Cincinnati was swarming with an eccentric crowd last weekend: supporters of the local music scene coming out to represent; rock fans from around the nation intrigued by the line-up; soccer moms with their families playing Frisbee in Sawyer Point and Yeatman’s Cove fields. The inaugural Bunbury Music Festival was taking place, and it was the biggest buzz in town.
The first day started off rocky. In the early afternoon hardly anyone had arrived — some of the bands performing were playing to a practically empty field. Taking into account that it was Friday during the day and most people were at work, it wasn’t too worrisome. The festival was well-organized and spacious, and while the evening was at a lull I took time to walk around. The six stages took up about half a mile of parks and fields next to the Ohio River — a beautiful location for the event. Vendors were set up scattered along the path and a “Techbury” tent featured innovative interactive art installations and chances to talk to the artists, there was plenty of space for lollygagging and shade to cool down in. The weekend was hot and sticky, so after the nonstop dancing during Dan Deacon’s set it felt nice to lie down underneath the trees. There were water filling and cell phone charging stations, which were both useful services for attendees. The festival was also family-friendly: admission for children under 10 was free so there were plenty of parents rocking out with their kids.
By the end of Day One the fields were filling up as the crowds piled in. An estimated 15,000 people showed up on the first day, and on Day Two it seemed like those numbers doubled. Although it was empty during the early afternoon on the first day, the second day was packed and the third day seemed to have even more attendees. The third day line-up was by far the best — in spite of Passion Pit cancelling their set (along with a slew of other upcoming tour dates) due to the lead singer’s health. Over the entire weekend an estimated 50,000 people attended the festival.
Friday, July 13
The Henry Clay People
Sounding like an exceptional combination of The Thermals and Pavement, LA rockers The Henry Clay People bounced around the stage enthusiastically and belched out songs from their new album, Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives. With just enough angst and just enough jive, the band’s robust energy was a great start to the weekend.
Ra Ra Riot
Syracuse, NY natives Ra Ra Riot offered a flush sound of violin, cello, bass, guitar and drums. The melodic indie pop tunes and catchy choruses were sure to get anyone dancing.
Minus The Bear
Mellow and technical with spacey guitar solos and despondent lyricism, Minus The Bear is music to have a beer to. Unfortunately their set time overlapped with Foxy Shazam, so fans that wanted to catch both had to make a tough decision. The first half of their set showed that the band had a sophisticated grasp on what they were doing, but I had decided to see what all the hype behind Foxy Shazam was about before the set was over.
Spastic Cincinnati glam band Foxy Shazam drew a large crowd full of loyal fans as they flailed about the stage. Vocalist Eric Nally is trying almost too hard to be Freddie Mercury — the mustache, the make-up and the flamboyant gestures. The stage presence is definitely powerful and works to the bands advantage, jumping around the stage on every band members part. During one song, the keyboardist was lifted into the audience (with his keyboard) where he continued to play while being held up by fans. The maniacal stage antics along with the catchy sing-along rock anthems made for a fantastic show.
Saturday, July 14
A Silent Film
Traveling all the way from Oxford, England, A Silent Film hit the main stage early Saturday afternoon. Not knowing much about the band and surprised by the size of the crowd they drew, their piano-led rock anthems were a pleasant surprise. Their accessible and melodic pop would be perfect for fans of Snow Patrol or The Fray.
Sweaty bodies running in every direction, audience members forming tunnels by placing hands together whilst other audience members ran underneath, giant dance circles and angry Cincinnati Reds fans, Dan Deacon’s set was easily the most fun of the weekend. Anyone walking by must have thought the audience was insane, as behind the electronic bleep-bloops Deacon commanded the crowd to run in circles, run in any direction they felt like, take advantage of the spacious field and dance their asses off.
