The summer got off to great start in Cincinnati with the sixth edition of the Bunbury Music Festival on the banks of the Ohio River. A sure sign that summer is under way in Southwest Ohio, it’s one of the biggest events of the year in the Queen City.
This year, organizers seemed to divide up the days loosely by genre. Friday was mostly indie acts, though G-Eazy played a late set, and Wiz Kahlifa closed the evening. The latter smashed it, while the former didn’t fare as well. Many arrived at the Nissan Stage (the main one), after seeing either MUTEMATH or The Shins (more on those two in a bit).
G-Eazy highlighted a sonic problem with the festival, which some would hardly find a detraction: too much bass. So, obnoxious was the bass, people across the river in Northern Kentucky complained on social media. It was if Cincinnati had pulled up alongside Newport and Covington, KY at a stoplight and blasted the bass so loud it rattled the neighbors to the bone.
His set didn’t help matters. Even to the hip-hop friendly pop music fan, his set list was a mere tirade with more F bombs than a Quentin Tarantino film. On the same stage later, Wiz Kahlifa made it all right as he got the crowd bouncing along to his lavish and colorful performance.
Back to MUTEMATH and The Shins, who demonstrated the downside of festivals: you’ve gotta make some hard choices. The Shins went on at 6:30, while MUTEMATH started at 6:45 on the other side of the grounds. Many tried to see as much as they could of both.
The Shins were like seeing an old friend, and folks were happy to see them, while MUTEMATH showed that they are an engaging live act. Indeed, lead singer Paul Meany was captivating as he gyrated about the stage and into the crowd. They finished their set with the song “Quarantine” which was punctuated by guitarist Todd Gummerman using his bank of foot effects pedals as an instrument to do a solo. They were also “jammier” than one might expect. A great bridge between the indie and hip hop acts on the festival’s opening day.
Just before Wiz, Death Cab for Cutie closes up things on the western side of the venue. To borrow a joke from Jimmy Pardo, I’m not sure, but they may still be playing their opener “I Will Possess Your Heart.” As with The Shins, many in the crowd were pleasantly surprised that they knew so many songs.
Bunbury Music Festival Day Two
Day two appeared to be the one set aside for acts no one knew, but by the end of the day, many of these acts had ardent new fans. Frenship, for example, made some new friends, as it were, with their ‘80s-inspired stylings. Similarly, VHS Collection, from New York, nicely balanced the West Coast vibe of Frenship with their mix of electronics, funk, and pop. Also, Hayley Kiyoko, probably one of the better-known acts of the festivals second day pleases old and brand-new fans alike. On the hip-hop side, D.R.A.M., too, was a treat. The DJ stylings of Bassnectar capped off the evening.
Flogging Molly, a band that is, of course, very festival friendly did not disappoint and kept the energy going even for the weary.
Performance of the day, though, went to Canada’s Arkells who took the stage smack in the middle of the afternoon under the blistering sun. The quintet from Hamilton, Ontario showed they meant business right from the start as they opened with “A Little Rain (a Song Pete)” from their 2016 album Morning Report. During the song, lead singer, Max Kerman went deep into the crowd and got everyone singing along. Not slated to be a single, the song is now one of the bands most popular downloads as they likely have pulled the same antics elsewhere. On the song that followed, “Savannah,” they asked if anyone could play guitar, which resulted in a bloke from Michigan joining them on stage.
A pleasant surprise was the Reverend Horton Heat. Not that he’s ever been anything but awesome, but like Death Cab and The Shins, Heat rolled out a set of songs that most might not have heard in a while, kicking it all off with the amazing “Psychobilly Freakout,” the very fine “Galaxie 500,” and a cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” in honor of his late pal Lemmy, that band’s late lead singer. The crowd loved it. AFI similarly got old and new fans alike rocking.
Pre-closing the festival, ahead of Muse, was The 1975. Their abbreviated set was well-received by the festival crowd. On headlining gigs, they let loose and add more musical interludes, but for this slightly shorter set they concentrated on the hit singles— except for their best song, “The City.”
The aforementioned Muse closed the festival and were an excellent choice for that slot. Considered by many to be a modern-day arena rock band, their set played well on the riverfront. The big question about them remains, how do those three (well, four, they brought a little help) make so much noise. An inspired ending to another great Bunbury.
PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.