Five years in, Cincinnati’s riverside Bunbury Festival seems to have finally hit upon the perfect combo of acts. With its now-classic mix of an old-school, alt-rock headliner (the Killers), a newer-school topper (Florence + the Machine) and a night with something for everyone (Ice Cube and deadmau5), the three-day downtown throwdown on the banks of the Ohio River managed to sprinkle in a touch of acts on the rise (X Ambassadors), a heritage groove for the older crowd (Tom Petty‘s Mudcrutch) and a few undeniable crowd-pleasers that may have been new to most of the 45,000 or so in attendance over the weekend (Charles Bradley & his Extraordinaires).
What they also got at the somewhat scaled-down version (one less stage, a slightly smaller footprint and a few less bands) of the festival now in its second year under the ownership of Columbus, Ohio, independent promoting juggernaut PromoWest Productions was one of the most gender-balanced slate of headliners you’re likely to see at a festival this summer, especially on Sunday, where four out of the top late day/night bands were female-fronted.
And while there was a bit of a rain delay on Saturday that pushed back sets from Cube and a handful of others, on the whole, Bunbury managed to escape the dangerous weather that plagued New York’s Governors Ball festival and the Mountain Jam. (Editor’s note: The writer was not able to attend the festival on Saturday, which featured sets from Ice Cube, deadmau5, Umphrey’s McGee, Big Grams and G. Love and Special Sauce.)
Here are our six favorite moments from the weekend:
Haim Dress for the Weather, Honor Prince
SoCal sisters Este, Danielle and Alana Haim tore the house down early on Friday with their fun, funky homage to Prince, “I Would Die 4 U,” sung with extra sass by bassist Este, who took on lead vocals and danced to the beat in her gauzy black jumpsuit, drenched in purple stage lights. The siblings did a bit of Kiss-style side-to-side guitar swing during the song’s finale, before kicking into the greasy funk of “My Song 5,” which itself felt like a bit of an homage to the Purple One as well.
They also busted out the classic early MTV pop swing of a new song, “Give Me a Little Bit of Your Love,” and the Fleetwood Mac-meets-Wilson Phillips Cali groove of a second fresh track, “Nothing’s Wrong.” Judging by their energy and enthusiasm about the new songs, fans have a lot to look forward to when the trio’s second full-length drops.
Tom Petty Proves You Can Go Home Again
Body language can say a lot, and if you judged the joyful romp by classic rock icon Tom Petty’s other band, Mudcrutch, the “Won’t Back Down” singer is having a blast revisiting the time before he formed the Heartbreakers. Petty was all smiles playing with Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench and his old Gainesville pals Tom Leadon and Randall Marsh, plucking the bass on such golden haze swamp rockers as “Shady Grove” and “Orphan of the Storm” and digging into new songs like “Trailer” as if he was leading the best Southern bar band in the land.
Which he pretty much is.
You Can Take The Killers Out of Las Vegas…
There’s a reason the Killers rep their hometown of Las Vegas so well. Skirting the edges of lounge schmaltz, they deliver the kind of crowd-pleasing set most acts in the city would (pardon the pun) kill for. Singer Brandon Flowers, dressed in a super sharp black suit, black boots and white shirt that showed just enough of his chest, blasted out of the gate with “Somebody Told Me,” as UFO-landing-light-style beams illuminated the stage.
He tossed in a few jokes about how the Midwestern mosquitos are a mystery to a Vegas native (rim shot) and served up some red meat by playing a Tiki lounge version of the already cheese-dripping theme song from the late 1970s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.
And even though they didn’t plan it, the band’s spiky set was blown up to Caesars Palace grandeur when the traditional Friday night post-game fireworks for the Cincinnati Reds brilliantly lit up the sky behind the band as they played a lullaby-like cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.”
“We can’t help bringing a bit of Vegas with us,” Flowers said with a smile.
Grimes Delights, Scares the Crowd
Just hours before Selena Gomez rocked the U.S. Bank Arena just a few hundred yards away on Sunday night, Grimes brought a whole different kind of pop energy to the banks of the Ohio River. Triggering loops and massive beats from behind her bank of keyboards, the Vancouver polymath blasted off with the hit single “Flesh Without Blood” from last year’s breakthrough mainstream (for her) album Art Angels. While many in the crowd seemed unfamiliar, or maybe even confused by her music, Grimes somehow managed to pull off the moody dance pop of “Go” in broad daylight, playing dark dance-club anthems in the blinding late-afternoon sun.
In fact, at one point she apologized for triggering the wrong track for a second time, saying it was “so light out” she couldn’t properly see her gear. In a set that also featured a cover of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and some wild punk rock cabbage patch dancing with her three badass backup dancers, in what looked like an outtake from the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, you have to give the singer credit for including a reworked version of her screamo rap track with Taiwanese MC Aristophanes “Scream.” There were some quizzical faces all around, and most of the crowd seemed to hang with her until she she dropped to her knees and, well, screamed and thrashed around. You have to admire an artist willing to take big chances in front of so many newbie listeners.
— Meg Vogel (@MegVogelphoto) June 5, 2016
Elle King Comes Home Again
Cincinnati Isn’t exactly home for bluesy rocker Elle King, but she grew up just a few hours away in Wellston, Ohio, and she wore her home state pride like a badge of honor, asking the crowd, “You know I’m from Ohio, right?” King did her Buckeyes proud with a gritty cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” strummed out on a black acoustic guitar, of course. She also told a touching story about the origin of the skanking Love Stuff track “Song of Sorrow,” introducing it by saying that she wrote it on her “Mawmaw and Pawpaw’s porch… how it ended up sounding like a reggae song is beyond me.”
She ended the country blues-drenched set by adding a twang to the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” and getting the crowd dancing to her signature hit “Ex’s and Oh’s” and a mash-up of Nick Jonas’ “Jealous” and The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.”
style=” margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;”> Fun in the sun at Bunbury festival in Cincinnati yesterday.?–?– #mtdbass #mtd4lyfe #tecampglobal #tecampusa #labellastrings #elleking thanks for posting @geoshape —-
Florence Welch Feels No Pain
If Florence + the Machine singer Florence Welch has any PTSD-like symptoms following her scary fall off the stage at last year’s Coachella — which landed her with a broken foot — she showed no signs of it during her band’s amped festival-closing set Sunday night. Bursting onto the stage barefoot in a sharp pink suit with flower accents and a white ruffled shirt, she ran from one end to the other during “What the Water Gave Me” and “Ship to Wreck,” hopping up on risers to urge her fans on.
Wondering if anyone else sometimes got scared and hungover and needed a choir of angels to help exorcize their demons, the flame-haired singer encouraged the packed field to sing along to the chorus of “Shake It Out,” which they did with thundering force. Similarly, in a testament to their love for her dramatic, swooping anthems, after Welch admitted that she sometimes gets so caught up in her smart phone she forgets to live, Welch asked everyone to pocket their devices and sing along with her on the uplifting “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.” And, she warned, “Don’t be that guy filming everyone else not on their phones because I can always see you and it bums me out.” Phones dimmed, she added with glee, “Now I can see all your beautiful faces.”
Guess what? From the back of the lawn there was not one lit-up screen to be seen.