Sure, Lollapalooza, Bonaroo, and Coachella get a lot of ink and social media attention from music fans both casual and hardcore, but the festival you should have on your itinerary next year is the Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati. This year’s festival essentially kicked off the summer as it occupied Cincinnati’s riverfront June 3,4, and 5. The 2017 dates have not been announced, but likely it will again be the first weekend in June.
This year’s line-up was the most diverse yet, featuring not only rock and pop acts, but hip-hop, funk, and EDM. Promoters also pared down the number of stages from previous years, limiting the number to three. This lessened the likelihood of acts overlapping and forcing attendees to make some tough choices. Across the three days, 48 acts performed. Here are some of the highlights:
Fancy some indy rock do ya? The Mowglis were one of the first acts to play on Friday and helped get the crowd going with their brand of power pop from the Yeatman’s Cove Stage. Immediately after, on the CVG River Bank Stage, Liverpool’s The Wombats put some English on that indy sound. Of the three stages, the most interesting was certainly this one, both in design and in terms of the acts that performed on it.
It utilized what is called the Serpentine Wall, a stepped concrete embankment that snakes its way down the Ohio River’s bank for about 100 yards or so. At its eastern end, it bends in making a sort of an amphitheater space. Some of the most rollicking shows were on this stage.
Back on the Sawyer Point Stage. X Ambassadors smashed it, loudly, perfectly getting the crowd ready for the rest of the evenings acts. Festival crowd certainly enhances this band’s performance.
Everyone’s favorite sisterly trio Haim took over the Yeatman’s cove stage early in the evening and in addition to their originals played the obligatory Prince cover. As soon as Haim wrapped up, Mudcrutch moseyed on to the Sawyer Point stage on the other side of the venue. Petty’s first band didn’t rock the joint, because that’s not what they do. Their country-fried rock was well received though. Unfortunately, his set ran over and many left to see the evening’s headliner The Killers.
And The Killers were The Killers. Nothing out of the ordinary, but the crowd ate it up and rightly so. As they did on a previous visit to town, they played a cover of the WKRP in Cincinnati theme. A part from that it was a string of hit singles sending the crowd home happy with “When You Were Young” and “Mr. Brightside.”
One of Day 2’s most-overlooked sets was from Minnesota singer/songwriter Austin Plaine, who sounds like he should be from Texas, based on his name and his twangy sound. His laidback set, performed on the Sawyer Point Stage, was perfect for a Saturday afternoon, and gradually drew a nice sized crowd.
Later on the Yeatman’s Cove Stage. G. Love and Special Sauce partied like it was 1994 with their brand of so-called sloppy blues and funked-up Philly soul. Sadly, part of his set ran over the set of Big Gram (featuring Big Boi and Phantogram) over on the Sawyer Point Stage. One of the few tough decisions of the day, both had huge crowds. Ice Cube, playing later on the Sawyer Point Stage, had no trouble packing the entire lawn area and working the crowd up in advance of the evening’ headliner.
That honor befell Canadian DJ Deadmaus who drew a big crowd to the Yeatman’s Cove Stage— at first. Once he took off his mouse head, and had gotten a bit into his set, the crowd seemed to grow a bit weary of his EDM antics. Those that hung around bopped around wearing light up sticks.
Sunday was not a day of rest at Bunbury as several heavy hitters took the various staged including Lany, Bayside, and Grimes. The latter wowed, and at times puzzled, the crowd but kept them thoroughly entertained.
But it was the CVG River Stage that had two of the very best performances, first from Canada’s Coleman Hell, who got the crowd, many of which were not familiar with him beyond his single “2 Heads,” bopping along with his electronically infused pop and dance music. As his set went on, the crowd became bigger and bigger.
However, in another unfortunate scheduling conflict, Elle King was showing them how we do it in the U.S.A. with her collection of fiery Americana-flavored tunes over on the Sawyer Point Stage. Full of energy on her records, she really took it to the next level and really fed off the crowds energy.
Later, the CVG River Stage was invaded by Here Come the Mummies, a funk outfit that dresses like, you guessed it, mummies. There is a reason, it seems, for the crazy get-ups. Many of the band members, many of which rotate in and out of the band throughout the year, are rumored to be famous musicians under contract to various labels. This has never been confirmed, but one thing is for sure, they brought the heat.
Closing up shop Sunday night was the brilliant Florence and the Machine. Lead singer Florence Welch was in perfect voice, despite being in the middle of a tour. Thirteen songs flawlessly and effortlessly executed and a great way to finish up this amazing festival.
Music festivals will continue to be popular for a while, but if you want to be just a little hipper than your friends in 2017, make plans to be in Cincinnati for 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.