My Soapbox: Bill Donabedian & The Bunbury Music Festival

If Bill Donabedian has an idea for an event, it's usually a pretty good one. As co-founder of Cincinnati's MidPoint Music Festival, and the chief programming guru for Fountain Square, he's spent the past ten years staging high level events, all the while helping put Cincinnati's diverse music scene on the map. So consider it a surprise when the married father of one felt the call once more to put together an event that aims to make Cincinnati cooler. Full disclosure: I was the other co-founder in MidPoint, and Donabedian and I are still bandmates and good friends. So when I learned about Bunbury while driving to practice one night - I tried not to wreck as he unfolded his plans for "Cincy's own Lollapaloza."  Sounds ambitious, but if there's one thing I've learned over the years is never underestimate Bill.


Q: I'm your friend - I know how much work this is, so why would you put yourself through this again?

Donabedian: I feel like I'm in that scene from Godfather III, "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in!" I was happy when we turned MidPoint over to CityBeat. It was a relief. I do events all the time on Fountain Square. The last thing I need is to plan another event; however, Cincinnati really needs an event like this. Sawyer Point and Yeatman's Cove are beautiful parks that are underutilized. I've been waiting for someone else to do something like this. Like many things in life, sometimes you can't wait for someone else to do it.

Q: Could you give our readers an idea of what to expect at the fest - how many artists, stages, the flow of the three-day event, and what unique twists are you planning on besides the standard run t-shirts and hot dog stands? And bands, everyone wants to know who you're going to book?

: Considering the fest is 15 months out, the lineup is far from being announced. The fest hopes to announce two to three main acts by the July 9 kickoff. If someone picked up the Pitchfork festival and dropped it along the Ohio, then I think you might get a sense of Bunbury. There are six stages and just over 100 slots to fill. I'm going to plead the fifth on 'unique twists' for now. The focus for year one is creating a solid, sustainable music festival. If things are going as planned and time/money permits, some of the really cool ideas will be fleshed out. Most of the ideas that are on the back burner have to do with visual experiences; illuminating the space at night so that it is transformed.

Q: What's in a name, Bunbury? 

: I was having the worst time coming up with a name for the festival. I knew I wanted it to sound whimsical, but have a meaning associated with it. I stewed over it for two years. No kidding. My niece and nephew were in the Oscar Wilde play - The Importance of Being Earnest - last summer. When the actor started talking about 'bunbury' and 'going bunburying' I knew I found the name. When I Googled the definition, "to have a made up excuse to get out of doing something boring," I knew I had a winner. I've heard people say time and time again how there is nothing to do in Cincinnati. You and I both know this isn't true. That being said, I'm giving them something else to do. No more excuses, Cincinnati.

Q: When Midpoint was started in 2002, social media wasn't the tool it is now, and technology has certainly advanced from then as well. What sort of innovation, IT, social media, etc are you planning on utilizing?

: I wish social media was around when MidPoint started. It would have made things a lot easier; however, social media is just a tool. You have to know how to use it to get anything out of it. The obvious use is to get the word out and invite people to the event. Thing is, that's a one-way street and not the best way to use social media. Social media will let the fest involve the fans; hear suggestions and feedback before, during and after the event. One thing Bunbury hopes to do is create an exchange; a place where fans can connect with the bands performing at the fest. Another idea is to create a virtual memory book for each band. Tweets, posts, photos and videos are collected on one page to capture the performance.

Q: With Tall Stacks trying to make a comeback next year and the one-off Desdemona fest in the rear view mirror (an outdoor music festival that only survived one outing and also utilized Sawyer Point in 2006), what will make this work in Cincinnati now?

Bunbury is a different animal than Tall Stacks. The target audience is different and therefore appeals to different sponsors.
Desdemona was a good idea, but poorly executed. Considering the level of talent, a smaller venue with lower operating costs was necessary. Bunbury is not going to be about day trips on the river and people walking around in period costumes. It's going to be about music and an experience that is relevant to an untapped audience. I continue to hear how important it is to foster an environment that keeps young residents in Cincinnati and encourages others to move here. I think local companies will get behind this event because it will do just that.

For those who think it is not possible, I invite them to attend MidPoint's Indie Summer on Fountain Square, the MidPoint Music Festival and the Fringe Festival. The interest is there. Now it's time to raise the profile and embrace a larger audience.

Q: You've talked about making local music center stage for years, whether it's MPMF, Fountain Square, or just playing in your own bands. What role will local music play in Bunbury and does our local scene give you an advantage or edge in making this a reality?

Donabedian: My mantra has always been that local music is the soundtrack of our city and an asset to be leveraged. The local music scene will help in many ways. First, just as local musicians did with MidPoint, I'm sure they'll spread the word and volunteer. Second, the best of the best local bands will perform at Bunbury. For those attending the festival, I'm sure they'll be surprised when they discover the band that just blew them away is local.

Q: Take me to July, 2012. What will a successful first Bunbury look like?

Donabedian: The sun is setting and it's 80 degrees. 50,000 people are enjoying the music and views our city has to offer. The National just rocked the main stage at Yeatman's Cove. The Flaming Lips are about to start their set on the main stage at Sawyer Point.

Did I mention the sun is setting and it's 80 degrees?

Photography by Scott Beseler.
Bill Donabedian
Bunbury Music Festival logo
The Seedy Seeds, set to play the official kickoff to the music festival

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