It was a normal Friday morning on September 20 at my office. I was riding out an uneventful work day, followed by the prospect of attending my boys’ high school football game that evening. Around 10AM my phone rang with an offer to take my day in a totally different direction.
My buddy Michael had a set of weekend passes for Bourbon & Beyond, the classic rock music festival hosted in Louisville, September 20-22. His intended companion for the Friday shows was not feeling well, so he offered me the slot. This was a rather generous offer, as the Friday single-day ticket cost $99.50 (plus fees). Weekend passes to Bourbon & Beyond would set you back $199.50 (plus fees). In addition to admission, this offer came with transportation to and from the venue, and a free night’s lodging at the Courtyard hotel, walking distance to the venue.
Come on now, you had me at hello!
After clearing this change in plans with my employer and family, wheels quickly started turning to switch gears from work mode into festival pre-gaming. Now one could get hung up on wanting to get on-site as quickly as possible to not miss any of the music action, but neither of us were interested in rushing. Michael and I do not get to hang like this often these days.
I left work at lunchtime to change clothes and gear up. After Mike picked me up around 2:30, it took some time to navigate the crowded exit coming into Louisville and access the hotel area with our parking pass. By the time we parked, checked in and actually keyed the hotel room it was after 3:30PM. Now we could properly mix cocktails and begin the imbibing process in earnest.
No doubt we missed some fireworks. On the Barrel Stage: The Record Company @ 12:40; Lukas Nelson & Promise Of Real @ 2:10; and Live @ 4:10. On the Oak Stage: Preservation Hall Jazz Band @ 12; Blackberry Smoke @ 1:25; and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts @ 2:55.
We made a conscious decision to party in the hotel room for a bit, listen to some music and chat it up instead of entering the venue, where our drinks would not be cheap. We were totally content to take our time and comfortably wander inside for the 5PM set.
My issues with Bourbon & Beyond are several. Primarily this is a geezer fest. The majority of these acts lost their fastballs in the 1970s or 1980s. Secondly, the location is dreadful. Bourbon & Beyond, along with the heavy metal festival, Louder Than Life, were previously located in Champions Park near downtown Louisville, but were partially or entirely cancelled last year due to flooding.
This resulted in a deal being cut with the Kentucky Expo Center. While this area is not flood prone, it is a sea of asphalt and concrete, with no redeemable scenery that lends itself to spending multiple days at a music festival. To ease this concern the fairgrounds crafted a fake landscape referred to as the Highlands Festival Grounds. This area was augmented to offer some mounds of land to walk over, faux landscaping and a couple trees to try and make attendees forget they were in a giant parking lot.
To make matters worse they paired the two main stages side-by-side. This way when one stage was live the other went dark. This meant attendees spent the entire day moving from one side to the other. Definitely not terribly imaginative if one is spending three frigging days on basically 50 yards of land.
Friday was by far the best day for me to attend, as the Foo Fighters, who remain a relevant act, were headlining that night. Michael and I made it inside around 5:30PM, in time to see the majority of the psychedelic shenanigans from The Flaming Lips.
The Lips are one of those unique bands that matters not if you know their music, by the time Wayne Coyne and these Oklahoma City boys are finished, you’ll be singing along and they will have left a lasting impression on you with their stagecraft and bombast.
The Flaming Lips brought all those elements to their Friday set, as giant inflatable robots roamed, Coyne crisscrossed the crowd inside a clear inflatable ball and seas of confetti descended upon the crowd as the band brought home its anthemic closer, Do You Realize.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats hit the stage next. I was excited to check these guys out. They are a working man’s rhythm & blues combo out of Denver. They had a sort of tent revival feel to them. Not religious per se, but it did feel as if the sin was being washed away by their rock-n-roll. Rateliff rarely stood still. With his barrel-chested physique and facial hair, he made for a fascinating front man as he busted some James Brown footwork. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined Rateliff for the last two numbers, including their huge hit, S.O.B.
Now much anticipation followed for John Fogerty’s set. It was 50 years and about a month to the day Fogerty and his band Creedence Clearwater Revival played at Woodstock in 1969. He was touring in celebration of his 50-year trip. I wish I had something positive to relay about his performance. I love CCR. Fogerty is an American icon and legend in the music business, but he performed as a contrived shadow of his former self.
He was given the full headliner treatment – a killer band, including drummer Kenny Aronoff, three massive video screens and pre-produced video vignettes to go with the individual songs. Unfortunately nothing could distract away from this subpar performance.
Fogerty, 74, apparently had some unfortunate plastic surgery. His face was stretched tighter than a snare drum. His look alone cut into Fogerty’s authenticity – CCR’s primary calling card. Fogerty’s guitar served more as a prop than an instrument. There were 12 or so performers on stage. CCR was always a minimalist outfit. That number of excessive artists can only mean something is needing to get obscured. When he addressed the crowd it came off as pre-programmed. I was genuinely worried he might have a senior moment.
Again, I luv me some CCR. This was more like watching a CCR cover band. I’m mystified why organizers gave Fogerty such a valuable time slot.
This left the Foo Fighters. Thank goodness for something modern. As a big Nirvana fan, I have mad appreciation for Dave Grohl, and all the work he has done with a variety of bands. Yet the Foo Fighters remain a bit of an odd duck. There is some core element that leaves me cold. Hard to put a finger on it. Still, I was psyched to check them out live.
The energy was there. They are plenty loud when they choose to be, and excellent musicians. But midway through all their songs blended together into a remarkably similar melody and tone. Their songs are primarily rock ballads, that start off slow and build to a crescendo of screaming angst. Even their opening was weird. They came running on stage, ripping guitars and pounding drums, screaming, “are you motherfuckers ready for some rock and roll!!!” Then limped into this soft instrumental opening of The Pretender. It instantly killed all the crowd energy, and left people looking at each other bewildered by the confusing mixed message that just took place.
That being said the set was 20 songs strong. Drummer Taylor Hawkins sang an interesting cover of Queen’s Under Pressure. Must say it’s always great to see former Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear in action. The Foo Fighters closed strong with This Is A Call and Everlong.
Overall, while less than impressive, Bourbon & Beyond delivered on offering a beautiful summer day to hang with friends and enjoy some live music outdoors. Personally, I would recommend folks spend their money on either Forecastle or Railbird in Lexington next year. Try checking out some more immediate bands that are relevant, impassioned and actually have their original members together on stage. Just a thought.