Bourbon & Beyond: The Music, The Madness, and The Magic

Last weekend Eddie Vedder experienced Kentucky in a way that he never has before when he headlined Louisville’s newest food, bourbon, and music festival, Bourbon & Beyond, on Saturday night. My wife and I have been stoked about this festival for months now, and I’ve gotta say that it went beyond even my Bourbon & Beyond expectations. Now don’t get me wrong, my expectations were high. The lineup alone would suggest that there are people involved here who know how to festival. Nonetheless, first year festivals usually have quite a few kinks to work out. I’ll tell you about my experience so that you’ll come next year.

MUSIC

Like I said above, the music lineup intrigued me from the beginning. Eddie Vedder in Kentucky? We’ll talk about that in a minute. It’s obvious that there was a specific target and a clear goal in mind for this festival, and I say it was well executed. The Bourbon & Beyond headliners were Eddie Vedder, Stevie Nicks, and Steve Miller Band. And with that line, I just lost most of the people younger than 30 who are reading this. As a 37 year old man, I’m ok with that. Actually, I’m elated about that. Note to anyone younger than 30 still reading this: I like you too. I like all people. I know that I’m called to love ALL people, and even though I’m not great at it, I try…everyday. Anyway, I’m simply trying to point out the way in which this festival’s audience was crafted. This lineup eliminated a lot of liability, and I for one, as a guy that used to go to Forecastle every year, think it’s a brilliant strategy. I still love what Forecastle does and how they contribute to the Louisville economy. Forecastle is a great festival, and it’s creativity and fandom has put Louisville in the national spotlight for music, among other things. But Bourbon & Beyond isn’t trying to be Forecastle, and my last visit to the long running Louisville music and activism festival made me realize that I can’t do it anymore either. It’s big, it’s hot, it’s 3 days, a lot of running around, there’s a bunch of kids, a bunch of drugs, and I need something a bit more low key. That’s ok, that’s just where I am in life.

So here comes Bourbon & Beyond, a new festival with a solid lineup, and a dynamite strategy of placing two main music stages next to each other so that there is no overlap between artists. You can literally go to Bourbon & Beyond and see ALL THE BANDS. All of them. This plan worked incredibly well for the festival planners and the festival goers alike. Since the two music stages are next to each other:

  1. You get about a 15 minute window in between artists—awesome.
  2. You don’t have to move your blanket or chair to travel from stage to stage—awesome
  3. Did you notice that I mentioned a chair above? Yeah, you can bring chairs.

I realize that my excitement about chairs just now made me sound like an old man, but that’s the beauty. I was actually calling it the “old folks festival” all weekend as a joke, and I’m proud to be part of it! Even though that’s not exactly an accurate moniker, it made me laugh. In fact, I saw quite a few well-behaved young folks there and I’m convinced that it’s their good taste in music that lead them to be part of Bourbon & Beyond.

Highlights for me?

  • Eddie Vedder was amazing. He has been one of my favorites all my life, and it was cool to see him solo. He was also gettin’ pretty loose up there! Eddie was a little tipsy, but he shredded his entire set regardless. He mentioned that he was normally a tequila guy, and then he tried some bourbon and actually spit it out on stage! He did say that we were a great crowd and that he enjoyed Louisville. I felt like Eddie became one with Louisville during his visit here.
  • Trombone Shorty, even though we missed a lot of their set, was awesome. They were incredibly energetic and punchy. Crowd interaction, jokes, and jams were all part of their strategy. This is also a reason that Bourbon & Beyond made wise decisions: Trombone Shorty played around 2:00 on Sunday, which essentially made us want to be there all day for all the music. Good music all day!
  • Buddy Guy was freakin’ fantastic! Dude’s like 80 years old and he still keeps it so real with an amazing setlist of Blues jams, original as well as cover.
  • Joe Bonamassa changed my mind about Joe Bonamassa. Look, I guess I knew he was a dope guitarist, but I had never seen it. Now I’ve seen it. Dude is super legit. It cracks me up that he came on stage with a sport coat, white button-down shirt, slick hair and shades looking like he was fresh off a Wall Street trading floor. Somehow he managed to keep the outfit intact despite the heat… also impressive.
  • Gary Clark Jr, who I knew was going to be awesome, did NOT disappoint. He and his band were as tight as they’ve ever been, and their song selection was fantastic!

I thought it was interesting to note that 4 bands in a row played a Beatles cover on Sunday! They were all awesome.

MADNESS

As it goes, there really wasn’t a lot of madness at Bourbon & Beyond. The crowd was fairly tame, but excited. The atmosphere was energetic and welcoming. There were only a few things that needed a little tweaking.

First and foremost is the water situation. Granted, it most likely won’t be 90 degrees next year during the last week of September, I still think water is an essential item no matter the temperature. My hope is that next year they will allow us to bring an empty, refillable water bottle, and provide tap water filling stations. They charged $3 for a 16 oz Dasani, but wouldn’t let you keep the cap. A little strange, but as I said, I think this will change.

Second is the bag policy. Is there a bag policy or not? The Bourbon & Beyond website was very clear about the size of the bags you can bring, and the fact that the larger bags need to be clear, however we saw some bags there that didn’t quite fit the criteria that were still allowed in.  I’m all about a reasonable bag policy. We would have brought bags that we already owned if we had known, but instead we had to get a new bag to carry stuff. No biggie, let’s just make sure that next time we are all on the same page.

Other than that, I can’t see any problems with how this festival was run. And that brings us to the magic!

MAGIC

The magic of the first Bourbon & Beyond Festival was apparent everywhere you went. The fact that I never waited longer than 45 seconds for a bathroom might be one of the best things ever. But there were other lines that seemed insignificant throughout the weekend as well. Beer lines were always friendly. There were only 2 or 3 instances where I had to wait in line for 10 minutes for a beer. Other than that, I could get just about any beer you wanted quickly. The beer selection was awesome with local, regional, and national craft beers available, plus quite a few different “bars” to change up the scenery when you go to get a beer.

One of the most magical pieces of Bourbon & Beyond is the fact that every single musical act started ON TIME. I have never been to a music festival where this happened. What a great thing! I’m reminded that the same people who created Louder Than Life are the ones who put together Bourbon & Beyond, and even though the Louder Than Life lineup isn’t exactly my style, they obviously know how to run a successful festival.

We haven’t even touched on the fact this festival isn’t just a music festival. The Big Bourbon Bar included a huge lineup of the leading bourbon brands, organized neatly around the inside of a massive tent. Here you can taste different bourbons and learn from some of the masterminds within the bourbon industry.

There were a couple of different restaurant tents that were run by celebrity chefs. There were opportunities to enjoy a more intimate setting with these celebrity chefs for additional price. Names like Tom Colicchio, Anthony Lamas, Ed Lee, Carla Hall, Dean Corbett, and Chris Constantino came out in force to showcase their culinary delights.

There were bourbon masters conducting tastings on stage and in tents. Julian Van Winkle III from Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, Wes Henderson from Angle’s Envy, and even TV personality, Fred Minnick from “Bourbon Curious” were among the folks spreading their knowledge of the fine bourbon spirit.

The layout of the festival is great and it was easy to navigate, even with thousands of people there. The decorations, the signage, the lights, the paths, all of these things added so much to the experience.

I could go on and on, but I won’t because I am hopeful that you get the idea. To sum it up, Bourbon & Beyond is an incredible festival at a beautiful venue, with way more than music. It truly showcases Louisville in its finest light, and to me it seemed to be a success! I’m confident that this festival will continue, and I am excited to be part of it next year. You should come too!

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