Cincinnati is probably not the first city you think of visiting when festival season comes around. It seems as if many acts always skip over this town on their way to Columbus, or Louisville, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Chicago, Nashville, etc. It’s truly a shame, because many would be shocked to see how fertile the night life music scene is in Cincinnati. Every night you can catch a local band in the ever-growing Over the Rhine, or head over the river to one of the many venues in Newport or Covington. Music pours from every block, with more and more venues opening nearly every month. As of now, the music scene here seems rather promising. Bands like Walk the Moon and The National were bred right here in this city, and there recent success is creating intense anticipation for the next artist to make it big. It can be a truly exciting place to live for music fans. However, for the last couple of years, the people of Cincinnati have had one monstrous event every summer to look forward too. Festival goers in this city, who spend every summer braving the long car rides, crowded campsites, and empty wallets, now have the opportunity to travel no further than down on the beautiful Ohio river to see life-changing performances, and maybe even a couple of your favorite local bands. Bunbury Music Festival is Cincinnati’s own, and it is something many people, including myself, rely on. It is the city’s baby, we all hold it dear to our hearts.

For every year Bunbury has been in operation, the acts have become more popular, the attendance has increased, and the overall experience has become way more than what people have anticipated. For the summer of 2015, expectations were extremely high.

Bunbury Riverfront

Although, back in December Bunbury released information that was slightly unsettling. Promowest Productions, a concert promoter based in Columbus, announced that they would be purchasing Bunbury. It wasn’t entirely bad news, Promowest owns many of the venues in Columbus, including A&R Music Bar, LC Pavillion, Newport Music Hall, The Basement, and a very popular venue in Pittsburgh named Stage AE. Having been to nearly every one of these venues, I personally was excited to see what they could do. However, the thought of change did provoke a sense of uneasiness across the returning veterans of the Bunbury Music festival. Promowest works with many amazing artists, and are definitely familiar with the necessary tools to put on a great concert. What made this transaction evoke nervousness, was the fact that not only was this Promowest’s first festival purchase, it was also their first time purchasing in the Cincinnati market.

Promowest claimed in their press release that their goal was to modify the festival to provide a more “intimate concert experience.” This is what excited me. We all love feeling closer with the bands we worship. We all want to have that euphoric feeling of intimacy with our favorite songs, and be as close to the creator of those masterpieces as we possibly can. However, this year at Bunbury, they went from having one main stage and five smaller stages, to two main stages and two smaller stages. Essentially, the festival shrunk, which was slightly flawed considering the significant and gradual increase in attendance. The reduction in stages could have also influenced the decrease in the amount of acts that were held this year. Last year, the summer of 2014, over 80 bands made up the entire line-up for Bunbury. When nearly 3 or 4 bands play at the same time, it gives the audience more options, and more control over their concert experience. As a result, more acts leads to more choices, more choices causes the attendance at each stage much smaller, and therefore much more intimate. Last year, I personally remember being able to walk up in the middle of my favorite bands set, and immediately moving my way up to the front of the crowd with ease. More bands and more stages made for a much more intimate experience. When attending a festival that has 83 bands divided by 6 stages for the duration of three days, it feels as if you are being encompassed by the music. One can be free to see a large variety of acts, and enjoy every second without facing long lines and crowded stages. You could really capture that memorable, intimate connection.

The line-up for 2015 had only 50 acts, and those acts were divided into only 4 stages. This not only meant a much smaller festival, but made for much larger crowds, extremely long lines, and an insanely crowded and constricted festival. Compared to previous years, it simply fell short. The aesthetic was much more chaotic, especially the entrance line on Friday that caused many to wait for over an hour just to enter the festival they spent a decent chunk of money on. It was not representative of Cincinnati, and all of the love this city has for their music.

Manchester Orchestra

The thing that bothered me most about this year’s Bunbury music festival, was the decrease in the amount of local bands. Thinking back, I can only remember seeing less than four bands that were home-grown right here in the city. In previous years, there were as many as 10 or 11, and they were playing on the same stages as national acts. I, and so many others, am so proud of the music scene here. One of my favorite things about Bunbury is seeing a band that typically plays a venue down the street from me, now play on a giant lawn in front of the Ohio River, with tons of avid music lovers being exposed to their songs. It has the ability to put Cincinnati on the map. It is what can make people stop overlooking us as a city known purely for P&G, subpar sports teams, and Skyline Chili, and start seeing Cincinnati as a place to come and see some of the best music they’ll ever hear.

