Bourbon & Beyond kicked off their first festival September 23rd and 24th in Louisville, Kentucky. The jam-packed weekend attracted approximately 50,000 attendees who were treated to immersive experiences, an array of Grammy-winning musicians, celebrity chefs and you guessed it – bourbon.
Although the heat and humidity was enough to drive some away, the turnout for the first Bourbon & Beyond Festival was impressive. Unlike any festival Louisville has received before, it was widely enjoyed by attendees, chefs, master distillers and musicians. Champions Park was turned into an encompassing venue delivering a unique and versatile experience.
The inaugural event highlighted over 30 unique and world-renown bourbons, each featuring the quality spirits and multi-generational distillers from the epicenter of bourbon country. Some of the highlights included The Workshops, which spotlighted interacting tastings and cutting-edge conversations from various bourbon authorities.
Celebrity chefs, including Tom Colicchio, Carla Hall and Edward Lee performed live demos and participated in expert panels. With 40 different local restaurants and vendors to choose from, guests were treated to an array of delicious and delectable eats.
Bourbon may have been at the forefront of the festival, but it was the lineup and impressive musical selections that took center stage. Stevie Nicks, Buddy Guy, Eddie Vedder, Steve Miller Band, Band of Horses, Gary Clark Jr., Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and ZZ Ward were some of the highlights of the weekend.
We’ve outlined some of our favorite musical acts and experiences from the weekend:
Best Bluegrass Experience: The Wheelhouse Rousters
On the Bluegrass Stage a humble trio named, The Wheelhouse Rousters, took festival goers on a musical journey down south, up the river and all over the country with their acoustic performance. Buzzing through the shaded, breezy bluegrass stage, the trio shared stories about the history of bluegrass music and embodied the communal vibe of the entire festival. Revelers of all ages could be found here and it was a great spot for a quick bite, a cold beverage and a break from the heat.
Best Comeback: Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Formed in 2011 after the Black Crowes hiatus, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood delighted fans to a signature, raspy voice and funky Grateful Dead-inspired jams. Much to the delight of the growing crowd teeming in anticipation of the evening’s main events, CRB gave the crowd an afternoon to remember while capturing the spirit of Kentucky with their jam riffs and feel good vibes. Their performance got people moving out of their folding chairs to dancing through the entire set.
Best Blues Performance: Buddy Guy & The Damn Right Blues Band
“Now if you don’t have the blues, don’t bother calling me. Cause I can play something so *&%*$ funky you can smell it”-Buddy Guy
Regarded as the original “rolling stone”, Buddy Guy launched into the Rock n’ Roll river decades ago, forming the ripples which would one day become Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, and Jimmy Page. Undoubtedly the “father figure “of this weekend’s festival, the New Orleans native and Chicago blues connoisseur comically addressed the crowd and shared his iconic sound for over an hour. Between the entertaining glimpses into his musical past with mentioning’s of Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn and John-Lee Hooker, Guy paired his raw musical virtuosity and furious fret-work with his classic hits, “Skin Deep,” and “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues.” Capturing the heart and soul of Bourbon & Beyond’s musical acts, attendees were treated to an unforgettable performance.
Unique Experience: VR Tour of Woodford Reserve Distillery
Have you ever had the overwhelming feeling of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)? How about that time your friends planned a last minute trip to Amsterdam and you didn’t have your passport? Or that time you decided to skip your team’s playoff game and they won in extra innings? Ain’t nobody got time for that. The Woodford Reserve Distillery is all too aware of the pain of FOMO; with an interesting marketing tactic they utilized the virtual reality to transport festival attendees out of Champions Park and into their successful and iconic bourbon distillery. Modern advances in technology have their pros and cons but we gave this one our stamp of approval.
Best Late Night Act: Eddie Vedder
Connecting instantly with the crowd, Eddie Vedder came out strong with his signature baritone vocals, poignant lyrics and sensational guitar work. His musical virtuosity extended throughout the set, incorporating an organ, ukulele and mandolin while mixing up the set amongst Pearl Jam songs “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” “Wishlist,” “Sometimes,” “Porch,” and solo songs, “Sleeping by Myself,” and “Rise.” Vedder intimately discussed celebrating his daughter, Harper Moon, ninth birthday and revealed she shared the day with his dear friend and musical icon, Bruce Springsteen. Vedder paid homage to the Boss by covering, “Open All Night” and recording a “happy birthday” singalong message from the crowd. In typical EV fashion – he drop-kicked the mic at the end of his set, closing out with Neil Young’s, “Rockin’ in the Free World” into Indio’s “Hard Sun.”
Best Closer: Stevie Nicks
A 16-song set by Stevie Nicks closed out the weekend’s festivities, ending on Fleetwood Mac song, “Landslide.” Nicks had the crowd in the palm of her hands, changing outfits, sharing stories from tour and her collaboration with Tom Petty. The setlist interchanged between Nick’s solo work which included, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “Bella Donna,” “Wild Heart,” and “Stand Back.” From her Fleetwood Mac days, Nick’s covered the hits, “Gypsy,” “Gold Dust Woman,” and “Rhiannon” and played a special homage to her collaboration with Lindsey Buckingham by performing, “Crying in the Night.”
The first time festival was a one-of-a-kind experience and we hope Bourbon & Beyond will return next year. Danny Wimmer Presents set the bar incredibly high, this is one festival that will remain our radar.
Written By: Daniel O’Connor and Tiffany Zack