Bunbury Festival: Review + Photos

TheBlueIndian.com crew was busy this past weekend; With a crew at Bunbury and at Forecastle, we collectively saw somewhere around 100 bands. I was part of the crew that went to Bunbury in Cincinnati and couldn’t have been happier to be a part of what was an amazing festival in its first year. Put on by the people behind MidPoint and the Fountain Square show series, Bunbury held three days of bands and DJ’s on 5 different stages in Cincinnati’s river side park. Headliners included Jane’s Addiction, Weezer, and Death Cab for Cutie but the support bands were definitely what kept the weekend alive. The crew that I went with had a wonderful time and we were all thrilled to have been able to take part in a successful inaugural year. Do your best and try to grab tickets to next year’s event when they’re announced.

Day One: Friday, July 13th

After arriving in Covington after a 10 hour drive, Will and I decided that sleep was a bit pointless so late in the day and went out in search of local eats. We happened upon a place called Keystone in downtown Covington that served up something like a dozen different types of macaroni and cheese and a handful of local beers. It was definitely the rejuvenating that we needed to make it through the first day. We made our way over to the grounds just in time to catch Columbus-based group Emily & the Complexes set. I don’t know if it was the sound or how early it was in the day for everyone, but there was something a bit off with what was going on onstage. There was a clear potential and energy between the four guys but given one thing or another, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when I first listened to them. I would head back to see them in a club in a heartbeat though.

Next up on the roster was Kids These Days, a group that we’ve featured quite a few times before. Unfortunately, it seemed to be another case of a slow set from a band early in the day. They still had accumulated a large crowd by the end of their set and most of the crowd was into it. All Get Out, a band we’re all very familiar with here, took the stage around 3:45 for their first set since the departure of two of their founding members. Label mates from Death On Two Wheels filled in on guitar and bass and things went over surprisingly well. You can actually catch the two bands on tour together later this fall as part of their label’s first ever sponsored tour. Atlanta act Ponderosa was up next and wound up being on of the best shows we were treated to that day. They’ve changed their sound dramatically in the past few months, as well as their live show, and have since won over a tremendous amount of new fans. The band played almost entirely songs from their new record and were met with a very warm reception from a crowd that they haven’t played to that often.

One of the things that was most noticeable on the first day was the energy buzzing (I had to..) throughout the crowd. Even on the first day, the park was significantly full by the mid-afternoon and the gates were busy all night. After talking to some people their we realized what a big deal this was for their city and how proud the locals seemed of it. The organizers paid close attention to making sure there was a strong presence of regional groups and businesses and it worked out well in their favor.

Later on in the night, the crowds were treated to sets from Minus the Bear, Matt Pryor, and Ra Ra Riot to name a few, but Foxy Shazam easily took home the prize for the best set of the night. From onstage antics that would make Pete Townsend proud to a crowd surfing keyboardist (complete with keyboard) to their end-of-set request for a few cigarettes (which was met with an instant barrage of packs from the audience), the hour of theatrical shock-pop was exactly what the audience needed.

We spent the rest of the evening around the city and wound up settling down at a club called MOTR in Cincinnati’s recently revitalized Over The Rhine district. Between decent prices and a full late-night food menu, and the fact that they’ve booked just about any indie act you would want to see for free shows, it felt like a good place to be. We managed to catch a set from local act Pop Empire, who seem to be creating quite a name for themselves in the area. All in all, it was a pleasant introduction to the city.

Day Two: Saturday, July 14th

We started Day Two with sets from Jukebox the Ghost & Secret Music before making our way to see the tail-end of The Sundresses. The weather was a bit rough but it didn’t keep an early crowd from showing up and moving around. One of the surprises of the afternoon came from A Silent Film, a four-piece from Oxford, England that was pleasantly akin to U2 or Keane, but who still held their own and kept people on their toes. One of the larger crowds of the weekend showed up for one of Georgia’s own, Manchester Orchestra. Ohio has seen its fair share of the group over the past few years and the band was as ready as ever to entertain with a set that included songs from all three of albums.

Dan Deacon followed Manchester’s set and just as we were arriving he was getting into his usual banter with the crowd. Deacon was joined by just two other people, both drummers that faced each other, and jumped quickly into making conversation from the stage with a few members of the audience. What followed was an hour of story telling, the best crowd participation I have ever seen, and a five minute monologue explaining his views on BudLight and Proctor and Gamble, among other things. BudLight was sponsoring the stage at the Proctor and Gamble pavilion and while he didn’t have the fondest things to say of either company, he was clearly grateful for what they were doing for the event and the city. I wouldn’t be too shocked if he played a different stage next year but in the end it seemed like everyone was overjoyed with his set. He’s got a new album coming out this fall so make sure to keep on the look out for that.

From an eerily quiet, packed crowd at Kevin Devine to necessarily over-the-top sets from RJD2 and Grouplove, the festival was alive and thriving by the time headliners Weezer took the stage. I’m fairly sure that that one night alone solidified Bunbury’s existence in future years.

Day Three: Sunday, July 15th

The final day of the festival shared an equal amount of energy as the previous night and just as many impressive performances. Belle Histoire pulled a large early crowd, as did local favorites Pomegranates and Now, Now, a band that has made themselves quite familiar with the area over the past few years. It was great to see a decent amount of bands that showed up are on tour and are making their way down to the South. You can catch Pomegranates in Atlanta at the Masquerade on 7/18 if you feel like some weekday action.

Our old friends in The Deep Dark Woods put on an beautiful set that carried a somewhat different tone then the other acts of the weekend, but by Sunday most everyone was ready to relax for a few hours. The rest of the night’s sets were met by some serious decision making and we wound up spreading out to catch a bit of each of the acts. It’s fairly hard to choose between Good Old War, Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s, and Bad Veins, as well as Passion Pit (unfortunately, they wound up cancelling) and Guided by Voices, but the variety in the bands made an interesting ending for Bunbury.

The closing set from Death Cab for Cutie set the tone for the entire weekend as the band played through songs from a handful of their past albums as well as a bit newer work. We overheard a lot of the crowd talking about it being their first time seeing them (as it was our’s as well) and I think we were just as pleased as those in the audience who were diehard fans.

Thanks to Bill Donabedian and the entire crew that put the event together, as well as all the bands that we were able to see, and the people that we met. You all made the drive very worthwhile and we hope to see you next year.

– Sean Pritchard