Hi fest friends! You guys are in for a treat, because our Bourbon & Beyond coverage (including this recap) are coming to you from a new member of our LTFL team. Shoutout to Hunter for doing a fantastic job putting together this thorough recap for us. We always love sharing a fresh perspective.
Without further ado, let’s hear from Hunter Embry:
Bourbon & Beyond 2018 featured terrible bouts of rain and flash flooding that left festival goers trying to dance ankle deep in mud. Ultimately, the city of Louisville had to declare Champions Park, the home of B&B for year one and year two, unsafe. Organizers did everything they could (except magic away uncontrollable weather) and made the tough decision to cancel the festival that Sunday and to issue refunds.
Editors Note: despite that tough background, we have heard nothing but good things from friends who have been to Bourbon & Beyond in the past and were eager to get out there and try it for ourselves.
Luckily for the tens of thousands of people that gathered at the Kentucky Exposition Center this past weekend, festival organizers made good on the mess that Mother Nature created last year and hosted a festival that put those weather nightmares firmly in the past. For those who aren’t familiar, Bourbon & Beyond is the second of three festivals (in as many weeks), organized by Danny Wimmer Presents and held at the KEC, which is conveniently situated between Interstate I-65 and the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport – minutes from Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby) and the University of Louisville. The choice of venue was solid, considering it’s one of the most accessible locations in the city, housing 19,000 parking spaces, as well as numerous hotels within walking distance.
Editor’s note: Hunter is local! Which means no hotel or airplane stories to share. But lots of local expertise. Feel free to reach out in the comments if you have questions about the area.
Louisville is the Bourbon Capitol of the World and the festival made good on its name, featuring an absolute sh*$ton (yes that is an official measurement) of bourbon and other whiskeys – throughout the vast festival grounds. Representatives from just about every distillery in the region made a showing at B&B, speaking about their processes and the traditions behind Kentucky’s beloved spirits. As one would expect, they were all looking to show off their twist on the world’s most famous form of whiskey with tastings, workshops, swag and unique activations. The largest of which seemed to be the Kroger Big Bourbon Bar, where 15+ distilleries filled a massive tent, each equipped with their own local mixologist, serving up a variety of cocktails.
Also located inside the Big Bourbon Bar was the Derby Dance Hall featuring 20s style (among other styles) dance performances. Following each performance, festivalgoers could take lessons from the trained, local professionals of Dance Louisville.
Louisville is nationally recognized for its vibrant, varied and award winning culinary scene. Throughout the weekend, world-class local and celebrity chefs, including Anthony Lamas, Edward Lee, Graham Elliot and more, gave cooking demos at the Better In The Bluegrass Stage. Tiffani Thiessen, of the Cooking Channel drew one of the bigger audiences of the weekend – yeah, you might know her better from her role as Kelly Kapowski of “Saved By The Bell.”
While “beer” isn’t technically included in the festival name, it was not in short supply. Lagunitas was on hand to serve up their vast catalogue of “hop-forward” brews. While the brewery’s staples like their IPA, Pils, Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ ale were on hand, the festival also offered up some lesser known of Lagunitas brands, like Eroic and Aunt Sally, a sweet, sour mash ale. Folks enjoyed their craft beers while sitting on vintage furniture, which probably came from Aunt Sally’s wood-paneled basement. Ah, and how could one forget the Mumble Phone Booth. If you’re not familiar, check out the story HERE. If craft isn’t your thing, B&B also offered up Bud, Bud Light, Stella and Mich Ultra – for between $9 and $12 a pop.
Art & Aesthetic
The venue didn’t offer as much in the way of eye candy when compared to the scenic drive to Champion’s Park attendees would have taken in years passed, which follows the Ohio River and the lush greenery surrounding – but it makes up for it in so many other ways. The newly renovated Exposition Center, which is architecturally appealing, was located next to the entrance of this year’s festival. While entering the KEC, on the route to parking, you pass by the Kentucky Kingdom amusement park, which is an interesting twist, but the folks behind Bourbon & Beyond had to have built the infrastructure entirely. I think they did a good job of keeping their audience visually entertained beyond the music, dance, food and libations. with tons of fun art installations and other additions to the venue. See some examples below.
Last but of course not least, music, the main ingredient in this festival. Friday was a banger. A night of good old fashioned, rock ‘n’ roll. Let’s start with Nathaniel Rateliff, who bravely spaghetti-legged around the stage in a Canadian Tux, topped with a white denim jacket. For those who don’t know what that means – just think: denim on denim on denim. Attendees, young and old, shook and wiggled to the soulful, vintage grooves of The Night Sweats. – a perfect transition to John Fogerty.
Hopefully you know him from his five years of work with CCR, which was on full display Friday night. Fogerty and his band, which featured two of his sons and the amazing Kenny Aronoff on drums, kicked off the night with Born on The Bayou. The band was tight and the 74-year-old’s voice has held up well. One strange note: he changed the lyrics a bit. In the original recordings, on the third verse, Fogerty sings “Wish I was back on the bayou, rollin’ with some Cajun queen.” Friday night he sang “rollin’ with some kind of queen.” Obviously I’m digging a little too deep here, but genuinely curious as to why the lyrics changed.(Answers, insights, comical explanations are strongly encouraged.)
