One of my favorite things about Midpoint weekend is how the music echoes through the streets. Even as you’re heading from point A to B, the music from the last stage will follow you for blocks, until they blend with the strains of your next destination and are eventually overtaken. I kicked off my Sunday (the first in the festival’s history) with local rockers Honeyspiders at the (also new) Lightborne Lot. The band, led by brothers Jeremy and Chris Harrison, traffics in gritty, riff-heavy rock in the vein of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and unless they’re somewhere like Bogart’s, their presence seems way too big for the stage. They made the most of their half hour, performing a couple of new songs and storming through older tracks like the hard-driving “New Blooms.”
Up at the Christian Moerlein stage, a very respectable crowd gathered to catch Coconut Milk, who proved why they’re one of the best young bands in the region with their infectious indie rock. Jangling guitar melded with the shimmering harmonies of Alex Baker and Kat Farmer on songs like “In the Alley,” he sound bouncing off of the buildings of Over-the-Rhine at sunset. “Who’s ready to go to the beach?” mused bassist Paul O’Moore in between songs. As summer fades, it was nice to get one last burst of musical summer sun.
Down at Washington Park, Pokey LaFarge’s cult following was out in full force. LaFarge plays Americana in the broadest sense of the term, incorporating elements of bluegrass, country, early jazz, and just about everything in between. The set skewed heavily towards his brand-new Something In the Water, opening with “Knockin’ The Dust Off The Rust Belt Tonight.” A van breakdown nearly kept the group from making it to the festival on time, but the Missouri-based singer seemed no worse for the ordeal, coaxing his band through a polished revue of rootsy numbers. He’s a consummate showman, well-rehearsed and genial, and perfectly suited for the festival stage. A lengthy take on “Central Time” tore the house down, and he edged past his scheduled end time with a closing cover of Ray Charles’s “Let’s Go Get Stoned.”
For the most part, Iron and Wine was a low-key final headliner for the Washington Park stage, but Sam Beam and his three-piece backing band started with a ferocious take on the title track from the “Woman King” EP. His show seemed to take on the general philosophy of his new Archive Series, touching on all different points of his career and picking up odds and ends as it went. So while we didn’t hear “Naked As We Came,” which the gentleman to my left repeatedly called out for, we did get rarities like “Two Hungry Blackbirds” and “Stranger Laid Beside Me.” His slot coincided with a total lunar eclipse, a repeated topic of stage banter (“If you get bored, just look up there”), and song after song, it became less visible to the east. Shepherd’s Dog pairing “House by the Sea” and “Boy With a Coin” showed off Beam’s dextrous guitar abilities, and were both high points of the set. “Sixteen, Maybe Less,” from his great 2005 collaboration with Calexico, made a welcome appearance, and I was reminded of just how great “Half Moon” is. He closed the evening out solo acoustic, powering through his gorgeous cover of “Such Great Heights” after breaking a string, and ending with with “Fever Dream” from Our Endless Numbered Days.
Over at MOTR Pub, Louisville punks White Reaper whipped up a storm that didn’t let up, crashing through eleven songs in just over half an hour. Lead singer Tony Esposito is a magnetic presence onstage, howling, yelping and riffing with abandon. Keyboardist Ryan Hater flung himself into the crowd on more than one occasion (I’ve never seen anyone crowdsurf at MOTR before), and bassist Sam Wilkerson repeatedly mounted the monitor at the front of the stage, holding his instrument aloft as he played. Their songs alternated between “fast” and “faster,” drawing largely on this year’s White Reaper Does It Again, blasting through “Make Me Wanna Die” and “Conspirator.” They’re a young band but have quickly become one of the Midwest’s great touring acts, with excellent garage pop sensibilities and killer stage presence.
I zipped up to Moerlein to catch a few minutes of tUnE-yArDs, Merrill Garbus’s loop-heavy world electronic project. Three brilliant LPs into her career, she seems to really be taking off, and she presided over a huge dance party with booming beats. Having seen them already this summer, though, I decided to catch one of my absolute favorites, Columbus songwriter Lydia Loveless. It’s one of music’s great injustices that she’s not a superstar, and I’m not resorting to hyperbole there. She’s got a one-in-a-million voice, a barnburning backing band, and a collection of songs that can stand up to just about anybody. She drew a solid crowd to The Woodward, though, and blazed out of the gate with “All I Know.” Her dry, sarcastic wit comes out in both her songs and her stage banter, but she’s also a poet with acute insight. She played nearly all of last year’s instant classic Somewhere Else, saving “Really Wanna See You” for the very end, and rollicked admirably through “Jesus Was A Wino,” despite the fact that her band had to figure out the chords as they went. Many artists were performing brand new material at this year’s festival, and Loveless was no exception, fitting two unreleased songs in towards the end of the set. At 25, Loveless has plenty of career ahead of her, but she’s certainly got the talent and material to be much, much bigger than she is now. Midpoint has always been great at showcasing artists before they get huge, and we can only hope that Loveless will join that camp before too long. A perfect ending to another great Midpoint Music Festival. See you next year.