Words & Photos by Rod Snyder

I was in Louisville, KY for the second installment of the Bourbon & Beyond Festival, put on by Danny Wimmer Presents. He managed to get a solid group of artists for the inaugural year, but really outdid himself with this year’s line up, featuring John Mayer, David Byrne, Sting, Robert Plant, and the Counting Crows. The rest of the bill was stacked too, making for a well-balanced two day musical journey.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had her own plans for Champions Park, where the festival was being held. The week prior to the festival had been full of rain, and the ground was already oversaturated. The ground never stood a chance, once the thousands of people attending the show started walking on it. I could tell it was going to be a mess, when I got out of my car and saw a big patch of mud in the parking lot.

So I made my entry onto the festival grounds and took a look around. It would turn out to be the only time I would be able to see it. The grounds were set up slightly different than last year, but featured a lot of the same tents and workshops. The merchandise tents were busy already with people looking to get that festival T’s and other goodies.

After a bit of walking around, it was time for the first band of the day, Swimming With Bears. This 4 piece out of Austin, TX was a great find and they took advantage of the still dry conditions out. Their energetic set warmed up the chilly air and got the crowd ready for the days festivities.

Larkin Poe was up next. The band is fronted by sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell from Atlanta, GA. Deeply rooted in blues & Southern rock, they are often called “the little sisters of the Allman Brothers”. They may be young, but their sound was big, and Rebecca’s vocals proved it during their brief set, which included covers by Leadbelly and Son House. Keep an eye out for this group.

Next up was two-time Grammy nominated saxophonist, Mindi Abair. She’s got quite a resume, from touring with Aerosmith in 2012, she was the featured saxophonist for 2 seasons of American Idol and sat in with Mr. Springsteen and Max Weinberg and served with Paul Shaffer. She greeted the crowd, then went right to work, perfectly paired with her guitarist, Randy Jacobs. The two jammed together on a few numbers and put some sizzle into the air.

Another family affair followed: the band Joseph, featuring 3 sisters from Joseph, Oregon – Natalie, Allison & Meegan Closner. Active since 2014, the trio has performed on Jimmy Fallon, and played all the big music festivals such as Bonnaroo, Coachella, Glastonbury and many others. But here at Bourbon & Beyond, they treated the crowd to a heartfelt performance, with just their voices and sister Natalie on guitar.

Jacksonville, FLA natives JJ Grey & Mofro took to the stage next. By this time the rain was pretty steady and it was making things difficult for myself and many others attending the show. But the show must go on, right? Together JJ & his band played their sultry brand of Southern rock and blues. He is one of those artists I have heard about, but never actually checked out before. I’ll be checking out some more of his catalog – he’s got a great voice, and the band complements it really well.

American blues icon, Kevin Roosevelt Moore, better known as Keb’ Mo’, came to the stage and went right to work. The sound of his deep voice brings you back to the old Mississippi Delta. It’s timeless, just like him. Despite the rain, he played a scorching set that the crowd would not soon forget.

By now, the rain was coming down at a good clip. The backstage areas were starting to flood a bit and the green grass, started turning brown. Sheryl Crow came out to the stage and played a nice selection of her classic songs, going back to her debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club and self titled LP. The feel-good, happy music just did not complement the weather, unfortunately. Crow put on a great set and the crowd loved it, but I couldn’t help but think what the people in the crowd were thinking.

One of the artists I was waiting for this day was David Byrne. I had been hearing good things about his current tour for his new album, American Utopia. The stage for this performance is bare, except for the hanging chains on 3 sides and all of the band, have on matching, grey suits, and this night, didn’t wear any shoes. There were no amps or wires – all the instruments are carried around, marching band style. They opened up with “Here” from their current release, with Byrne sitting at a table, holding a model of the human brain, then getting up and showing it to the crowd. Byrne and his band played a great cross-section of hits, from his solo work to his more familiar songs with Talking Heads. They covered such classics as “I Zimbra”, “Once In A Lifetime”, of course, “Burning Down The House”. The set was tightly choreographed, as you’d expect it to be since the tour started back in March.

John Mayer was the first night’s closer and I wondered what version of John Mayer we’d get. I’ve seen him several times, in different incarnations and each was uniquely different. He opened up with a series of softer, pop John Mayer tunes. I was hoping for a John Mayer Trio sound. Just my personal preference, but the crowd enjoyed it. With conditions dire and the cold already settling in, I decided to take off after my allotted time in the photo pit. On my way out, I heard him break into the Grateful Dead tune “Fire On The Mountain”. The crowd gave an approving applause when he started playing those famous first chords. I was able to enjoy it as I walked very carefully through several inches of thick, wet, Kentucky mud.

As I left the photo pit and exited the area via the VIP area, I had no idea how bad the muddy situation actually was. I stayed back in the media tent, since it was raining. This area in the front was shared with “The Mint Experience”, so while there was a large amount of folks in here, it didn’t contain the vast number of attendee’s that the GA area had. As I walked towards the main exit point, I was stunned by how fast the ground turned to a complete mess. I got back to my car and was fortunate enough to get out. There were a few lots that the cars just parked on the grass – 2 of the 3 lanes in my lot, had a car stuck in the mud which made my exit not possible. Let’s just say I love my 4WD.

I woke up the next morning to an email saying that the “City of Louisville has declared the festival site to be unsafe. As a result, the second day of Bourbon & Beyond at Champions Park, has been cancelled”. I know this decision was not made lightly, but it’s really the only thing that could have been done. There’s no way to fix the festival grounds by the next day, especially since it was still raining there. And as of a few hours ago, they had to cancel the “Louder Than Life Festival” that was held at the same location and also put on by Danny Wimmer Presents. The area is expected to have constant rain all week. You can’t fight Mother Nature. Hoping that next year, we can go back to the beautiful weather we had for the first year!

TheWaster.com | Louisville