First and foremost, the grounds on which the Bunbury Music Festival take place are expansive and gorgeous. Right in the heart of Cincinnati on the Ohio River with a beautiful view of Newport, Kentucky. And they clearly take great pride in keeping it beautiful. I am sitting beside the Ohio River as I type this, listening to both its song and the minutes of Devotchka’s, and though I am exhausted, I cannot recall the last time I had such perfect day. I’m sure my body will disagree with me come morning when the time comes to embark on day two of this absurd musical adventure, but that is what eight dollar bourbon from a tent is for. Not to mention some of the best pulled pork BBQ sandwiches to ever grace this planet and all the hand squeezed lemonade you could ever ask for. I can’t even tell you how many miles I’ve walked today, but I can tell you that I never walked more than five feet without coming across a dozen smiling faces, the smell of a thousand street meat vendors tempting me, and, oh yeah, great music.
And wouldn’t you know it, just over my right shoulder, FUN has taken the stage and the roar of the crowd has left me partially deaf. And that is not nearly the first time that has happened today. This is day one of three and the prevailing notion is that JUST TODAY’s line up has been worth every penny of the three day pass. I can’t say I disagree. I’ve seen bands I don’t know at all, barely know, and a couple I love and am practically salivating for more.
Tegan and Sara blew up the stage with a pitch perfect performance of most of their fan favorites. (Though I would have loved to see a certain Astronautalis randomly take the stage for an impromptu rendition of Contrails.) As it happens, I mistook Tokyo Police Club for another band entirely but ended up being really pleasantly surprised by the stage presence and might even go so far as to call myself a fan. The Features started off the day for us with a set mostly featuring (Ha? No. I am so, so sorry) tracks off of their latest, the strength of which has me tempted to track down a copy. On the way to Devotchka, I stumbled across the last few songs of Walk the Moon’s set and discovered that not only do I know them, but they are the proverbial Hometown Hero of this festival and set the locals on fire in a way I’ve not seen since I saw Girl Talk in Pittsburgh. About a half hour in FUN is more than living up to their name, which I know is a sentence typed about them a thousand times over, but really, when it’s that apt, how can you not? Basically, if you get the chance, check every single one of these bands out at your earliest convenience, but for my money, today’s best performance goes to Devotchka, hands down. I knew I liked them before, but I guess I’d just never really give them as hard a listen as I remembered. Less than thirty seconds into their first song and I was ass over teacups, swaying dancing clapping shouting, just in love.
Yeah, I don’t think there’s a point beyond that. Just, great day, great city, great people, great food, great music, great bourbon, great company. Day two can’t start soon enough.
What’s that? You wonder what happened to your heroes on days two and three? Why you haven’t heard about it? Well, I’ll be honest with you, while Saturday and Sunday were loads and loads of fun, they were also insaaaanely hot days, so any time that wasn’t spent actively walking and watching shows was largely spent desperately seeking shade and downing bottle after bottle of water, which the festival was kind enough to provide! Not bottles of water, but water to refill your bottle. Whatever, it’s fine. Basically, it was hot. Which makes the antics of every single band on each of Bunbury’s stages that much more impressive. You’ve got the crazy skull hoodie wearing (y’know, the kind where the hood zips over your face to make a kind of mask) Twenty One Pilots not only kicking ass in the heat, but climbing to the top of the not insignificant stage and belting out their songs at the top of their lungs. Then there was Divine Fits (lead singer from Spoon’s other band. Pretty damn good, actually) making all the ladies (and dude lovin’ gentlemen) swoon while putting on one hell of a show. Saturday also gave us the gift of CAKE, We Are Scientists, MGMT, Civil Twilight, The Pinstripes and a whole lot more. Cake was a first for me after many years as a pretty big fan, so that was a special treat, much like, you know, some people find the food to be. NOT ONLY THAT, but they played my favorite song to open up the set. Achievement Unlocked: Perfect Saturday. (Except that Saturday had a slightly higher than normal concentration of fuckstockings.)
SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY! Sunday was possibly my favorite, oddly enough because it was so god damn hot. In dealing with the heat of the day, we had the opportunity to take more time than we would have otherwise done in an effort to avoid the heat and were rewarded with the discovery of a handful of acts that just made our collective day. First and foremost came BETHESDA. When I first saw their name on the line up, all I could think of were the games by Bethesda like Fallout and the Elder Scrolls series, so I was automatically kind of excited. However, the actual group, Bethesda, were not at all what I expected. If memory serves, they are from Ohio and just the absolute best. They remind me of a lot of the folksier stuff I hear at open mics and what not here in Columbus, but with the quality ratcheted up by a fair few degrees. We literally saw them in an attempt to escape the heat by sitting under some trees in front of the Lawn Stage, totally by accident. And talk about happy accidents. We caught them right after (also while basking in the shade, this time of the Amphitheater Stage) seeing the Upset Victory. Even if you don’t really dig on the whole melodic hardcore scene, they’re just a good time, largely due to their frontman’s enthusiastic, infectious optimism. (Case in point: when addressing the UTTERLY OBSCENE heat, he offered to strip off his pants after the show, squeeze his sweat into water bottles, and have another member of the band autograph each bottle.)
Of course, we can’t forget our beloved headliners, our true Sunday Titans: The National, Belle & Sebastian, Yo La Tengo, and Camera Obscura, all of whom literally put on their Sunday Bests and and rocked the hell out of both the Main Stage and the Rockstar Stage. And let’s not forget my favorite moment from the Bud Light stage, when rain delayed and soaked all, bringing the entire festival to a halt, Black Joe Lewis, ladies and gentlemen. I’d really only gotten to hear a couple of songs by them before, but after seeing them play, god damn if they weren’t just a revelation. Not only did they play through the rain, but they reminded everyone, within mere moments of getting their sound back, of why they’d come together with hundreds of other people along the banks of the Ohio River. And, by God, or Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Davros, or whatever you pray to, no one within earshot was caught not having the time of their life. Myself included. Myself especially.
There are very few experiences I have had in my life that I could say have really and truly, in one fell swoop, improved it, but I couldn’t call myself an honest man if I didn’t say Bunbury filled me up, drained me, and filled me up again in the only way that matters. I cannot recommend highly enough any other event I have been a part of in the last decade. If you find yourself able in 2014, be there, or, well, you know how it goes.
See you next year, Bunbury
– daveSMASH / MOVEMENTnorth