Cincinnati Music Scene
Lauren Wells | February 20, 2014
Mamie Robinson set the stage for the Cincinnati music scene in the 1920’s and 1930’s, as she wowed audiences as a vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist, and actress. Focusing on Jazz and Blues, Mamie produced hits such as “Crazy Blues,” Fare Thee Honey Blues,” and “Royal Garden Blues,” exposing Cincinnati to a new kind of sound. During the late 1930’s iconic actress/singer Doris Day began her twenty-year recording contract with Columbia Records. A Cincinnati native, Day has had a jaw-dropping career as a Grammy nominated musician, Billboard chart topper, and an Academy Award nominated actress. Day worked with bandleaders like Jimmy James, Bob Crosby, and Les Brown, and was put on the music scene with her hit “Sentimental Journey,” a World War II anthem. During the mid 1950’s, the doo-wop/funk band the Isley Brothers honed their sound in their native hometown of Cincinnati. Raised in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood, the Isley Brothers topped the charts with their hits “Shout,” “Love the One You’re With,” and “Twist and Shout.” Cincinnati has not only produced classic icons like Mamie Robinson and Doris Day, but it has also churned out modern record executives like L.A. Reid. Reid has launched the careers of OutKast, Toni Braxton, TLC, Mariah Carey, Paula Abdul, Pink, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Kanye West, Ne-Yo, Rick Ross, and Ciara. For all you twenty-somethings, here’s a fun fact: 98 Degrees front men Nick and Drew Lachey also hail from Cincinnati. Currently based in Brooklyn, but originally from Cincinnati, indie-rock stars the National are known for headlining festivals and crooning poetic, sultry albums. WALK THE MOON, a pop-influenced indie rock band from Cincinnati, also has received critical acclaim and is signed to RCA Records. The band’s first album i want! i want! was recorded at Soap Floats Recording Studio in Cincinnati and they gained popularity with their single “Anna Sun.”
Bogarts on Vine St. was built in 1890 for the purpose of becoming a vaudeville theater. The building became a German film theater in the 1950’s until an extensive remodel in the 1980’s turned it into an entertainment venue catering to national, international, and local live performances. With a capacity of 1,500, Bogarts has six bars, three levels and an elevated stage for your concert-going pleasure. Live Nation operates the venue, so you know you’ll be seeing a good show. Artists like Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion), Flogging Molly, Grouplove, Cher Lloyd, St. Vincent, the Hold Steady, and Silverstein are booked for performances at Bogarts. Slash, GWAR, Neon Trees, the New Pornographers, and Halestorm have played here as well. The layout of the venue will give you that rare balance between intimacy and space, so grab a drink and enjoy the show!
Built in 1928, the Taft Theatre is a 2,500 capacity art-deco style venue located in downtown Cincinnati. World-class comedians and musicians such as Robin Williams, George Jones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and George Carlin have graced the stage. For a more intimate entertainment experience, the Ballroom is the newest addition to the Taft. The 500 capacity space opened in 2012 and has hosted indie bands like Dawes, Low, Band of Heathens, Jukebox the Ghost, Anberlin, Andy McKee, the Mountain Goats, and Goblin, among others. A Cincinnati landmark, the Taft is operated by Music & Event Management, Inc., who also manages the Riverbend Music Center and PNC Pavilion.
Looking to catch some rays while seeing your favorite band? Riverbend Music Center is an outdoor amphitheater with seating for you and 20,500 of your closest friends. Lady Antebellum, Dave Matthews Band, OneRepublic, Lionel Richie, CeeLo Green, Sting, and Journey, among other A-list performers make the cut to perform at Riverbend mostly due to the fact that Live Nation handles their concert booking. Jimmy Buffett plays here every year, and has sold-out over 41 shows! If you want to catch a Jimmy Buffett gig, you better set your alarm and get on Ticketmaster quickly because it sells out in minutes! The amphitheater was opened in 1984 as a space for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to perform during the summer months. Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra were the first musicians to perform at the venue, and the opening event even featured guests such as Ella Fitzgerald and Neil Armstrong. Because Riverbend is close to the Ohio River, sections of the venue have flooded and resulted in show cancellations (sorry Pearl Jam, Oasis, and Black Crowes fans!). But don’t let this dissuade you from catching a show here; the Riverbend brings in some of the biggest names in music and has successfully hosted touring festivals such as Crüe Fest, Curiosa, Lollapalooza, Mayhem Festival, Ozzfest, Projekt Revolution, and Vans Warped Tour. As if the 20,500-seat venue wasn’t enough, the Riverbend opened the adjacent 4,100-seat PNC Pavilion in 2008 for smaller gigs.
