Bunbury Festival 2017: The 1975 Pay Tribute to Manchester, Muse, Wiz Khalifa & Bassnectar Rock the River

Amy Harris/Invision/AP
Matt Bellamy of Muse performs at the Bunbury Music Festival on June 4, 2017 in Cincinnati.

With the most diverse Bunbury Music Festival line-up to date in its sixth year -- spanning folk to EDM, hip-hop, indie rock and soul -- the three-day blowout on the Ohio River had something for everyone, including the first year of 72 hours of perfect weather, following many memories of past weekends marred by torrential downpours and stifling heat.

With memorable headlining sets from Wiz Khalifa, Bassnectar and Muse, and strong support from festival favorites Jon Bellion, Mutemath, Flogging Molly, Moon Taxi, San Fermin and Tech N9ne, organizers said the fest drew 46,000 over three days, for the second-biggest crowd in the event's short history. Here are 12 of our favorite moments from the weekend:

Friday

Mike Stud moved the crowd with an amped run through his hit "Swish," with one unlikely superfan in the VIP section -- a woman who looked well north of Social Security age, wearing a black mini dress and what looked like orthopedic shoes (which turned out to be Gladiator sandal-style Converse high tops) -- particularly elevated by the moment. Dancing with her daughter (?), maybe granddaughter (?) she taught the kids a thing or two by waving her hands in the air like she actually didn't care, as Mike did a quick medley of some 1990s hip-hop classics, including "Jump Around."

You gotta love a band that sticks to its look, weather be damned. That's exactly what The Shins did, as singer James Mercer took the stage facing the blazing late afternoon sun in dark jeans, leather boots, a black t-shirt and a wool cap. The set blasted off with fan favorites like "Australia" and the sing-along "Name For You," and as Mercer took an extra minute to tune up between songs he apologized, "Yeah, sorry, the sun does wonders for me."

To his credit, he barely seemed to be sweating as the band broke into small bits of Tone Loc's classic party starter "Wild Thing" several times during the set. They brought their high-energy run to close by slipping in a bit of the Tom Petty warm-weather classic "American Girl" into their own quick-stepping "Sleeping Lessons."

 

The Shins 6.2.2017 at bunbury . . . . #bunburyfestival #bunbury2017 #theshins

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Meanwhile, how low and speaker-rattling were the bass echoes when G-Eazy bounced out on the stage? So low they made your clothes vibrate and -- according to the woman next to me -- so rumbling that she "doesn't need anything else." Okay, then. While most of the acts kept their political feelings to themselves, the Oakland native made sure to emphasize the line "F--k Donald Trump/ I won't ever calm down" as he offered up a bit of the anti-Trump YG anthem. 

 

Not sorry at all @g_eazy @bunburyfestival #geazy #bunbury

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Death Cab For Cutie lead singer Ben Gibbard was feeling his age on Friday night. "I never planned on being a Sir," he said shortly after someone in the crowd called out to him as "Mr. Gibbard," to his apparent consternation. "I always get freaked out in a store when someone calls me 'sir.'" He certainly wasn't showing his age on stage, as his band played a muscular, rocking set that opened with such classics as "I Will Possess Your Heart," "The New Year," "Crooked Teeth" and a droning "Doors Unlocked and Open."

Wiz Khalifa closed out the night as only he could... with two enormous inflatable joints bouncing around on the crowd as he rolled through his smoke-filled cover of The Chainsmokers' "Closer." As is customary on Bunbury Friday nights when the Cincinnati Reds are in town, Khalifa's set was animated by the post-game fireworks display, which crowned the main stage with brilliant red and gold streaks shining in the sky as Khalifa got "So High," and his crack band played an unexpectedly rocking cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" mixed in with a taste of a taste of, once again, House of Pain's "Jump Around."

And then this happened: Khalifa sparked a fat blunt and asked one of his guys to pass it out to someone in the audience who "looks like they're 18." Spoiler alert: it was one of my best friends' teenage daughter, who ended her night with a taste of the MC's personal stash. But the bigger surprise from the Pittsburgh rapper was that when he played his signature hit "Black and Yellow" (which happen to be the colors of the hometown Bengals' NFL enemy Pittsburgh Steelers), there wasn't a single boo, but just a sea of hands in the air.

Saturday

Yes, D.R.A.M. was taking the stage in the heart of the opioid addiction crisis, but that didn't stop the perpetually smiling crooner from snapping off a bit of Future's "Mask Off" (with its chant of "percocet, molly, percocet) before dipping into some of Kendrick Lamar's "DNA." Wearing tan sweat pants and a matching wool hat, a green shirt and quite possibly the greatest footwear of the weekend -- green jellies with spiky gold studs --  he crooned his way through a smile-inducing set that included "Cute," "Cha Cha," "Cash Machine" and, of course, his smash "Broccoli." He also repeatedly gave one of his signature good-guy shout-outs: "If you love your mama, let me hear ya say, 'Yeah, though!'"

