Ok y’all, buckle up, cause I have some THOUGHTS about Bourbon & Beyond Festival. I’m here to lay out the good, the bad, and the ugly…and there was good, bad, and ugly.
Bourbon & Beyond Festival wrapped up their third year last weekend, September 20-22, 2019. This year their lineup was strong, and the festival was in a new location. But it was my first Bourbon & Beyond, so I came in with fresh eyes and no standards.
The lineup is what reeled me in. Foo Fighters, John Fogerty, Joan Jett, The Flaming Lips, Live, Alison Krauss, Grace Potter, Kurt Vile, Edward Sharpe…in my opinion it is one of the best festival lineups I’ve seen this year. Hands down.
A few of my favorites from the weekend were The Flaming Lips, Alison Krauss, Hall & Oates, Jenny Lewis, and Kurt Vile. Just to name few.
The Flaming Lips set was more like performance art. There were dancing eyeballs, confetti cannons, a giant unicorn, inflatable wings, a massive mylar balloon that said “FUCK YEAH LOUISVILLE”. And on top of it all, they sounded amazing, and they played all our favorite songs.
Alison Krauss is a literal angel. Her performance was just, mesmerizing.
I was excited for Hall & Oates, but I had no idea they would rock as hard as they did. And damn they sounded great. We had so much fun dancing to their set.
Jenny Lewis is always a sweetheart, and I love the 1970s glam aesthetic she’s been rocking on this tour. And bless her soul for dancing around in a full-body sequin jumpsuit with fur cuffs and her hair down in that heat.
Kurt Vile is always amazing. Nothing flashy, nothing terribly “exciting”, but he doesn’t need any of that. His music speaks for itself – a little sad, a lot relatable, all beautifully performed.
We WERE excited to see White Reaper, who was playing a shockingly early set on Sunday. And leaving our hotel an hour and a half before their set, we thought we were good on time. But after being directed all the way around the Expo Center for parking, and walking the mile to the festival entrance, we walked in as they were finishgin their last song.
I was SO excited for Robert Plant. I mean, come on, seeing a piece of Led Zeppelin perform in your lifetime? Pretty damn cool. But I was thoroughly disappointed. He only played two or three Led Zeppelin songs, and they were all just…VERSIONS of the originals. I totally understand that he was performing as Robert Plant, not as Led Zeppelin, and of course he had to play some of his solo stuff, and stuff with his new band…but, it was just, meh. It wasn’t what anyone came to see. And I would say at least 30% of the crowd filed out before he even finished his set. Yikes.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes were another band I was stoked to see. I grew up jamming to “40 Day Dream” in my first car, and covering “Home” in my sets. Their songs have such an energy to them, and I was excited to see that type of energy in a set. But I did not feel that energy. It was almost a little boring.
Overall, the lineup really was incredible. I still think it was one of the strongest lineups this festival season.
This is where it started going downhill. The festival was held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, KY. You guys know I loooove Louisville, it’s home to some great festivals, bars, bourbons. But the Expo Center was about 10 miles from downtown. And we were basically in the parking lot of the expo center. The terrain was either gravel, mulch, or asphalt for most of the festival. The part that WAS grass? “Standing area only.” If you want to sit, you had to go back to the gravel. It was a “fire hazard” we were told. Soooo sitting in the grass was a “fire hazard”, but 10,000 camping chairs behind us were not?? More on that later. I need to pace myself.
We had access to the Mint VIP area for the weekend. Here’s what that included:
• Access to the Mint Garden, an exclusive hang area for VIPs only — actually a very nice, and pretty spacious area.
• Front-of-stage viewing of the oak & barrel stages — easily one of best perk included in VIP. Unlike most festivals, the viewing area was the actual FRONT ROWS of both main stages, not just a side stage area. While they did get busier during the headliners, we still watched Robert Plant from 30 yards away.
• Access to the mint tent- a shaded hang space with dedicated bars & comfortable furniture — The tent was actually quite beautiful, with astroturf floors and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The shade was definitely nice. The furniture LOOKED comfortable, but it was always taken, even when we got there early. And the private bars were nice, but all of the drink prices were the same, so not a HUGE perk considering the bar lines never got too long throughout the festival, they literally had dozens and dozens of bars.
• Live audio/video streams of the barrel & oak stages — cool perk I guess, but I guess my thought when seeing then was “why would someone come to a music festival just to watch the acts on a SCREEN and hear compresses version of the audio?” To each their own though I guess.
• Dedicated merchandise stand for convenient shopping — this was definitely a thoughtful benefit. The merch table in the GA area consistently had a long line.
• Premium food and beverage offerings (for additional purchase) — I get the idea. But again, it wasn’t any cheaper than the food in the GA area. And it wasn’t like any of the food lines in GA got out of control.
• Private locker rentals — I was trying to figure out the benefit of this, since we weren’t allowed in backpacks or anything anyway. I guess if you bought merch and didn’t want to carry it around? But again, even though people already paid for VIP, you still had to pay extra for lockers. It just seems silly.
• Air-conditioned, flushable restrooms — Flushable restrooms with running water for the sinks are exceptionally nice, but I don’t know if the air-conditioning was working in ANY of the restrooms. I tried at least two of the trailers, neither had air-conditioning, and my boyfriend said he didn’t notice any in the men’s either.
