Concert Photos,  Concert Reviews,  Music

Louisville Goes Beyond Bourbon As The City Hosts Inaugural Bourbon And Beyond Festival

*Photo courtesy of Danny Wimmer Presents*

Kentucky is synonymous with two things. Bourbon and horses. That’s why the Bourbon and Beyond Festival makes so much sense to be held in Louisville. The city is a stop on the Bourbon Trail and it hosts the biggest and best horse race in the world, the Kentucky Derby.

Derby City has drawn a lot of interest of late for their thriving music scene. So it wasn’t really a surprise when Danny Wimmer created a second festival here. Mr. Wimmer is also the man behind Louder Than Life. What was a surprise, for me at least, was how well both festivals have sold being just one week apart.

Be sure and check out our coverage of the 2017 edition of Louder Than Life here.

With Bourbon and Beyond, Mr. Wimmer has created an experience like no other. Sure the music is a large part of it, but it’s everything else that brings value to your ticket. Now that may seem illogical to say, given how expensive the tickets actually cost, but hear me out.

First, Louisville prides itself in being a weird city and makes a great effort to “Keep Louisville Weird.” Bourbon and Beyond allows Louisville to keep its identity, but it also helps Louisville to define or further refine its’ identity.

Second, the economic impact. I can not even begin to imagine just how much revenue spilled into the region. With all the hotel rooms, gasoline sales, food sales, parking revenue, equipment rentals, local staffing and every other thing you could possibly imagine, this festival was very good for the city.

Lastly, it allows many local vendors the opportunity to meet and create a larger customer base. Merchants like Pie Baby, Mike’s Prime Rib, Blackbeard Espresso, Yum Yum Zoom, Cellar Door Chocolates, Gelato Gilberto, Mark’s Feed Store and many more businesses (some from out of town) had very long lines throughout both days.

We visited several Louisville based businesses and wanted to include a few them in our article.

One of our favorites were Mark’s Feed Store. BBQ is their staple and their pulled pork and sliced brisket were fantastic. The brisket coupled with their baked beans definitely hit the spot. There are six (eight total) locations for Mark’s in and around Louisville, so be on the lookout if you enjoy great BBQ!

Cellar Door Chocolates were kind enough to allow us to sample their dark chocolate bourbon fudge. While it was definitely hot on Saturday and that is less than ideal conditions for outdoor chocolate consumption, the flavor was incredibly rich, smooth and a desirable treat. There were many other flavors to be had, but as we watched, most everyone was very aware of and Tara made sure they walked away with the dark chocolate bourbon fudge. You will find three Louisville locations for Cellar Door. Butchertown Market, Downtown and Oxmoor Center.

The smallest local business we found was also our favorite. It could’ve been the heat talking, but for our money, Gelato Gilberto was fantastic. Chandra and Maggie allowed us to sample all six flavors before we settled on the strawberry sorbetto. It’s made with fresh strawberries and is absolutely delightful. It actually transported me back to my youth. My Grandmother used to freeze fresh strawberries in sugar. This was the closest to that flavor I have had since and I loved every tiny little spoonful. You can find Gelato Gilberto at 9434 Norton Commons Boulevard.

We did try one out of town vendor. My partner in crime on this article is Jeff Adams. Let’s just say that Jeff loves hotdogs and when he saw authentic Chicago dogs, there was simply no stopping the man. Chicago’s Dog House offered several different varieties, but Jeff elected to go with the smoked alligator sausage with Asian chili and caramelized onions. The sausage was extremely juicy with a perfect crisp to the outer casing. While the meat within was tender and soft. The Asian chili gave it a sweet taste to compliment the spiciness of the sausage, which made for a delicious combination.

Bourbon and Beyond offered several different workshops, as well as cooking exhibitions and expert panels that all included, you guessed it…bourbon.

One cool workshop was Uncut & Unfiltered. This workshop featured chef Tom Colicchio from Crafted Hospitality and the incredibly talented ZZ Ward. Tom and ZZ spoke about the consistencies in developing recipes and songs that are strong yet simple.

