We headed up 71 to The National Homecoming a couple of weekends ago and left very pleased with our experience. The music and arts fest was curated and hosted by a specific artist; more and more of these types of events are popping up to combat the industry that, honestly, is kind of ruining the music festival. We are SO on board with this trend.
This event, held in Smale Park in downtown Cincinnati, kicked off our festival season and the laid back, adult oriented affair was definitely our speed. We will get our fill of children this summer at Bonnaroo, Forecastle, and whatever festivals we find ourselves at, so seeing some appropriately dressed, reasonably drunk grown folks enjoy some high quality music was refreshing.
Smale Park is beautifully adjacent to the Ohio River, with the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge running right through the middle. With the multiple Cinci sports stadiums flanking on either sides, the park was an idyllic location for a festival. There were lots of picturesque photos taken, I can promise you that. The decor (colored ribbon, artsy stuff) was a nice addition to the overall experience. The park itself was really cool and something us Louisville folks aren’t used to (on that note – come on Lou, step up your riverfront park game). The space included interactive art installations and upscale playground equipment (including a fun ass slide). All 16,000 of us were packed into this “Smale” park (😅), but it never really felt overwhelming. The intimacy of the space made each set pretty special.
For a first year festival, organizers did a decent job heading off the major issues that we usually see. The space was easily walkable, there were plenty of bathrooms, and if you played your cards right, the food truck lines were reasonable. That being said, there were only two tiny little water fountains for water fill ups (and those got backed up pretty quickly) and the bars were a little overwhelmed, especially the first night. Also, barman, tequila is not bourbon… no no no no no.
The festival has garnered some national attention because of the fact that it was curated by hometown homies, The National. They invited some of their favorite, most-respected artists to play for the small (for a festival) crowd on their own turf. With only two stages alternating sets, you could see the entire lineup without any drama. The lineup was generally more “adult,” which was reflected in the older average age. There was not a great deal of diversity of gender and race, though the genres were all over the place.
The National were not afraid to expose their audiences to some unexpected stuff. The crowds at the smaller of the two stages for Julien Baker and Moses Sumney were silently stunned by what they were witnessing. Seriously, that was the quietest that I have ever heard a festival set anywhere. Folks loved the more upbeat energy of Lord Huron, Future Islands, and Father John Misty. The major selling point, however, were the two distinct sets from The National. We got to hear some new music as well as an entire playing of The Boxer. We all mentioned that we wish more artists did this.
We didn’t really explore the other art aspects of the weekend, but there were other events off grounds that looked interesting. I really like how this festival was trying to be all encompassing and involving multiple parts of the community. We did spend some time exploring Over The Rhine and have some commentary on the gentrification happening there, but that’s a story for another time…
We have really started to recognize the feedback loop that occurs when booking a festival. The attendees drive what artists are booked (because they’re the ones spending money on tickets) while at the same time, the artists dictate what types of people attend. Nevertheless, the demographics were pretty glaring: white, 25+, middle class, and into wearing olive green clothing. But for real, everyone had on pretty much the same outfits: black pants or jeans, some sort of olive green outerwear and Chucks. We saw very few young people, besides little kids who came with their cool parents, and even fewer people of color. Other than that, it was a generally positive experience with no passed-out teens and all of the grown drunks were respectful and quiet.
Beav, Britt, and I had a lovely weekend in Cincinnati and would definitely attend this fest if it happens again next year. The bands were right up our alley, the space was gorgeous, Rhinegeist beer is delish; we felt very comfortable.