Hardly any singer/songwriters really catch my attention anymore, but Kevin Devine is one of the exceptional few. The Brooklyn-based folk rocker’s often somber and pensive lyricism draws influence from Elliott Smith, Bob Dylan and other greats, and over the past decade he has been making a name for himself in the indie community. Devine played some of his hits as well as the Bad Books song “You Wouldn’t Have to Ask.” Bad Books is Devine’s side project with Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull and since Manchester Orchestra had played earlier in the day I half expected Hull to come out on stage, though sadly he did not.
Weezer fans from all over the world traveled to Bunbury just to see their nerd rock gods — we met a fan from Toronto, ON wearing a “Weezer Cruise” shirt who had flown to Cincinnati just to meet up with other people he’d met on the cruise. The bands set list was a crowd-pleaser, playing mostly songs from their two most popular albums, Pinkerton and The Blue Album, as well as some of the more popular recent tracks such as “Troublemaker” and “Pork and Beans.” The encore featured a cover of Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” as well as, of course, “Beverly Hills.”
Sunday, July 15
Maps & Atlases
After a short but mean rain storm, the huge crowd gathered around the main stage was wondering if they’d ever get to see Maps & Atlases play, as the set was pushed back nearly an hour. Nevertheless, the Chicago natives took their spots at around 3 p.m. to excited howls and cheers. For one of the earlier sets in the day, the band seemed to have drawn a crowd almost larger then the crowd that was there for the headliner on the first day (Jane’s Addiction), and rightfully so — their combination of guitar technicality and folky vocals is a pleasant and inherently unique sound not to be missed. Despite the set being held back and cut to only 30 minutes, Maps & Atlases still performed an impressive set worth the wait.
It’s always disappointing when you like a band, see them perform and then have to reconsider what you think about them based on their live presentation. When Cincinnati indie rockers Pomegranates took stage, I wasn’t sure that I was in the right place. Four dudes walked out dressed in all white and with comically bad bleached-blonde hair like some sort of terrible ’90s pop band, solicitously picked up their instruments and talked about why life is great and why you should treat your ladies right. The music was decent and I’ve heard good things about their live shows, so perhaps they were having an off day or an identity crisis. Probably both.
The Seedy Seeds
Another local Cincy band, The Seedy Seeds were quite delightful. Music by which to sip lemonade on a breezy evening, this folk trio performed some adorable twee pop hits to dance and smile to.
Margot & the Nuclear So and Sos
Due to Passion Pit’s cancellation, Margot & The Nuclear So & So’s closed out the Bud Light stage for the weekend. They drew a decent crowd, albeit surprisingly smaller then what I expected. Regardless, those there were excited to see Margot and it seemed like they had a fairly large fan base lining the front row. They played a short set but still touched on almost all of their albums, opening with the hit “Shannon” from their most recent album, Rot Gut Domestic, and ending with some crowd-pleasers from their first LP The Dust of Retreat.
Guided By Voices
One of the most hyped sets of the weekend was by southwest Ohio’s own Guided By Voices. Loyal fans traveled to Cincy just to see GBV, and GBV delivered. Robert Pollard was energetic as ever, taking swigs from his tequila bottle, jumping all over the stage and being a genuine badass — rocking a yellow bowling shirt that read “Bobby P” on the front and “rent a drunk” on the back. The rest of the band was drinking from there own on-stage cooler and guitarist Mitch Mitchell sported a cigarette in his mouth throughout the entire set. Even though the 45-minute set seemed short for such legends, they still managed to pack in the songs. They played mostly from their last 2 records and only hit on their huge back catalog a few times. The crowd loved it nonetheless, and Rob Pollard has a rock star vivacity that no one can compare to.
Death Cab For Cutie
As the closing band of the festival, Death Cab drew the biggest crowd of the weekend. The field was packed, the audience was excited, fans in both the front and back of the audience were singing along to Ben Gibbard’s swoon-inducing voice. Their set was diverse, opening with the hit “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” from their 2005 album Plans but playing mostly tracks from their last two albums, Codes & Keys from 2011 and Narrow Stairs from 2008. Their encore featured the ethereal “Blacking Out The Friction”, and Death Cab’s set was a beautiful end to a beautiful weekend.