Cincinnati went through a period of time where bands were avoiding booking gigs there because of the general admission festival-seating ban imposed by the city. The ban was a result of a tragic occurrence at the Who’s 1979 concert at Riverfront Coliseum in which 11 young adults were killed due to compressive asphyxia. Because of the surging 14,770 general admission crowd, 23 additional people were injured as concertgoers rushed to claim their space when the doors opened. After 25 years, the festival-seating ban was lifted with many precautions put in place, but the city’s big-name concerts waned for a while in this tragedy’s aftermath. Now the U.S. Bank Arena, the former Riverfront Coliseum, books acts like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Mike Epps, and Bruno Mars. The arena is located in downtown Cincinnati and has hosted hockey games, concerts, political rallies, figure skating, tennis matches, basketball games, and a Billy Graham Crusade, among other events.
Located next to the U.S. Bank Arena, the Great American Ball Park is the home to Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds. The ballpark also intermittently hosts non-baseball related events such as summer concerts and corporate functions. Paul McCartney and Jason Aldean have performed here as a part of their past tours. So grab some ballpark franks and keep your eyes peeled for a home-run ball or a home-run musical performance!
The 20th Century Theater opened in 1941 as the first air-conditioned, fireproof, and free valet parking theater in Cincinnati. Designed with impeccable acoustics, this neoclassical venue screened major films until 1983. Restored and reopened in 1991, the building wore other hats until it finally became a concert and private function venue in 1997. The theater has brought in musicians like the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, the Civil Wars, Keller Williams, Tea Leaf Green, Trombone Shorty, Collin Hay, and the Wood Brothers for intimate shows. Eager to tie the knot? Many happy couples have held their wedding receptions at the theater.
The Cincinnati Arts Center, home to the Music Hall as well as the Arnoff Center, offers a wide variety of entertainment and arts programming. The Arnoff Center is located in central Cincinnati, the perfect place to explore the area’s shopping, dining, and entertainment on foot. Located in the Arnoff Center, the Weston Art Gallery features regional artists’ work, so be sure to check that out before heading to a concert, Broadway musical, or theatrical performance. The Music Hall was built in 1878 in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and is a designated National Historic Landmark. Home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, the Cincinnati Opera, and the Cincinnati Ballet, the Music Hall has hosted music icons like Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Elton John, Janis Joplin, BB King, Duran Duran, and Eric Clapton. The venue is also home to the May Festival, the longest-running choral festival in the Western hemisphere. Run by the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall, a non-profit volunteer organization, the Music Hall is elegant entertainment at its finest. If the stunning chandeliers and detailed golden moldings didn’t give it away, let the music do the talking.
If you’d rather hit the slots before a show, head over to Horseshoe Casino, where entertainment ranges from a comedy show with Aziz Ansari to a dance-fest concert with Ellie Goulding. Styx, Foreigner, Don Felder, Alice in Chains, and Paul Anka are also on the casino’s lineup. And so what if you get a little boozy, the Horseshoe will tuck you into one of their cozy hotel rooms for the night. You have two concert-going options at the casino: the Pavilion (an indoor venue) or the Shoe (an outdoor venue).
Cincinnati Park’s Sawyer Point hosts the Bunbury Music Festival and the Buckle Up Music Festival every July. The weekend-long Bunbury Music Festival features headliners such as Fall Out Boy, Paramore, New Politics, fun., Walk the Moon, Tegan and Sara, MGMT, Cake, the National, Weezer, Jane’s Addiction, and Savoir Adore. Between sets, stroll around, check out the abundance of beer tents (the key to festivals, after all, is to stay hydrated, right?), and chill out. Off the heels of Bunbury, the Buckle Up Music Festival hosts country acts like Alabama, the Band Perry, Eli Young Band, Jamey Johnson, the Railers, JT Hodges, and the Lone Bellow. If seeking out emerging artists is your thing, the Midpoint Music Festival may be just right for you. Held in September, MPMF accepts artist submissions and features new artists like Bleached, Hunters, Goodbye June, Shuggie Otis, and the Thermals.