MOTR Pub proudly sits on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine among other bars, tattoo shops, and bodegas. The venue boasts an eclectic beer selection, delicious food, and a patio, as well as a passionate staff dedicated to providing a one of a kind experience for both musicians and patrons. We had the opportunity to speak with co-owner, Dan McCabe, about his background, MOTR’s sister bar/venue The Woodward Theater, and the recent ommision of MOTR as a MidPoint Music Festival venue stop.
McCabe started working at the now defunct, Sudsy Malone’s in 1991 and, “booked live music there seven nights a week and left Sudsy’s in ‘99. Then I started working at The Southgate House bringing music through there in 1995 and then in the final stretch at Sudsy’s. I was [moving] shows to The Southgate House that were too big and helping pioneer that room with my partner, Chris Schadler (who is also a partner here at MOTR and The Woodward). And I’d say 2001, I was hired by City Beat as a marketing manager and I began producing the local music awards program, the CEA’s, for eleven years. Then I had the opportunity to take over Midpoint Music Festival as a producer and talent buyer in 2008 until 2015. The MOTR Group converged in 2008 around the same time I was taking over Midpoint. We looked at several venues and neighborhoods and really saw the opportunity to be impactful in Over-the-Rhine”.
Properly named MOTR or Music in Over-the-Rhine, McCabe and Schadler conduct business a little differently. There is no cover. Ever. When questioned how they are able to pull off free cover when there are so many venue’s charging the usual five-dollar local band weekday show, McCabe replied, “We put up flat guarantees. We pay the artist a flat amount and the idea is to develop that artist. So they may come in at a lesser pay on weekdays and as they graduate into weekend/headlining gigs, they’re paid more. I also have a long history of making music in Cincinnati and played in bands my entire time here and I can tell you the pay that we put out at MOTR is far more than I was getting paid with a cover whenever I played locally. It’s just a foot in the door. It’s not meant to be that career income.”
“The idea is to develop that artist”, McCabe explains, “to introduce that artist to a wider audience, so people have the ability to wander into MOTR and discover new music. And that’s the whole concept, which is to come in and discover these bands. Come in and enjoy yourself, have a beer and if you don’t like this band, come back tomorrow you might like them. But the idea is to discover these new artists and now with the expansion into The Woodward across the street, we are able to finally to harness these bands and shape them to a bigger venue with a ticket at the door and pay them substantially better. This summer we’re very excited after our first year of operation, we’re moving into our next phase of artist development here at The Woodward, and bringing the bands that were spilling out into the street at MOTR over here, charging a ticket, and raising their pay. This is an exciting time for us right now.”
Aesthetically, MOTR’s rock and roll personality is evident from the first step into the door. At night the lights are dim and the stage is lit in order to highlight the performing musicians. “Chris Schadler did a great job selecting posters from our past and framing them and getting them on our walls. That’s something that I’ve been surrounded with since I began at Sudsy’s, my office was carpeted with rock posters. It’s a familiar site to both of us and also there’s a story to be told at eye-level. You can walk around the wall and see a story about Cincinnati’s rock and roll history. Everything from the history of King Records, Isley Brothers, Afghan Whigs to Iggy Pop’s epic performance at a Cincinnati Pops Fest with an iconic photo of him standing on top of the crowd. All of that history is a fun read and I encourage everybody who visits MOTR to take some time to peruse that.” The dimly lit basement is intimate and even has game machines, including pinball.
Towards the end of the interview, the passion and general excitement about discussing the two bars took a grim turn when McCabe mentioned MOTR’s exit from the venue lineup of this year’s MidPoint Music Festival. “Sorry to reveal that MOTR interestingly enough will not be included at MidPoint Music Festival this year, not even The Woodard. I am astonished that the ownership group, which has reportedly declared that Over-the-Rhine will continue to be the home for MPMF but will not utilize the two venues that host regularly live music in Over-the-Rhine. Our efforts at MOTR and The Woodward now is to bring live music to the conversation on what Cincinnati's arts and culture institution is. Midpoint, after 15 years, has certainly established itself as huge integral part of Cincinnati’s arts and cultural institution. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the symphony operating it now, but I am saddened to say that MOTR won’t be included this year for the first time since we opened in 2010. We’re in a strange and awkward position of having been a resource for so many years and now having to be a competitor. I really haven’t grasped it totally yet but I’m trying to get my arms around it now.”
In an industry that in recent years has lost its focus of supporting and building artists and instead placed all attention on money, the MOTR Group’s mission is refreshing and an important one. “My hope is a Columbus band coming to Cincinnati might look around and say, ‘Hey, I can make my music here, look at this infrastructure’ and consider moving down here,” McCabe said. “The larger the pool of musicians we have to work with in Cincinnati to work with, the stronger our city. ”I've long pushed the concept that Cincinnati has the opportunity to market itself to young professionals, the region, people fresh out of college using our local music scene, which is absolutely vibrant.”
“Any city would kill to have the music output that Cincinnati has, and that’s not anything new. There’s a long history of it dating back to the founding of rock and roll with King Records. Even to this day, we have local musicians touring Europe right now, making a huge impact, and touring the States. In a city that is starved for young talent to come in and work and help build a city, I've long thought that there is a great opportunity. There’s already a movement from city leaders to reach out to the region to come visit us and consider us through our arts in culture. The problem is that they hang that definition onto the historic institutions like the symphony, for example, and they declare that Cincinnati arts and culture. There’s a great opportunity to change that demographic and skew younger in your outreach using Cincinnati’s arts and culture. I have yet to see that effort from the city to wrap its arms and embrace our music outlook. We had the opportunity to come in and put a stake in the ground for local music, and that’s what MOTR is.”
MOTR is located in the heart of Over-the-Rhine at 1345 Main Street.