As only the second EDM headliner Bunbury history, Bassnectar pulled out all the stops to close out night two, with a spectacular light show and relentless set that kept the blissed-out crowd hopping up and down for nearly 90 minutes. Anxiously awaiting his arrival, hundreds of Bassheads broke out into a spontaneous sing-along to Biz Markie's 1989 classic "Just a Friend" while they waited. Then, perched on a giant rectangular DJ booth/video screen that spanned nearly the whole stage, his face hidden behind his signature cascade of waist-length black hair, the bassmaster bounced between two laptops as he served up huge drop after huge drop, to the accompaniment of a dazzling digital light show.  

The set included a trippy codeine-crawl slow dancehall reggae remix of Slick Rick & Doug E. Fresh's classic "La Di Da Di" and a quick run through Chase & Status' "Heavy," with Dizzee Rascal's rapping bursting out above a heavy blast of sludge sounded like a lost Black Sabbath club remix. The packed field really lost their collective minds, though, when he cued up a bass-blasting burst of Big Boi and the Purple Ribbon All Stars' "Kryptonite."

Sunday

This is definitely not something you hear every day at a festival: Right after performing his 2009 tune "Seizure Boy," Bay Area rapper/poet Watsky explained that the song is about his epilepsy, and that before arriving in Cincinnati he realized he'd forgotten his meds. "So I invited the three pharmacists who helped me out to the show today," he said of the crew from the local Kroger grocery store, who set him up with the three vital medications he needs.

Another unusual sound was the fret-tapping Eddie Van Halen-like solo the MCs guitarist ripped off during his signature tune, "Tiny Glowing Screens Pt. 1." And, in a testament to how Watsky has touched his fans, when his mic went out at the end of the set, they helped him shout the lyrics, bringing a huge smile to his face.

Speaking of technical difficulties, rising singer/rapper Jon Bellion was dealing with some hellacious ones on an adjacent stage. "When you're doing live music, sometimes things go wrong," the grinning "All Time Low" crooner explained when his set was delayed by some last-minute, unsuccessful scrambling to get electronics hooked up. Explaining that the tracks and cues that normally guide his crack five-piece band were melted down, Bellion vowed to solider on and "freestyle the whole album... so tonight you all will be singing the choruses." 

As you can see around the two-minute mark in the video below, the adoring crowd was more than willing to help.

Jared Leto warned that his band 30 Seconds to Mars is only four shows into their first tentative foray back onto the stage, but you wouldn't know it from the sea of Echelon members waving huge banners and showing off their 30STM ink during galloping set opener "Up in the Air." Leto, wearing retro 70s shades, a backwards orange baseball hat and silver high tops along with an Anger Forest military jacket with a giant bee on the front and an attached kilt over white applique jeans, strapped on a white custom guitar with an inlaid Griffin for "This is War."

He then shed his coat and dashed down the security barrier in the middle of the field to play "The Kill (Bury Me)" on acoustic guitar in the middle of the crowd, as giant colorful balloons bounced all around him. Also, he revealed that he'd been wandering around the festival all day in disguise. "I watched you people get weird," he joked. 

 

30 Seconds to Mars ------------ #bunbury2017 #30secondstomars

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It was probably a rough day to be half a world away for Manchester's The 1975. Singer Matt Healy bounded out, his mop of curls bouncing around as the group tore through "Love Me," "UGH!" and "Heart Out." Healy was clearly thinking about the people back home -- and maybe even some of the ones who were attending Ariana Grande's Manchester One Love All-Star concert, in honor of those killed and wounded during the May 22 Manchester Arena attack -- when he said, "we're from Manchester and this song is for everyone in Manchester and London." With a rainbow of colors lighting up the band's tall walls of video screens behind them, the band broke into "Loving Someone," with the simple refrain, "yeah, you should be loving someone/ Oh, oh, loving someone."

There may be no better way to shut down a weekend of great music than the sonic cannon of lights and heavy sound that is Muse. The English trio's relentless 85-minute set opened with "Dig Down," during which singer Matt Bellamy wore strobe light shades to go with his illuminated guitar, as the dozen 12-foot tall rectangular moving screens behind the band filled up with colorful staticky images.

The hard-hitting set included the tour debut of "Map of the Problematique" and "Bliss," and bits of Rage Against the Machine ("Township Rebellion") and Jimi Hendrix ("Voodoo Chile") whipped into the mix of, respectively, "Stockholm Syndrome" and a punishing "Supermassive Black Hole." The set ended with a massive confetti show for "Mercy" and the biggest crowd of the weekend was sent on its way with the group's traditional set closer, the spaghetti western prog anthem "Knights of Cydonia." 

 

"Mercy" mercy. Closing out night 3 of @bunburyfestival with @muse

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