Now, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy myself at Bunbury this year. I’m just saying that it was much harder for me to enjoy a festival where I had shared so many great memories, fall short of what was initially imagined. When I wasn’t waiting in giant line to hydrate myself at one of the only two water stations, or paying an insane amount for merchandize or food, or being completely manhandled by huge crowds, I had the opportunity to see some great performances.

On Friday, after missing a large chunk of the festival due to the entrance line, I managed to see some amazing acts. If I were to have entered the festival sooner, I would have definitely tried to catch Wussy, one of the few local bands that played this year. Sadly, I missed their set, but after entering things began to get slightly better. One band that is almost considered local, from a couple hours north in Columbus, put on a pretty great show that was somewhat unexpected. Indigo Wild, with their catchy riffs, dreamy tones and absolutely gorgeous harmonies, caught me by surprise. After a couple hours of frustration, it was a great way to kick off the festival. Other acts that I witnessed on the first day, was Matt and Kim, who delivered nothing but energy to the huge crowd of fans, and Bleachers, who also delivered a solid performance that I wish I could have seen more of, but was nearly 200 yards away from due to the sheer size of the crowd. My favorite performances this day, and quite possibly the whole festival, was Tame Impala. Starting their set in a beautiful backdrop of sunset on the Ohio River, and ending their set in a wet and serene downpour. Although their time was cut short, the rain accented their ominous sounds, and their commitment to play despite the storm really made it feel as if they were giving all they had to deliver a great show for their fans. The Black Keys were very exciting to see, but once again the crowd got the best of me, and the distance was too great for me to have a positive experience. Overall, Friday was very chaotic. It is what initially started my resentment toward Bunbury 2015, but there were some beautiful moments that will stay with me.

Saturday was much less chaotic. The entrance was not backed up at all, and entering was a breeze. The weather was insanely nice, and walking into the festival I immediately was intrigued by The Zach Longoria Project, producing more soul than I have ever witnessed at Bunbury. Two other bands from Columbus peaked my interest as well. Bummers, a soulfully, punky, surftastic 4 piece, really rocked the audience, as well as Playing to Vapors, whose atmospheric and intensely driven music paired nicely with powerful and precise vocals.  It was refreshing seeing so many different bands that I had never heard of completely entice me. Jamestown Revival started off the evening right, with their down home southern sound that really drew the audience in. Old Crow Medicine show, like always, gave an amazing performance. So much energy and ecstatic sound was produced by this band, and the dancing and musicianship made the crowd go wild. Every single person recited the words to “Wagon Wheel” and it was truly a moment of genuine unity. The Avett Brothers ended the night well, playing many of their popular songs and providing a sincerely great conclusion to the day.

Sunday, the final day, was by far the best. The first band I caught was The Front Bottoms, who put on a truly amazing performance. It was a solid set, no frills, no weird intermissions to the audience, just purely great, loud music. I witnessed one of my personal favorite bands, Manchester Orchestra, play a fantastic show. Although I wish they would have played a couple more of their older, or more popular songs, they managed to be one of my absolutely favorite acts all weekend. I was also able to see Shakey Graves, who really got the crowd going. From where I was sitting, it seemed as if the acoustics on stage might have been off, for I was really only hearing loads of bass from the stage that wasn’t very pleasant. Overall, I love Shakey Graves and it was awesome seeing them in person. Brand New pleased the audience as well, with a great, simple, and genuine set for their die-hard fans. Twenty One Pilots, hailing not too far from Cincinnati, put on an absolutely great show, with an insane amount of energy, confetti, and climbing that always has a way of making every teenage girl scream in excitement.

This weekend ended with Snoop Dogg, which was a great way to conclude Bunbury. He was sporting a Cincinnati Reds jersey, and I was once again reminded that although this wasn’t the best possible scenario, I was still in my favorite city, and saw some amazing acts. Like previous years, there were still lasting memories and moments of intimacy with some great artists, that will remain with me for the rest of my life. Although it was crowded, chaotic at times, frustrating, and slightly disappointing, Promowest cannot take away the beauty of the city, and all of the amazing people that reside here.

Story & Photography by. Kyler Davis