MidPoint Music Festival. You've heard of it. You probably even have some vague idea of what it is; a sort of tribal gathering of young adults and the Indie bands they love. You know "” those bands that aren't quite commercial enough to be signed by a major music label.

You're kinda right. But that's only a small sliver of the picture. As MPMF, as its friends call it, readies its 12th festival on Sept. 27-29, it's not quite ready to be called an institution. But it has definitely worked its way up into that group of annual events that are helping redefine the city.

First, you've got to toss away that notion of the major music label as every musician's dream. Participating in MPMF is, in itself, a measure of success. This is, after all, a music festival that attracts more people than our hallowed May Festival.

Don't Pigeonhole This One

Secondly, abandon the concept that MidPoint is just for kids. There are plenty of honest-to-goodness grown-ups who will spend MPMF weekend wandering from venue to venue to hear music that is live, unexpected and ever-so-occasionally illustrious. (One of this year's headliners is 85-year-old bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley.)

Clearly, one size does not fit all at MPMF.

In festival producer Dan McCabe's eyes, MidPoint is one of the centerpieces of the urban pioneering that is restoring health to downtown Cincinnati, right up there with the reopening of Washington Park, the redevelopment of Vine Street and even the recently completed World Choir Games.

Never mind if this isn't a mammoth, Lollapalooza-sized gathering. That's not the point, says McCabe who, despite being well into middle age at 47, remains a glass-half-full sort of guy.

"People complain all the time that there's a lack of huge concerts coming through," says McCabe. "But what you have in Cincinnati is a seasoned crowd base, an audience that understands the pursuit of music and the crafting of music. What Cincinnati has is an intelligent crowd."

Mind you, there still seems to be a huge audience for the middle-of-the-road oldies that proliferate at Riverbend Music Center. Chicago, Doobie Brothers, KISS, Motley Crue and Jimmy Buffett are just a small piece of the 2012 musical offerings that Riverbend dragged up from well back into the last century.

But McCabe is absolutely right that there is a new spirit "” and a new economic vitality "” that is coursing through that once-scorned and once-ignored corner of Over-the-Rhine. And sitting right in the middle of that is MidPoint Music Festival.

Unapologetic Eccentricity

Lori Holladay, 56, was once the head of the Cincinnati Film Commission. Today, she works for WNKU, one of MidPoint's media partners. But while she tries to hear live music at least once a week, she had never attended MPMF until last season.

"I know, I know "” it's right in my backyard," says Holladay. "I just didn't know how much fun it would be and how much energy there would be. All the art activities and the food and the people-watching "” it reminded me of South by Southwest, which I've been to several times."

Holladay knew very few of the bands. Indeed, sometimes she picked a performance based solely on the band name. As she talks more excitedly about it, it's apparent that it is the unapologetic eccentricity of the festival that really appeals to her.

"I just loved the attitude of it," she says. "I remember walking down the street when someone in an old-fashioned costume came up to us passing out free glazed doughnuts at midnight? I mean, when does that ever happen. And at one show, the performer was a woman with an accordion who played the bass drum with her foot as she spun around. Amazing!"

It sounds like McCabe's kind of evening.

"That's why we keep such a tight-knit footprint," says McCabe. "We want people to walk from venue to venue. We want them to see all the historic architecture. It's visually stunning. You have music venues right next door to art galleries. You've got shops staying open. MidPoint is definitely an investment in the Over-the-Rhine community and the downtown area."

McCabe is a proselytizer. He's preaching for new, live music. For Cincinnati. For Over-the-Rhine. For solving problems instead of complaining about them.

And that's probably what has garnered him the ever-increasing amount of corporate support he has picked up since CityBeat assumed control of the festival in 2008 and anointed McCabe its leader.

Backing from the Big Dogs

Pop in at the festival's website "” www. mpmf.com "” and the band names are likely to be unfamiliar, even if you are a 25-year-old hipster. But glance over to the left side of that page and take a look at the corporate sponsors: Stella Artois (part of Brazilian-Belgian conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev), Bior (Kao Corporation), VitaminWater (a Coca-Cola subsidiary). And, of course Dewey's Pizza, which has been a sponsor since 2008.

The point is that most of the main sponsors are big-name corporations that are serious in their pursuit of profits. And McCabe holds the key to the consumers that these corporations want. McCabe understands that. So he loses the jeans and dons a grey business suit "” he still can't bring himself to wear a tie "” and launches into his role as a matchmaker. It's a simple and time-honored formula "” bring the right products together with the right consumers. And while you're at it, charge a fee "” a sponsorship, if you will "” for bringing the two together.

"It's competition," says McCabe. "Our sponsors are competing for those young, educated people starting off in their careers. They are competing within this region and with other regions to attract those people and to retain them. But they're doing a little pioneering themselves by investing in their community, and not necessarily just in the traditional cultural institutions."

Today's MidPoint is a savvy hybrid, a festival that celebrates outsider music with the support of insider funding. McCabe and his crew have connected all the right dots. They enticed Give Back Cincinnati to oversee the festival's enormous volunteer corps. They've added the city's two hottest new spots "” Washington Park and The Emery "” to the mix of venues.

But at the same time, they're clearly in philosophical sync with their crowd base, which topped 22,000 last fall. They're installing temporary bike racks at many venues. Rather than guard access to their logo the way most corporations do, they put it online and invite you to download it and make your own posters. And before long, you'll see free downloads for select pieces of music by participating bands.

But there is uncertainty in its future. Earlier this year, Southcomm, a Nashville publishing conglomerate, bought CityBeat "” and MidPoint. No word yet if Southcomm is a music lover.

McCabe, for his part, says he's not particularly concerned about the future. For one thing, he has a festival that is just weeks away.

"MidPoint has been a success over the past five years, and it looks good on paper," says McCabe. "I think the success of MidPoint is part of what made CityBeat a good purchase for them. I'm sure they'll be watching in September. And my hope is that next year, after they have a better understanding of the work that I do, that they can get even more involved, and I'll be able to tap into their infrastructure."