*Photo courtesy of Danny Wimmer Presents*

I was most intrigued by the Wonder Women of Whiskey panel. The panel featured representatives from several whiskey distillers. Brands represented were Maker’s Mark (Jane Bowie), Sazerac (Alissa Hensley), Michter’s (Andrea Wilson) and Castle & Key (Marianne Barnes). Marianne is Kentucky’s first female Master Distiller since prohibition. Jane Danger and Alla Lapuschik are two NYC bartenders/authors who were on hand to make cocktails and add their expertise to the discussion. It was hosted by Susan Reigler, author of “Kentucky Bourbon Country”.

The panel was light-hearted, informative and was grossly under-attended. Which was truly a shame. Perhaps that’s because of the great distance from the Mash Stage to the two main stages, coupled of course with the sweltering heat. That combination saw many plant their chairs in whatever shade they could find and not move until the sun began to set.

The coolest bar, literally and figuratively, was the Haymarket Hunter’s Club. I say that because not only was the decor cool, it looked like something from a Quentin Tarantino film, but it was also the only spot that had any cool air moving. When I walked in out of the heat, I didn’t want to leave. Of course, the sound of music eventually drew us back from our oasis, but it was a nice break. I will say that its purpose was the higher end of spirits. Sure you could snag a $13 shot, but if you’re willing, you can buy a $160 shot. It was really about the environment of an old speakeasy and having amazing bourbons available. A neat little niche at Bourbon and Beyond.

What about the music? Well, this was a music festival first with added elements of cooking and bourbon. The lineup on Saturday was a bit light in comparison to Sunday, in my humble opinion at least.

There were certainly highlights to be seen on Saturday. Fantastic Negrito certainly lived up to his moniker and also provided a nice addition to ZZ Ward’s performance of “Cannonball”. Her set was also fantastic. Chris Robinson Brotherhood brought their own legion of fans and put on one of the more earthy, melodic performances on the day.

For my money though, the day belonged to the living legend, Buddy Guy. He is one of the best entertainers on our planet and he was on fire Saturday. Nothing political, nothing offensive. Just great blues, a huge personality and a few thousand friends enjoying their time together.

Buddy played many classics like “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues”, “Five Long Years”, John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” and Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love”. The highlight of the day though, was when Buddy played the Willie Dixon penned, Muddy Waters classic, “Hoochie Coochie Man”. Buddy played on many of Muddy’s records as a house guitarist, so seeing him perform such an iconic track was quite simply, amazing.

Buddy was certainly enjoying himself onstage and the crowd was putty in his hands. Crossing the stage multiple times, Buddy would step back and allow his band to share the spotlight before once again stealing it back. Buddy played the guitar behind his back, with a drumstick and even by hitting the strings with a waving towel. Buddy was adored and he soaked up every second of it. That’s a moment that I don’t think anyone will soon forget.

*Photo courtesy of Danny Wimmer Presents*

Kenny Wayne Shepherd electrified the crowd with his unique style, especially when he tore into his version of the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Voodoo Chile.” Amos Lee had a great set and of course, Eddie Vedder owned the stage once the sun went down before Steve Miller Band closed out the night with hit after hit.

*Photo courtesy of Danny Wimmer Presents*

Saturday definitely had its moments, but Sunday was mind-blowingly incredible. With a heavy dose of guitars, blues, funk, jazz, Americana, some Bad Company and even a gypsy…Sunday was one for the history books.

Actor Keifer Sutherland was an early delight for a select few who braved the heat to get a good spot. Keifer has a knack for writing a good country song embellished with his unique dramatic acting ability.

*Photo courtesy of Danny Wimmer Presents*

One of my personal favorite guitarists took the stage next. Jonny Lang has been in the spotlight since breaking onto the national scene at the tender age of 15. Jonny’s style has really evolved over the years and his career was quite well represented on Sunday. His passion, skill, and style are second to none. Highlights of his set included “Blew Up The House”, Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City”, “A Quitter Never Wins”, “Angel of Mercy” and of course, “Lie To Me.”

