Cincinnati’s Best Music Festivals

Bunbury is still headlining, but we’ve got an assortment of lesser-known gems, too.

After drawing only 46,000 festivalgoers in 2017, Bunbury Music Festival hopes this summer to bring in the crowds of 50,000-60,000 it was seeing a few years back. Still, that attendance dip is actually a mark of success in some regard. Bunbury drew record numbers in 2015 and 2016, its first two years under PromoWest Production, the Columbus-based independent concert promoter that took over operations of the three-day festival in December 2014.

Photo by Chris Casella/Bunbury


But growing attention also garnered radius clauses from top-tier festivals like Bonnaroo—which can restrict artists from playing multiple shows in the same market—and makes landing big names for Bunbury an uphill climb. Marketing director Marissa Luther says PromoWest is proud of this year’s lineup featuring the likes of Jack White, The Chainsmokers, Blink-182, Post Malone, and Incubus, among others. But even that has drawn fresh criticism regarding the scarcity of female and minority artists set to perform. It’s a level of scrutiny that comes with being a festival fighting for national relevance.

Photo by Chris Casella/Bunbury


Photo by Chris Casella/Bunbury

How that fight shakes out is worth watching. So far, Luther says PromoWest has been able to “play nice,” as a number of the top-line festivals still allow them to piggyback on artist selections. Will radius clauses become a bigger problem if Bunbury grows? Maybe. But maybe large-scale growth isn’t the best way forward, either. Luther believes there will be space for Bunbury—and Cincinnati—in the festival landscape, even if it’s never front and center. “I think that some of these smaller boutique festivals are going to be the future,” she says. “Not everybody can afford a plane ticket to Coachella and all that entails. We love Cincinnati. We’re having a blast.”
Sawyer Point Park, bunburyfestival.com, June 1–3


MusicNOW
Created by The National guitarist (and Queen City native) Bryce Dessner in 2006, MusicNOW’s mixture of contemporary classical, electronica, folk, and alternative music is a high-society hipster’s dream. This year also features the Homecoming festival at Smale Riverfront Park, headlined by The National.
Multiple locations, musicnowfestival.org, April 27–29

The National with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at MusicNOW 2015

Photo by MusicNow Festival


Ubahn Fest
Launched in 2014, the two-day hip-hop and electronic music festival drops its beats beneath the Second Street overpass. The name is short for
untergrundbahn, which is German for “underground railway.” Goetta sold separately.
Riverfront Transit Center, ubahnfest.com, dates TBA


Cincinnati Music Festival
It’s evolved from an all-jazz festival in the early ’60s to a three-day event featuring a range of R&B, jazz, soul, and hip-hop. This year, Boyz II Men is scheduled to make (harmonious) love to you.
Paul Brown Stadium, cincymusicfestival.com, July 26–28


Cincy Blues Fest
The Cincy Blues Society kicked off the festival in 1992 and continues to host the all-volunteer event every August at Sawyer Point. Because nothing screams boogie-woogie like the heat coming off the Ohio in late summer.
Sawyer Point Park, cincybluesfest.org, August 11


May Festival
Founded in 1873, the May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra team up each spring to host the oldest choral festival in the Western Hemisphere. Fun fact: Jim Tarbell has attended every single one.
Cincinnati Music Hall, mayfestival.com, May 18–26

 

The May Festival

Photo by Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

 

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