Fountain Opening Showcases Best of Cincy

I had planned to spend the whole evening this past Saturday at the Fountain Square reopening concert, but I didn’t plan for the weather. Testing the air outside of my house, I figured a sweatshirt would be enough to brave the slight nip in the air; the gusts from the river took the nip to a harsh early winter chill level, so I had to bail (in my defense, I  had a 2-year-old in tow). I did manage to catch the amazing set from Talib Kweli, who was joined for about half his set by bonafide Cincy Hip Hop legend Hi-Tek (who rapped instead of DJed). It was a magnificently diverse crowd, if a little thin (surely things picked up for later headliners OK Go and Los Lobos). Since I had to leave early, check out a wonderful report from the festivities from my friend, local musician Dave Purcell, who joked to me at the event about how it was amusing that it took a white kid from the ’burbs (MidPoint Music Festival co-founder and new 3CDC guy Bill Donabedian) to book the most diverse concert in Cincy history.

People are moaning about how the Square was not fully completed (staging areas were clear, but there’s a lot of work still to be done, leading some to question whether the unveiling would even be able to happen), but I took this event to be more of a “Here we are! And here we go!” statement to show some of the great potential of the space. It would be great if the Square became the center of a new downtown revitalization, with concerts and other events drawing some of the many folks who now mostly just pass through on their way to Newport. The Banks project would be a great push to put things over the top (holding breath … turning blue), but, for now, the Square is shaping up to become a fun downtown destination point once again. — Mike Breen

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One Comment on “Fountain Opening Showcases Best of Cincy”

  1. Rick Pender Says:

    Here are my thoughts from the afternoon session Oct. 14: It was a chilly morning, and the rather thin crowd didn’t swell much until it was almost noon. The proceedings started about 15 minutes late, when the Freedom Choir (from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center) marched across the Square to the south (Fifth Street) side, where a line of volunteers were holding hands to restrain the crowd. Once they sang (there was no sound system for them, so it was hard to hear), everyone was invited onto the square, which seemed comfortably full.

    Bootsy Collins opened the proceedings with a reminiscence about coming downtown as a kid to shop, and then getting to go to the square — the real highlight of a downtown trip, he claimed.

    A fireman sang the national anthem, and then Nikki Giovanni read her poem — with a few lines she’d inserted to express her opinion of gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell (she called him a “son of a bitch” and “a whore”). Her brash statements caught the crowd by surprise; there were audible gasps and a bit of applause. Near me a family with two elderly African-American women turned away from the stage and departed, clearly offended by Giovanni’s remarks.

    Everyone else seemed to take them in stride. Charlie Luken was up next — I believe it was he who said she had turned the square into a “chat room.” Mark Mallory (again, I’m not certain if it was him, I wasn’t taking notes) observed that the square was a place for free speech, as demonstrated by Nikki Giovanni’s remarks.

    Jim Tarbell — who compared his black top hat with the lavender item Bootsy was wearing — made some remarks about the history of the square, saying he had childhood experiences that were very similar to Bootsy’s. Tarbell was clearly ad libbing, and eventually Mallory wandered up to the podium, put his hand on Jim’s shoulder and that was that.

    The “jumbotron” worked well throughout — everyone especially enjoyed “JimTV,” a piece of about 10-minutes duration that was made to look like a parody of an old TV show, with Tarbell riding around on his scooter and asking people trivia questions about the fountain. An earlier video of Cincinnati celebrities (Johnny Bench, Chris Collinsworth, Marvin Lewis, Oscar Robertson, Paavo Jarvi) who weren’t present was not all that memorable, except for the fact that it included no women. Surely there is a noteworthy woman or two who could have been included — Sara Jessica Parker, Edie Magnus, etc.

    The Cincinnati Symphony played well, especially the “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland, a piece commissioned by the CSO and premiered here back in the 1940s. There had been some concern that it would be too cold, but they seemed to have the tent sheltering them warmed up adequately. The biggest ovation for the afternoon was for opera singer Mark Panuccio, representing Cincinnati Opera, singing “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot — he really pulled out all the stops. Then about a dozen dancers from Cincinnati Ballet came from behind the fountain with a routine of flag-waving while the CSO played Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome” — using flags in the four-color array of the city’s new “All Together Surprising” campaign (chartreuse, pink, powder blue and yellow).

    At the culminating point, 10,000 biodegradable balloons (in the same colors) were released (they had been in a dozen or so long bags anchored around the fountain which swayed in the wind during the entire program). One observer said it looked like “champagne bubbles” as the swirled and floated up above the square.

    The ceremony felt patriotic and appropriate without being stuffy. Bootsy added a casual, goofy quality (he swore he’d been drinking nothing but water, but he’s not much for sticking to a script), and everyone was sincere in what they had to say. The jumbotron showed pictures of lots of people in the crowd who waved like they were at a Reds game.

    It was festive and fun for everyone there, but colder than most had expected. I came away feeling like the city has some hope of making this all work.

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