No one moved more feet or shook more asses than Trombone Shorty did. I was a casual fan going into Sunday, but I left on a mission to devour his entire catalog of music. Trombone Shorty brought funk, jazz, rock, soul, crawfish, and hot sauce. They put em all in a big ole boiling pot and fed Louisville a taste of New Orleans. To say that those in attendance, myself included, were impressed would be the understatement of the weekend. If given the chance to see Trombone Shorty, do not hesitate, just buy tickets and dance your ass off. You’re welcome.

Gary Clark, Jr. had THEE moment of Bourbon and Beyond though. See, I am a bit of a guitar tone connoisseur. I have seen so many great guitarists live and I’ve taken away something from every show. Gary does a cover of the Beatles “Come Together.” He performed it on Sunday and I say with confidence, the tone on his guitar in a live setting was the best I have ever witnessed. It was fuzzed-out, reckless, powerful and just downright nasty. I had chills from the first note to the last.

Next up was one of the most recognizable voices that the rock world has ever known. His voice is simply iconic and synonymous with Classic Rock. He has fronted bands like Free, Bad Company, The Firm and Queen. His name is, of course, Paul Rodgers. Paul sounded just as incredible at age 67 as he has on any studio recording he has ever made. He bombarded Louisville with hit after hit. Some of my personal favorites were “Can’t Get Enough”, “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, “Mr. Big”, “Shooting Star”, “All Right Now”, and of course “Bad Company.”

Next up was the current King of the Blues, Mr. Joe Bonamassa. Joe has built himself up by relentlessly releasing music and seemingly never leaving the road. His work ethic is second to none and his talent is otherworldly. In Louisville, Joe brought the full arsenal onstage. A “Big Band” complete with backup singers, a piano/organ player, a saxophonist, a trumpeter, bass player and of course drummer to compliment Joe and his guitar. Speaking of the drummer, it was none other than Anton Fig. You may remember Anton as a member of Paul Schaffer’s band that played nightly on the David Letterman Show. Joe Bonamassa always brings great energy and leaves his everything on the stage. Sunday was certainly no different as he played favorites like “This Train”, “Mountain Climbing”, “Blues of Desperation”, “Last Kiss” and Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times.” There was certainly a fair share of Bonamassa fans on-site, but people were definitely buzzing after his set.

The one and only Stevie Nicks closed out the inaugural Bourbon and Beyond. The gypsy woman brought her unmistakable voice to an absolute sea of people. I have personally never been in a crowd that large. From one side of Champions Park to the other and over halfway back the lengthy property were people standing shoulder to shoulder. It was a sight I won’t soon forget. By the sometimes silly antics onstage, Stevie certainly seemed to be blown away by the reception and put on an exceptionally beautiful set. She played many favorites for those in attendance, but no song was received any louder than the encore performance of the Fleetwood Mac classic, “Rhiannon.” I thought my ears were gonna bleed from all the noise. A few of my favorites on the night included “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, “Gold Dust Woman” and of course the always beautiful “Landslide.”

*Photo courtesy of Danny Wimmer Presents*

One more thing that I want to mention in comparison to other festivals, this was targeted at a more mature, aging audience and the environment was incredibly well-behaved. No crowd surfers, circle pits or idiots slam dancing or a kid puking their guts out because they don’t know how to drink. The environment felt safe, comfortable (excluding the heat) and generally inviting. We met many like-minded individuals and had a great time.

Was Bourbon and Beyond a success? From the sheer volume of people that I witnessed, it had to be. Were there problems? Of course, there always will be, but from my perspective, this one was a home run. Which is certainly fitting for the home of the Louisville Slugger.

In my eyes, a festival that celebrates Bourbon in such a way that shines a positive light on the city, our state and in particular, our people…is a wonderful thing. Bourbon and Beyond has allowed Louisville to shine and shine very brightly. For that, I am thankful.