Cincinnati finally gets a major indie rock festival when the Bunbury Music Festival debuts July 13-15 along the central riverfront, with 100 acts on six stages over three days.

In the eyes of promoter Bill Donabedian, this should mean more than just another good time with a bunch of rock bands.

Donabedian has always believed that the Cincinnati music scene is "an asset to be leveraged." He figures, when properly promoted, it builds coolness into a city that in turn attracts other artists and young professionals to settle here. Donabedian thinks a thriving music scene is not just good for a city's lifestyle and culture, it can be a part of economic development.

To that end, Donabedian launches his Bunbury Festival intended as an annual event marking Cincinnati as a summer music destination for fans and adding another slice to the area's hipness pie.

Co-founded Midpoint

Donabedian has already put his stamp on fostering the region as a young adult music mecca. He co-founded the Midpoint Music Festival in 2002, which has become one of the Midwest's most important events for unsigned bands, drawing more than 30,000 concertgoers to see some 200 acts. When he worked for 3CDC, in charge of programming for the refurbished Fountain Square, Donabedian began the tradition of presenting a weekly diet of local original music bands on the Square as a sort of a summer soundtrack for the city.

Donabedian thought a missing link for the city's music reputation was a major indie band festival. "I see music festivals all over the place," says Donabedian, "and it was time to do something here."

Indeed, the indie rock scene, decentralized and niche-oriented, is well suited to the multi-band festival concept. Many of the acts can't command huge audiences at the big amphitheaters like Riverbend. But packaged in a festival format, it becomes an economy of scale "” an affordable and tasty lineup for the concertgoer.

Such festivals have flourished for decades in Europe, but only in the last 10 years have they picked up steam in the U.S. with Chicago's Pitchfork and Lollapalooza well-established, along with Bonnaroo, the annual Woodstock for the new millennium. Louisville's Forecastle Festival is celebrating its 10th year.

The Bunbury lineup may be more accessible to the casual music fan than many of the other indie events.

Death Cab for Cutie

There is less reliance on the iTunes generation's esoteric buzz bands (although they are in the lineup) and more groups with a pop and melodic orientation. The three headliners are, in a sense, the symbolic indie rock leaders of each of the last three decades: Jane's Addiction, Weezer and Death Cab for Cutie.

The lineup also includes a who's who of the local music scene, including several who have already gained national followings, such as the Sundresses, Wussy, Pomegranates, 500 Miles to Memphis, G Miles and the Hitmen, Messerly & Ewing, Lions Rampant, Guided by Voices, Seedy Seeds, the Tillers and Foxy Shazam.

Based on advance ticket sales, Donabedian guesses that 40 percent of concertgoers will come from out of town with a crowd of 20,000 of 20,000 expected each day. "Our demographic is turning out to be a perfect bell curve between 18 and 44, if you look at the data from our ticket sales. It's exactly what I was targeting," Donabedian says. "A lot of the bands are not huge Top 40 acts, but people know who they are. We have a broad appeal."

Take a Meeting

He took the festival name from the Oscar Wilde play "The Importance of Being Earnest" where a character gets out of doing things by claiming he has a meeting with the fictitious "Bunbury."

"The urban dictionary defines "¢bunbury' as an excuse to get out of doing something boring. I thought that was perfect," says Donabedian.

The audience? Lots of young professionals, college-educated with a decent income, is how he describes it. "The concert world is very different today. It is not just the slackers. This music is mainstream and what they love," he says.

In fact, Donabedian wishes local corporations would pay a little more attention to such gatherings as a way to attract YPs to the city and keep them. He says local corporate sponsor dollars have been tough to come by for Midpoint and Bunbury.

"It has been frustrating," says Donabedian. "You hear corporations in town talk about the challenges of recruiting young professionals and keeping them. Yet they don't always support the activities YPs go to, or get excited about. I see so much opportunity. Here's an event that will get people talking about our city, coming here and staying in hotels."

There is one other piece of the music-as-leverage pie that Donabedian hopes to serve up after Bunbury. He intends to establish a nonprofit Cincinnati Music Commission, seeded with proceeds from beer sales at Bunbury (perhaps totaling $250,000). It would be a support group/trade association for the local music scene providing recording and touring grants, music education, legal and insurance support and other services, such as standard contracts and best practices in the musician community.

"Suddenly, we are a force to be reckoned with. You have Midpoint, Bunbury and already the city's great legacy of King Records. Now you have an entity to grow that scene," Donabedian says.

"You are then a place where artists from other cities will move to for work, to perform and record here. A thriving music scene can be a huge business. Just look at cities like Austin and Memphis." - 

The Bunbury FAQ

When: July 13-15

Where: Sawyer Point, Yeatman's Cove Downtown Cincinnati

ATMs: "Trust us"¢we want you to spend money."

Prices: One-day $46; Three-day $93

Advice: "We have a lot of advice. Kind of like your mom."