The veteran of the original Woodstock, wore a blue plaid shirt, which he’s seemingly worn to every gig for decades – only this one was equipped with fringe down the arms. One could only assume this was him paying homage to the festival that took place 50 years ago. The set continued through CCR classics, ‘60s covers and the star spangled banner (in Jimi Hendrix fashion, which was strange but cool?). Two highlights from this set include, a raw and heavy “Keep on Chooglin” which offered a glimpse into his more youthful self and secondly, Fogerty dedicated “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” to his daughter and explained that is was one of his favorite songs to perform. The crowd agreed as you could hear the echoes of people singing along from all around the massive festival grounds.
The night was capped off with an intense set from the Foo Fighters, equipped with comedic relief, a drum solo with rising kit, and a cover of Queen’s (and Bowie’s) “Under Pressure.” Taylor Hawkins stepped down from his massive drum kit to take lead vocals on the song, while Dave Grohl took his place on drums. One of many highlights was the bands’ performance of “My Hero,” which ended in a sing along with thousands of sun-beaten fans and a ferocious jam.
Worn out from a long night, I had to give myself a pep talk for Saturday. To be honest, when I first saw Saturday’s lineup it was the least appealing to me. . .However, my soreness and dehydration were immediately calmed by the angelic voice of (KY favorite) Alison Krauss. The blistering sun fell behind the Barrel Stage as Krauss and her amazing band sang “Down To The River To Pray.”
During this time, I decided to check out the VIP area of the festival, which featured a massive tent, equipped with chandeliers, numerous bars, seating and a large flat screen that showed a feed from the main stages. There were several air conditioned restroom trailers, which has come to be expected at larger festival and always welcomed by the LTFL team.
Attendees were allowed to bring one factory-sealed water bottle and could refill at hydration stations throughout the day. I found one when I was exploring this area and was most happy to find what a friend dubbed the “survival station.” Water is available for purchase at the bar, but in the hot sun at $4 a piece refilling was a much better option. Not to mention a lot more environmentally friendly.
I continued my evening watching sets from Phish front man Trey Anastasio, which as you probably guessed, was super jammy. His disposition was as I’ve come to expect; laid back, always smiling, seemingly kind. He’s kind of like the cool stoner uncle everyone has (or wish they had).
Hall and Oates (or Darryl Hall and John Oates, as listed on promo materials) hit the stage as the sun had set. The band played hit after hit. The crowd sang along to most of it. Darryl Hall said it was so great to be at (pause) the “Bourbon Festival” – in a way only I could imagine my grandfather saying it. The band was gentle, while they sang their note filled melodies. It was what I expected.
HOWEVER, I was completely blindsided by the sheer force of Robert Plant’s set. Plant has always been a rocker of the spiritual persuasion, but this felt like an awakening. Plant and his amazing band played reworked versions of several Zeppelin classics, as well as his ‘80s solo hit “In The Mood.” It was heavy and for lack of a better word, organic. Electric guitars, acoustic guitars, violins, HUGE drums and much more were all glued together by Plant’s ragged vocals and British charm. As one friend put it the next day, “last night Robert Plant gave everyone a crash course in the history of music, man!” I had seen Plant before, but not like this. So much for my reservations about Saturday.
The weather Sunday was a bit more forgiving. Winds blew through the festival as Margo Price took the stage looking happy and healthy. For those who aren’t familiar, Price and her husband/guitar player, Jeremy Ivey, who have been digging through the trenches of new/old country scene in East Nashville’s for many years now, found a break when Jack White and his Third Man Records took notice. This year Price earned a Grammy nod – and not long after gave birth to a baby girl. During the set, Price mentioned that she was only three months removed from having the baby and the crowd cheered her on, loudly and supportively. Price played songs from her Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter album, as well as new material. She and the band played rousing covers of tunes made famous by Dusty Springfield (“Son of a Preacher Man”) and Janis Joplin (“Move Over”). Margo has a voice that is very Loretta Lynn, but often uses her register to flirt with soul and rock. Just Google it.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros followed with a set that was anything but conventional. The Zeros are known for having many members that play numerous instruments. The live shows are both emotionally intense and lighthearted. Lead singer Alex Ebert is wonderful at involving and playing off his crowd. Notoriously off the cuff, Sunday’s set at Bourbon & Beyond was no exception. The band didn’t use a set list. After taking a few drags from a joint found in his pocket, the singer left the stage to ask an audience member to make up a verse to one of his songs and sing it. A few moments later, he walked the crowd until he found someone to tell a story… “a story, any story, something that means something to you.” He found a man who recently split with a significant other, but wanted to let her know that he still and will always love her. The crowd collectively swooned at the heartwarming story. The highlight of the set came when Ebert cut in the middle of one of his songs to direct the audience in a singalong of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”
The third day of any festival can be exhausting and it takes a special band/performer to rally an audience out of that lull. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros did just that with the perfect song at the perfect time. It was a special moment and one I think I will most remember from Bourbon & Beyond 2019.
As always, we love to hear from other festival goers. Please let us know if you went to Bourbon & Beyond this year or hope to in the future. Tell us all about your experience or what your favorite aspects of the festival were. Do you have tips we missed? Because if so, we always love to catch those too.
Last but not least, special thanks to Bourbon & Beyond for having us out there and to Hunter for doing a fantastic job covering the festival for us. I know this is one I had serious FOMO about, and can’t wait to catch up and ask him a ton of questions! We are super lucky to have someone with so much music knowledge joining our team.