It’s September 20, 2019 and I’m back in Louisville for the second time this year. How do I keep ending up in this city? Oh yeah. All the amazing music festivals, and the bourbon.
I am here for my very first Bourbon & Beyond Festival. This particular festival caught my eye this year because of the amazing and oddly diverse lineup. Joan Jett, Kurt Vile, Foo Fighters, Hall & Oates, John Fogurty, Jenny Lewis, Edward Sharpe, White Reaper – all the yes.
We arrived around 2pm to the Kentucky Exposition Center. Getting in was relatively quick and easy, but we had no idea where to go when we got there. There were no maps to be found at Bourbon & Beyond, other than the couple of jumbo printed ones like ones you see at a shopping mall. Quickly I realized, maps weren’t totally necessary – the footprint is actually pretty small.
The two main stages are side by side, an approach I love, and saves a ton of space. With the side-by-side stages, one band sets up while they other plays, that way they can start within five minutes of the other ending. It also means you can find a spot on the lawn in between the two stages, and not have to move all day.
We arrived as Lukas Nelson was finishing up his set, and what we saw was magical. But we were focused on finding WATER. Since we didn’t have a map, we just did a lap of the festival hoping to find it, before someone finally told us where to find it. It was waaayyy in the back of the lawn, not convenient to anyone. As far as we could tell, it was the only water station at the festival. Big oops.
After we found water, we stumbled upon the dance tent, where they were finishing up a swing dance performance before moving on to foxtrot lessons. I love unique elements like that at music festivals.
Next up was the QUEEN of all angsty girls, Joan Jett. We danced like rebels to “Bad Reputation” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You”. And let me tell you, Joan Jett still sounds just as incredible as the day she recorded any of those songs.
Live takes me back to my teenage years. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times my best friend and I sang “Dolphin’s Cry” at the top of our youngs, or “Lightning Crashes” in our best Ed Kowalczyk impressions. While I was absolutely heartbroken they didn’t play “Dolphin’s Cry”, I understand it’s hard to narrow down your set when you have bop after bop.
One of the bands I was most excited for was The Flaming Lips, a bucket list band in my opinion. This set had everything: confetti cannons, inflatable robots, unicorns, dancing eyeballs, zorbs. Wayne Coyne was sporadically throwing confetti throughout the set, at one point they played the national anthem in its entirety through a talk box, while Wayne Coyne wore giant hands with lasers shooting out of them. WHY?! I mean, I guess why not. It was everything I expected and more.
Confetti was still flying around when Nathaniel Ratefill started his set. I’ve seen Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats more than a few times now, but I always end up singing and dancing to “SOB” and “I Need Never Get Old”. I was also stoked to see that they brought out the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for a few songs. We had missed their set earlier (we slept in oops), so I was jazzed (pun intended) to get to see them.
John Fogerty was up next, who was on his 50th anniversary tour. He talked a lot about “the early days” including fun stories from Woodstock – and he was actually playing the same guitar today that he played at Woodstock! His son is joining him on this tour, wearing a coordinating fringe cowboy shirt of course. And let me tell you, a father-son guitar solo battle is just as heartwarming as it sounds.
Finally….the Foo Fighters. All day, allllll day I was seeing people in their Foo Fighters merch, which built a fun layer of anticipation. Hundreds and hundreds of Foo Fighters hats, t-shirts, even a couple tattoos! When it came time for their set, the lawn was filled as far as the eye could see. The cheers actually hurt my ears when Dave Grohl stepped out, and it never let up with everyone screaming along the lyrics. One thing I absolutely hated was the lights – which had bright, flashing panels pointed directly at the audience. But it wasn’t nice soft light, it was more comparable to someone taking repeated flash photos of you while trying to enjoy a show. I was clearly not the only one who was a little bothered by it, people were putting on their sunglasses (it was 9:30pm), covering their eyes, or looking down. It was…a lot. But, they sounded incredible as expected.
Getting out of the festival was the biggest mess. Signage was sparse. The rideshare sign pointed us in a general direction, where we ended up having to walk through a weird chainlink tunnel thing like we were in a prison or something – and oh yes, there was indeed barbed wire on top for some reason. Then all the sudden we were just dumped out onto a public road, to be left to our own devices I guess. When we checked how much rides were, they were close to $100 with surge charges – so we started walking, and walking, and walking. We walked over an hour before deciding our feet couldn’t take it any more, and the ride had dropped to a – still ridiculous – $50. But our feet were hurting so bad at that point, it didn’t matter. So yes, we paid $50 for an Uber back from Bourbon & Beyond. Needless to say, we’re considering driving tomorrow.
Honestly, there were so many great bands back-to-back today, that we hardly got time to just look around the festival. Well, we still have tomorrow and Sunday I guess. See you tomorrow, Bourbon & Beyond!