• Dedicated entrance lanes into the festival — I will say, this was nice, if nothing else because they were just a LITTLE closer to the mile walk from the parking lot.
• A commemorative VIP-only laminate & wristband — I mean….cool?
One thing they didn’t advertise as a benefit, was the most valuable thing in my opinion: our own water station. Granted, it wasn’t filtered water, it was one of those stations hooked up to a hose. But with the lack of free water in the GA section, this was easily the most valuable perk offered.
What they did right.
I love the side-by-side main stages concept some festivals have been trying lately. It just makes so much sense! While one band is playing, the other is setting up. And once one band finishes, the next band can start right away. And it means if you found a good spot on the lawn, you could stay there all day. They were also smart in that they had the video stream on ALL the screens, making it easier to see from most angles.
I also appreciated the overall footprint, where they kept strip of land straight back from the main stages mostly unobstructed. Meaning, there was nothing muffling the sound for a lot of the seating areas.
Some of the third-party experiences were a lot of fun. The Bourbon Derby Dance Hall was a lot of fun to watch. I love unique experiences at festivals, and watching professionals foxtrot and swing was definitely unique. The Angel’s Envy Speakeasy was awesome. Hand-crafted cocktails with a private patio, including seating and shade.
Tons of amazing bourbons were represented at the festival: Four Roses, Makers Mark, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Old Forester, and many, many more. They do tout themselves as the “Largest Bourbon Festival in the World”, and they did not disappoint on that front.
I also really appreciated their app, which was well designed and easy to use. It had the festival maps and everything else you would need loaded into the app, which worked without data or WiFi, which was good because there was absolutely NO service at the festival. You could favorite your acts for the weekend, and it would send you reminders when they were about to go on. The app was great, and I’ve used a LOT of festival apps before.
And again, the lineup really was great. But overall, I think they had more things to improve than they did right…
What they can do better.
The absolute craziest thing about this festival, was the lack of water stations. It was borderline dangerous. TWO hydration stations for a festival of 91,000 people…placed TOGETHER…allllll the way in the back of the festival. Madness. At the hottest points in the day, the line was easily 100 people deep. While they were advertising “stay hydrated!” messages all day on the big screens, they sure made it hard to stay hydrated. Of course they had water for SALE all around the festival, for $4 a bottle. Some festivals put profit ahead of people, and Bourbon & Beyond might be one of them. Forecastle Festival is 65% the size of Bourbon & Beyond, with triple the amount of water stations.
On top of that, camelbaks were being turned away at the door. While the website was super unclear on whether camelbaks were allowed or not, it turns out, they were not. We got lucky, as media, because they gave our camelbak the camera bag tag. I have no idea why camelbaks were not allowed, when for some reason they allowed 10,000 camping chairs? It clearly wasn’t because of size, or time of bag searches, because chairs of all sizes were allowed in. But you know what chairs don’t cost them? Profit.
To only have two water stations, placed in the same spot, for a festival of 91,000 people, and only allowing them to get a water bottles amount at a time?? I’ll say it again, MADNESS!
The terrain was absolutely horrible. Asphalt, which was close to 100 degrees every day with the sun beating down – or gravel, which made our feet ache within minutes, and was awful to sit on, but was one of the only “sitting permitted” areas.
Now let’s talk getting in and out of the festival. Day one, we decided to uber. Getting there was easy enough I guess. But getting out was an absolute nightmare. We followed the minimal signage to the uber dropoff/pickup area, where we were literally being herded through barbed wired gates. People, I kid you not, started moo-ing. The shuffle was slow and crowded, and we were all curious about the decision to put barbed wire on the fence. After probably a half mile, we’re just all dumped into the street. I didn’t notice any designated pickup lot. We were literally at a gas station. We pulled out our phones to see how much surge pricing was effecting the prices…it was $70. So we started walking, and walking, and walking. The price got to $65, then $60, then $50. But at this point we had already walked TWO MILES from the festival, and our feet were killing us from standing on gravel all day. So we ended up forking up the $50 for the car back.
Days two and three, we decided to drive. It was $20 to park on-site, but that’s better than $50. Getting in and out of the lot was actually easy enough, other than the fact that the parking lot was a one mile walk to the entrance. There was a supposed shuttle that allegedly would take us to the entrance, but said shuttle was never seen. We asked around, and we didn’t talk to a single person who saw a shuttle.
One other thing I thought was really odd, was that there were no paper maps at the festival. While they did have the app, and a couple maps blown up and displayed throughout the festival, there were no traditional maps given out at the door. The footprint was small enough, I understand they probably didn’t feel the need for maps. But the amount of people I had ask me if I knew where the water stations were? Too many. Plus, I like having a paper version of the lineup to circle all the bands I want to see. While the app was great, I was trying to preserve my phone battery as much as possible.
The bands were great. Whoever chooses the lineup, bravo. It truly was awesome. But the actual logistics of the festival, were questionably greedy.
The lack of water was borderline dangerous, as well as not allowing camelbaks in. The terrain was unbearable on our feet. Walking a mile to and from the parking lots was the last thing anyone wanted to do.
I hate to be this harsh, but I need to be honest. My voice as a writer is less credible if I’m not totally honest with my readers. And while the lineup was good, Bourbon & Beyond was not a well-planned festival. I hope they do better next year.