May 2009 Issue
Music in the Night
Warm evenings bring a full schedule of concerts and other entertainment events to Cincinnati.
Ah, the sounds of summer nights in Cincinnati — the laughter of friends gathering at a street-side café after work, the free music at Everybody’s Backyard Picnic Concerts in Cincinnati Parks, or the cheers of Cincinnati Reds fans in the stadium and then the blasts of fireworks after a win. After hot summer days, the cool of the evening is refreshing and much of the nightlife in this river town happens outdoors on Fountain Square, along the downtown riverfront, at Riverbend, and in parks throughout the city — and, at some surprising and cool indoor venues as well.
Cincinnati summers begin with the annual Taste of Cincinnati, held on Memorial Day Weekend downtown in the Fountain Square area(www.tasteofcincinnati.com
). That is just the beginning. “We like to encourage people to park at the Square and start from there,” says Bill Donabedian, who programs the activities on Fountain Square. “We offer free entertainment Tuesday through Sunday nights and we have one or more “Ambassadors” on the square 24/7. They can give visitors information about activities here, directions, and answer general questions.”
The PNC Summer Music Series on Fountain Square runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day and presents a wide range of music styles(www.myfountainsquare.com/musicseries
). “I’m a musician and I’ve had a chance to see the types of events that people like,” says Donabedian. “We try for a spectrum of music so that, at some point in time, there should be an event that you want to see.”
Tuesday is the night for blues and country. World Wide Wednesday pulls in music styles from around the globe. Salsa’s a hot thing, so it’s Salsa on the Square on Thursday nights, with live bands and instructors who teach the steps to hundreds of people between sets.
On Friday nights, MidPoint’s Indie Summer presents alternative and indie rock from 7 to 10 p.m. That is followed by a Singer-Songwriter Night from 10 p.m. to midnight. “It’s very much an open-mike-type program,” says Donabedian. “You have a chance to see nine to 10 good musicians and even the few that might not be so good are not painfully awful.”
Sunday night programs include an early gospel series followed by Smooth Sunday soul and R&B. “Musicians love the early evening playing times and continually tell me how great it is to look out towards the fountain and into the big open spaces of the square,” says Donabedian.
The recently renovated Fountain Square has a tented stage, movable tables and chairs, vendors with food and beer concessions so you don’t have to leave the square to find refreshments. You can even bring in your own food. On the periphery of the square are restaurants such as Via Vite with an upper-level patio, Rock Bottom Brewery for a burger and a micro-brew or Chipotle for a burrito and a margarita.
Families love the Graeter’s on the east side of the square for its hometown favorite ice cream flavors. They also love Saturday movie nights when the LED board above Macy’s on the west side of the square becomes a movie screen. “We plan a free double feature starting at 7:30 p.m., generally themed together and always PG-13,” said Donabedian. “An example would be last year’s pairing of Kung Fu Panda
followed by Karate Kid
.” Lots of ice cream is sold on movie night, but parents can choose to bring in their own selection of snacks, blankets for the kids to rest on, etc.The Riverfront
When the Cincinnati Reds are in town, you often hear the sound of fireworks set off after one of the players hits a home run or the team wins the game. “Win or lose, we have Rossi Fireworks after Friday night games, 10 this summer,” says Michael Anderson of the Reds. “We have giveaways such as bobble heads on Saturday nights.” (http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com
The Great American Ball Park, Sawyer Point and Bicentennial Park are about five blocks from Fountain Square. And, by walking 10 minutes across the Purple People Bridge, you can access the nightlife on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. Some people park at Newport on the Levee in Kentucky, enjoy a meal and then walk over to the Ohio side for a baseball game, concert or event.
