With scattered clouds and intermittent drizzle Bourbon and Beyond 2019 officially kicked off. It was a stark reminder of what we experienced at Bourbon and Beyond 2018, and the reason it was moved to the current location this year. Not to worry though, those clouds blew through quickly by Noon and the show was on with sunny and warm weather all weekend. Expanded from the previous two-day format to a three-day festival this year, it made for plenty to experience all weekend long.
The Kentucky Expo Center sure changed things up. The aesthetics of having the lush park setting is gone, but the layout, especially for VIP, is enhanced with a large designated viewing area front-and-center stage. Marked chair and blanket areas helped keep things organized, creating large walkways in between sections to help with the massive foot traffic.
With the crowd size hitting 91,000 this year, parking is the biggest improvement – although some spots are a hike. The fact the Expo Center was designed to handle the traffic of such an event provided an easy in, easy out traffic flow considering a crowd of this size.
Reports after the festival indicated festival organizers are looking into adding trees to the venue for next year. Take it from us, Danny Wimmer Presents seems to spare no expense when it comes to putting on the best festival they can, and we doubt trees will be the only improvement, not that many additional major changes seem warranted.
With food and beverage vendors lining the perimeter, various other vendors were also on hand displaying their products. Art installations adorned the midway areas giving plenty of opportunity for those wanting to take a selfie or go for a grand group photo opportunity.
More Than Just Music
Food was a huge part of this experience. From the food vendors on-site to some of the finest dining with world-class chefs on Thursday, you could please your palate with a one-of-kind meal. Upscale Bourbon selections paired well with the food offerings and allowed those with the finer tastes of spirits to discover some new favorites.
It wasn’t just about Bourbon though, as plenty of other whiskey and beer selections were available from the many vendors and brand-sponsored tents. The new Metallica whiskey Blackened and their pilsner Enter Night, had a large presence as well as Makers Mark and Jack Daniels, among others.
With so much to do and see, this festival kept us busy. We were able to take in a lot of the festivities throughout the three days, but there was plenty that went unseen. The few Culinary Demonstrations, Bourbon Workshops, and Dance Lessons we caught were both fun and educational. Those that participated or sat in on a demonstration were able to leave knowing a new dance step, a new appreciation of Bourbon details, or new food recipes or tips from the pros and entertainers.
It is really with this in-depth look into food and spirits that sets this festival apart from many. With professionals on hand, you get first-hand knowledge from those that know best. For example, who would have ever thought you would ever pick up cooking tips from Tiffany Thiessen or Executive Chef Rusty Hamlin and Guitarist Coy Bowles on tour with Zac Brown Band?
You can get out of it what you put into it. We are sure most in attendance can tell their story in a different way than the next. There is something to be said for that. Sure some of the demonstrations were more popular than others, which gained large crowds and far away views for those in the back, but with all that was offered, you were sure to catch something well worthy of your time.
An Unparalleled Music Lineup
With genres spanning the tastes of many, this lineup featured Hall of Fame groups and individuals that included decades of hits. The throwback vibe was in full force when Robert Plant, John Fogerty, ZZ Top, and Daryl Hall and John Oates took to the stages for their respective sets. Rounding out the top six were Foo Fighters and Zac Brown Band featuring two of the top touring bands of today.
We would be remiss if we stopped right there though. The undercards featured more of today’s top acts. With well-established fan bases, Trey Anastasio, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Leon Bridges, Blackberry Smoke, and The Flaming Lips all put on memorable performances and surely picked up some new fans along the way.
Female-led performances were also out in full force with a show of power and grace. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians held their respective spots sharing some of the biggest eighties songs available. Alison Krauss, Grace Potter, Samatha Fish, Jenny Lewis, Pearl, Maggie Rose, Margo Price, Southern Avenue, Dustbowl Revival, Amythyst Kiah and Caroline Jones all showcased their different styles ranging from Rock, Country, Soul, Bluegrass, and Jazz proving that female-led music has a solid foothold in today’s festival landscape.
Bluegrass was nicely inserted into the lineup with the legendary Del McCoury Band, The Travelin’ McCourys, Greensky Bluegrass and a few more for good measure! They kept a heavy traditional Kentucky feel in the air during their sets, with delightful, yet quieter performances that showcased the genre and was definitely a welcomed portion of this festival.
It’s with these sweeping differences in genres that solidifies Bourbon and Beyond as the must-attend festival for mature music aficionados.
Early day performances had something in store for those eager fans who showed up when the gates opened. We must give huge nods to those bands that played under the hot sun and had a little extra to prove. Festival opener Pearl shared her California Country in a commanding way setting the stage for all to play afterward. The Record Company showed the crowd their musical chops with their gritty/bluesy rock-n-roll set.
Cedric Burnside was an incredible surprise on the Bluegrass Situation Stage with his raw two-piece delivery of southern soul-touching blues, leaving us in awe. The early performance “best of” nod would go to Whiskey Myers for their inspired set. With a guitar attack not readily present in their recorded music, they came out blazing and did not let up for a second leaving the crowd in awe.
This is what makes festivals like this great. With the various genres that were present, not all acts fit everyone’s musical tastes perfectly, but the lineup definitely provided the crowd with great music they may have not normally had on their radar.
Leaving a festival with a new appreciation for an act, or even a new favorite band – that is musical gold, and you can blame Bourbon and Beyond for that.
Check Out The Photos
Article and Photos: John Swider and Allen Heimberger