Bunbury has quickly established a reputation as a easily navigable, star-packed early summer staple. Set up on the city’s picturesque waterfront (with one stage that is literally just steps from the Ohio River), the event has hosted such superstars as Jane’s Addiction, Wiz Khalifa, Weezer, Walk the Moon, Paramore, The Black Keys, Muse Snoop Dogg, deadmau5, Florence and the Machine and dozens of other hip-hop, electronic, folk, rock and pop groups, as well as a healthy dose of local and regional bands. One of the best bets for the money you’ll find and a great way to kick off the warm weather season. Website, July, pictured above, photo provided
Whispering Beard Folk Festival
Amazing folk music played outside to a small audience of rabid fans who are willing to travel a half-hour west to Friendship, Indiana for an adventure in the woods at the Old Mill Campground. A mix of classic acts (Fairfield Four, Rabbit Hash String Band) and some of today’s most exiting folk groups and performers (The Tillers, Possessed by Paul James, Hoot and Holler, Frontier Folk Nebraska), the decade-old event is a hand-made antidote to the typical brand-spattered commercial fest. It’s family-friendly, reliably low-tech (don’t look for great WiFi here) and a great place to make new friends to a soul-stirring soundtrack. Website, August
You have definitely never been to a festival like this. Housed in a barely used, brand new transit tunnel beneath 2nd street downtown in the shadow of the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, this hip-hop/EDM get together is one of the most unusual, exciting events you’re likely to attend this year (or any). With an increasingly high profile lineup of huge name rappers and DJs (Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Steve Aoki and Lecrae are among 2017’s headliners), Ubahn features skateboarding and breakdancing demos, cool vendors and high production values from an independent promoter focused on making it one of the year’s must-see events. At Ubahn, “underground” isn’t just a clever marketing tag. Website, September
MidPoint Music Festival
A fall classic since 2002, this indie-rock focused marathon grew from a showcase for mostly local and regional bands in its early years to a South By Southwest-like extravaganza featuring groups and performers from all over the planet rocking out in a dozen bars in the then-up-and-coming Over-The-Rhine district. In 2017, it morphed once again, moving out of OTR to a more centralized downtown location in the historic Taft Theater, the Masonic Center and an outdoor stage. This year’s two-night schedule will feature sets from The New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene, Valerie June, Walk the Moon, Dan Deacon, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, plus dozens more. A great value for the buck for indie rock fanatics who haven’t gotten their fill of summer blowouts. Website,
UPDATE - January 2018, The National has announced a new festival, Homecoming in Association with MusicNow. The inaugural festival will be April 28-29, 2018. Info: https://ntlhomecoming.com/
This one is for the adventurous out there. Founded in 2006 by Bryce Dessner, a guitars/composer and member of Cincinnati-bred rockers The National, MusicNow is the place to go to hear original modern orchestral music, avant garde rock, folk and classical and musical surprises from some of your favorite bands. Held in various historic venues around town the list of participants over the years has included premieres and rare performances of works by Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, Grizzly Bear, The Kronos Quartet, The National and in 2017, Grateful Dead guitarist/singer Bob Weir. You have definitely never heard or seen anything like this. Website, January
Cincy Blues Fest
The two-decade-old blues blowout on the Cincinnati waterfront is an all-volunteer event produced by the Cincy Blues Society that fills the riverfront Sawyer Point Park for two days and nights of all things blues. If you’re an aficionado, or even a newbie, you’ll get a chance to see just about every flavor of blues imaginable. From local and regional delicacies to such headliners as Otis Rush, Lonnie Mack, Clarence Gatemouth Brown and up-and-coming blues prodigies on the Youth Showcase Stage and the best key pounders around on the boogie woogie Arches Boogie Piano Stage, Cincy Blues Fest will get your mojo rising. Website, August
Cincinnati Music Festival
Launched in 1962 as a jazz-focused event, this annual R&B and soul gathering has grown to what some call an unofficial midwest black family reunion. With vendors spread out all over the riverfront to serve fans that come from as far as Detroit and Atlanta, the two-night blowout at Paul Brown football stadium (home of the Bengals) draws the biggest names in old-school and new-school R&B, including (over the years): Aretha Franklin, New Edition, Stevie Wonder, Usher, Fantasia, Mary J. Blige, and beloved annual all-stars Charlie Wilson and Frankie Beverly. The fest has now added a third night with a lineup heavy on classic hip-hop acts and DJs. It’s definitely a place to see and be seen. Website, July
To start planning now for your music festival experience, head over to Cincinnatiusa.com.
Writer Bio: Gil Kaufman is a Cincinnati-based writer/editor whose work you’ve surely read in MTV.com, Billboard.com, Rolling Stone, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Spin and Wired.