Cincinnati’s riverfront is a favorite gathering place after work on the second and fourth Wednesdays for Party in the Park. The free, live music event at Yeatman’s Cove Park from April through August has been rockin’ the river for 29 years. A bit newer is Brew-Ha-Ha, an August nighttime weekend event featuring 50 comedians and 60 beers. Comedy Central comedians Tom Mabe and Heywood Banks will be the headliners this year. The laughs are free; the beer tastings — microbrews as well as national brands — are by the ticket. (www.party-in-the-park.com
Unique to the Cincinnati Waterfront are the theatrical performances on the Showboat Majestic, a real showboat built in 1929 and now moored at the Public Landing. Presentations this summer, the showboat’s 19th season, include “Musical of Musicals? The Musical,” “Crimes of the Heart,” and “My Fair Lady.” (www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com
One of the biggest summer parties happens at Paul Brown Stadium. The two-night event, Macy’s Music Festival, started as a jazz festival in 1962 and now embraces R&B, hip-hop and soul music, with entertainers such as Eric Benet, Fantasia, Charlie Wilson and The O’Jays scheduled to perform at this year’s event. (www.macysmusicfestival.com
Across the Ohio River in Kentucky, there is an active nightlife at Newport on the Levee (www.newportonthelevee.com
) and nearby neighborhoods. The levee is home to Funny Bone Comedy Club as well as Shadowbox Cabaret, which blends rock and adult comedy. Bands are scheduled at Jefferson Hall and live music moves outdoors for some concerts on the Riverwalk Level.
Festival events scheduled at Newport on the Levee often extend into the evening hours. In June there is an Italianfest and in July the Arts and Music Festival. Unique to the Cincinnati area is Glier’s Goettafest in early August, which celebrates goetta — a German blending of beef, pork, steel-cut oats and seasonings. The concoction has moved from the breakfast menu to specialties such as goetta pizza, burgers, fudge and more.
Southgate House, located across the street from Newport on the Levee, books national acts but has a small-venue atmosphere. Also near the Levee is Hofbräuhaus, where the beer is brewed on-site under the license and supervision of Staatliches Hofbräuhaus in Munich. You can raise a big stein in the huge Bier Hall or the shaded Bier Garden. Those wishing to enjoy German fare favor the quieter dining room.
Riverfest, on the Sunday before Labor Day (Sept. 6 this year) is the event that unites both sides of the Ohio River. Entertainment and activities start at noon and people arrive early to claim a place for family and friends on either side of the Ohio to watch the colorful, explosive Rossi Fireworks after dark.Riverbend and Cincinnati Parks
Big-name musicians and bands that play the outdoor concert circuit appear at Riverbend (www.riverbend.org
) and the PNC Pavilion (www.pncpavilion.com
), adjacent amphitheaters located east of town between River Downs Racetrack and Coney Island. Both offer covered and lawn seating. The Dave Matthews Band will perform this summer, as well as nationally known country music stars Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts. And, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Pops concert series will include “A Night at Woodstock,” celebrating the music of the famous gathering 40 years after the original event.
Throughout the summer, music lovers grab a lawn chair or blanket and head to free concerts at Cincinnati’s city parks (www.cincyparks.com
). Many are held on weekend afternoons, but early evening concerts are also scheduled, including “Everybody’s Backyard Picnic” on Thursdays and “Sounds of Berry Park” on Sundays. Theater buffs go to Cincinnati parks for free evening performances of Shakespeare; this year, “Romeo and Juliet” is the selected drama. Year-round Entertainment
You don’t have to go to New York to experience an extraordinarily cool, truly “funkadelic” night. Bootsy’s Produced by Jeff Ruby (www.jeffruby.com/bootsy
) has memorabilia from the collection of Cincinnati funk music legend Bootsy Collins, not to mention flashy colors and unique lighting — think an exploding box of crayons. With Jeff Ruby producing the experience, you can also count on great food — especially the sushi and tapas.
Did you think that Cincinnati shuts down on Sundays? Think again. Besides free concerts in the park and on Fountain Square, you can go to The Comet in Northside (www.cometbar.com
) where there is no cover charge to sit close to the stage to enjoy the music of The Comet Bluegrass All-Stars. This very eclectic local bar also serves up a great black and tan burrito — big enough to share.
An internationally recognized indie music event, the MidPoint Music Festival in late September is now in its eighth year(www.mpmf.com
). “Last year was a breakthrough year,” says organizer Dan McCabe. “We had groups from Beijing, Jerusalem — lots of international participation as well as bands and musicians from throughout the U.S. We have even more submissions this year.” The indoor festival involves scheduling more than 200 bands in 20 venues throughout downtown Cincinnati.
The festival is just another part of the exciting, ongoing Cincinnati nightlife. Arts and entertainment events such as the Final Friday in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati and First Fridays in the Main Strasse Village area of Covington, Kentucky, keep residents and visitors alike busy throughout the year. In Cincinnati, the fun doesn’t stop when summer ends.