Words & Photos by Rod Snyder

With the first annual Bourbon and Beyond Festival in the books, it’s time to recap some of the highlights of the festival that was held at Champion’s Park, in Louisville, KY.

For a first year festival, it went pretty smooth. The location seemed to handle the amount of people that attended each day – I heard it drew in excess of 30,000 for Saturday’s show alone. Celebrating music, food, and of course, bourbon, the event hosted two main music stages (The Oak and The Barrel) located at one end of the park. On the other end, the Mash Stage featured world renowned chefs and master distillers, who shared some of their knowledge with the crowd, often times with the participation of the crowd. The workshops were also in this area as well, for a smaller scale crowd.

There was an abundance of food, and a plethora of choices to choose from – the food tents were lined up in a row that just seemed to keep going and going. The prices were pretty reasonable for a festival setting, and the lines were never too long, from what I could tell at the times I passed them throughout the day. Attendees could choose from BBQ, lobster mac n’ cheese, pizza, gumbo, alligator and tons of other fare. There was no shortage of eats, although I did hear the lobster mac ’n cheese ran out on Saturday. So get there early next time!

The one thing in short supply were the water re-filling stations. From what I saw, there was only one station, and that was located all the way by the Mash Stage. So you’d have to walk all the way down to the other end of the park, or pony up a few bucks for a bottle of water. There were other tent areas set up for drinks and food and guitars, in case you felt the urge to pick one up there, too. Big displays of Fender, PRS Zemaitis and others were represented and you could try them out if you wanted to noodle around with them for a bit.

And then there was the BBQ pits, where you could watch the pit masters do their thing. And the smell, well you can imagine that. I wish I could have taken it home with me! Then there was the main tent, the Big Bourbon Bar, that you could sample all the well known Kentucky Bourbon, such as Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Old Forester, Bulleit Bourbon among many others. You could do the entire Bourbon Trail right here and save a lot of travel time…but what fun would that be? Also inside this tent was The Bluegrass Situation Stage, where you could get your fill of some good ol’ country pickin’. Seemed to be located in the perfect place. So that just leaves us with the music….

For a first year festival, Danny Wimmer Presents managed to round up an incredible line up – it drew me all the way from PA! I read that Danny Wimmer actually hand picked the bands, and his thought process was based on what you’d listen to, while sipping on some bourbon and smoking a fine cigar. I think he got it right.

With headliners Steve Miller (Saturday) and Stevie Nicks (Sunday) they were clearly the big draw, but the undercard was not to be missed, and in fact gave the headliners a run for their money. All Saturday long, I saw many, many people sporting their favorite Pearl Jam or Eddie Vedder shirts. His solo set alone, along with the “EDDIE’ chants prior to him coming out might have been more well received than the headliner. Onstage, he said “I woke up in Seattle and now I’m in Louisville”. It was hard for him to leave as it was his daughter’s birthday, but later recorded the crowd singing Happy Birthday to “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen. Vedder said he would send it to him after the show.

All of the bands on the bill put on a stellar show, from the energetic opening set by Dave Cavalier, who got the sun soaked crowd ready for the hours of music to come, to Shawn James & the Shapeshifters, who blew a lot of folks away with their mix of hard Delta blues. Fantastic Negrito was one of my favorites on Saturday. I never saw them before, but was impressed by the sound and charisma of lead singer/guitarist Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, or better known as Fantasic Negrito. This is a set I will be catching when they come to my area.

Next, Buddy Guy was amazing. I’ve seen him several times, but not in a festival setting. I love the way he takes control of the crowd. His playing, as the rest of the band were impeccable. Not bad for 81 years young.

Steve Miller was the closer on Day 1 of the festival. With the trademark Pegasus as a backdrop, he took to the stage and started playing hit after hit. “Swingtown”, “Abracadabra”, “The Joker”, “Take the Money & Run”…you get the point. It was a hit fest, and the crowd loved it. Miller closed out the set with “Threshold/Jet Airliner”. “Big ol’ jet airliner, don’t carry me too far away”, and I still have 1 more day to go!

Photos of Day 1:
Dave Cavalier, Fantastic Negrito, Shawn James & The Shapeshifters, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, ZZ Ward, Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Band of Horses, Amos Lee, Eddie Vedder, Steve Miller Band

Check out our coverage of Day 2 here!


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