Bourbon & Beyond: A Review

Louisville’s Bourbon & Beyond Festival makes a grand debut and puts everyone in good spirits.

Swaying in a sea of strangers, sweating my butt off, slightly tipsy, and singing along at the top of my lungs with Free/Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers, all I could think was, Yes, indeed. For this moment, everything really is ‘All Right Now.’
It was billed as a bourbon showcase, but the music took center stage at the inaugural Bourbon & Beyond Festival last weekend in Louisville’s Champions Park. For two hot days, more than 40,000 fans packed in to enjoy a powerful lineup of performances washed down with Kentucky’s signature spirit. Panel discussions, cooking demos, workshops, food vendors, and merchandise booths rounded out the offerings.
The bourbon flowed fast and furious (along with wine, beer, and bottled water) at stations throughout the grounds, the centerpiece being the “Big Bourbon Bar” – a showy expanse of counter space sprawled across a tent decked out with chandeliers and a live music stage. Almost two dozen brands including Bulleit, Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, and Woodford Reserve represented well, pouring samples straight up, on the rocks or in signature cocktails created specifically for the event. Drink prices hovering in the $10 to $13 range made catching a buzz a pricey proposition, and perhaps a strategic one to curb over-consumption.

Band of Horses performs at Bourbon & Beyond

A side-by-side dual stage allowed one musical act to set up while another played, creating a seamless transition between sets, and three big screens pretty much guaranteed a decent view from wherever you happened to be sitting or standing. Not surprisingly, crowd faves Eddie Vedder, Steve Miller Band, and Stevie Nicks proved the biggest draws. A bluesy undercurrent pervaded most of the afternoon performances, with blistering riffs from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Gary Clark Jr., Amos Lee, and Joe Bonamassa so hot, I’m surprised the stage didn’t spontaneously combust. The inclusion of sign-language interpreters was a thoughtful—not to mention awesome—detail.
Food vendors took in a good spread of local restaurants, along with meatier sit-down-at-a-picnic-table options like the Char House, the Big Easy Boil, and the Southern Soul Party—a strong showing for barbecue and Cajun-themed fare.
The big downfall was parking and transportation. Lots were not well managed, and local taxi services, Uber, and Lyft drivers were quickly overwhelmed by the size of the crowd, leading to hours-long waits for rides. Some sort of shuttle service from a nearby downtown spot would have gone a long way to ease tensions and traffic.
For a first event of this magnitude, though, the Danny Wimmer Presents team pulled off an impressive debut that was totally worth the hangover.
View more pictures from Bourbon & Beyond festival in the gallery: