Mega promoter Danny Wimmer introduced a new festival this year, and it's one that combines three of our favorite things: food, music, and whiskey, bourbon to be exact.
There was no better location than Louisville to introduce Bourbon & Beyond, a two-day festival (September 23-24) celebrating Kentucky's favorite spirit, top chefs, local restaurants, and some of the greatest music around.
Endless Music from Legends
The headliners for Bourbon & Beyond were Stevie Nicks, Eddie Vedder, and the Steve Miller Band, all incredible talent that attracted all ages. They did not disappoint the crowd of 50,000 at Champions Park in Louisville, who were also wooed by the performers lower down on the bill, who were stars in their own right.
Dave Cavalier, who had just released a choreographed "Danger on the Dance Floor" video, decided to open the festival with something that would warm the audience, Blackstreet's "No Diggity," which had him working the crowd in no time.
The casual atmosphere of lawn chairs and blankets was enhanced by the performers engaging the audience. Eddie Vedder kept the dialogue strong as he easily switched between instruments and banter, at one time having everyone join in a video-taped "Happy Birthday" melody to Bruce Springsteen and Vedder's daughter, who happened to share the date.
Steve Miller invited Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who had performed earlier in the day to a pleased crowd, to join him on the stage for a few songs. The pairing was a hit.
Kiefer Sutherland, now best known for his acting as the President in Designated Survivor, took the stage with his band and was truly thankful for the support of his music, most of which he writes himself.
Other performers included Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clark Jr., Buddy Guy, and Chris Robinson (formerly of the Black Crowes, and currently performing with the band that bears his name).
Perhaps the most haunting moment was when Stevie Nicks paid homage to her friendship with Tom Petty with "Stop Draggin My Heart Around," without any knowledge that Petty would die suddenly just a week later.
Tasting and Learning with Chefs
Bourbon & Beyond was all about immersive experiences, and this was especially true when it came to food. The Mash Stage was going throughout the festival days. Top chefs Tom Colicchio, Carla Hall, Edward Lee, Amanda Freitag, Jose Salazar, Cosmo Goss, Erling Wu-Bower, Anthony Falco, Kevin Ashworth, Anthony Lama, and Dean Corbett did demonstrations, cooking, and even sampling.
Carla Hall, currently appearing on ABC's The Chew, treated the crowd to her own fried chicken recipe, with a step by step demonstration. A lucky few also got to sample.
As for the food available to the everyone at Bourbon & Beyond, it the selection and quality was quite satisfying. From food trucks to stands cooking, boiling, broiling, and frying, there was something for everyone.
A few of the weekend favorites:
Rice Gyro Bowl from the Zoom Zoom Yum Food Truck
Big Easy Boil Jumbo Shrimp from Chef Chris Davis
Island Noodle's Yaki-Soba Noodles
Bourbon Glazed Wings by Boss Hog's BBQ
Plenty of Space for Bourbon
As the true headliner of the event, Kentucky Bourbon was everywhere in every form at the festival, from cocktails to neat, or on the rocks, however way you like it. Thirty brands were represented, including Angel's Envy, Old Rip Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Rebel Yell, and Maker's Mark. Jim Beam also had a backstage tasting tent to quench the thirst of celebrities and VIPs throughout the event.
Just in case you didn't want bourbon, plenty of beer was being poured from stands such as Southern Comfort and Angry Orchard, and soft drinks and a few non-bourbon cocktails were available.
The two most popular places to get drinks were the Tiki Bar and The Big Bourbon Bar. There was also a bar in the VIP area.
It was about a lot more than drinking, though. Bourbon master distillers and creators, such as Julian P. Van Winkle III, Fred Noe, Denny Potter, and Harlen Wheatley led demonstrations on the making of bourbon and proper ways of tasting it in individual workshops.
As echoed by festival creator and promoter Danny Wimmer, "This festival is a celebration of that artistry and craftsmanship."
A Few Notes...
The camping experience at Bourbon & Beyond was a good option, allowing festival goers to make the short walk from the grounds right into the festival, but they sold out quickly. The same was true of the VIP Experience packages, which had plenty of bleacher seating and shaded spots, important in the 90-degree Louisville heat.
By far the biggest problem at Bourbon & Beyond was the exit, parking, drop-offs and pickups. Despite a huge police presence, it was a mess. It took an hour and a half to get out of a parking lot a block away the first night. The second night, there was up to a two hour wait to get a handicap shuttle to that parking lot. This is sure to be an issue addressed before the next event.