Written by Bill Whiting
Photos by Scott Preston
The first annual Buckle Up Music Festival arrived on the banks of the Ohio river on July 18-20, and provided a party to look forward to year round in the Cincinnati area and beyond. The rain that fell on July 18 did not dampen the spirits of patrons eager to hear the down home leanings of Amanda Shires and Jamie Lynn Spears. Sam Lewis certainly did not disappoint those coming to hear his bittersweet ballad, “I’m a River,” while the water fell out of the sky near the peaceful settings of the lawn stage. Nashville’s Chris Janson put on a rip roaring set on the Bud Light stage, featuring freewheeling harmonica solos, and material from his long player, Take It to the Bank. Knoxville’s Ashley Monroe’s sunny presence on the river stage had Buckle Up’s denizens dancing and singing along to the roots driven rhythms of her 2013 chart topping album, Like a Rose. Marty Stuart’s classic country style harkened back to his Mississippi beginnings as his guitar playing sizzled through the barn burning classics, “Stop the World and Let Me Off” and “The Whiskey Ain’t Working.” Montgomery, Alabama’s Jamey Johnson held court on the river stage through pouring rain with a set that focused in on the recordings, That Lonesome Song and The Guitar Song. His riveting set led up to the loosely rocking multi platinum act, Alabama, as they closed out Friday night with celebratory anthems, and references to Cincinnati Reds’ sports legend Johnny Bench.
Saturday at Buckle Up provided many highlights, including the hard rocking country sounds of Natalie Stovall and the Drive on the Bud Light Stage. Emmylou Harris serenaded the packed confines near the main stage with the gentle folk styles of “Orphan Girl” and “Red Dirt Girl.” Athens, Georgia’s Drive By Truckers entertained their following on the river stage with an amped up mix of rock and roll, country and blues. Alison Krauss and Union Station enveloped the main stage with beautiful harmonies, breezy bluegrass pickin’ , and the dobro and lap steel innovations of Warren, Ohio’s favorite son, Jerry Douglas. Cincinnati’s The Tillers took over the Amphitheater Stage with jamming style as twirlers moved at breakneck speed to their uniquely homespun improvisational leanings. Harrisonburg, Virginia’s Old Crow Medicine Show pounded the river stage with tunes from 2014’s gem, Remedy, and energetic readings of fan favorites, “Alabama High-Test,” “Humdinger,” and “Wagon Wheel.” Willie Nelson wowed the Buckle Up Festival on the main stage on Saturday, July 19, with a career spanning mix of beloved radio friendly standards, and his masterful jazz meets country guitar solos. “Always on My Mind,” “On the Road Again” and “Beer for My Horses” had the Buckle Up masses singing in unison back towards the stage to close out Saturday night’s festivities.
Sunday, July 20th, at the Buckle Up festival wove together bluegrass, back porch country, and scorching rock and roll to stamp a lasting imprint until next year’s version of the music, food and fun fiesta is announced. Nashville, Tennessee’s husband and wife team Kiefer and Shawna Thompson of Thompson Square provided a great deal of Sunday’s fireworks on the river stage, as their set got hot and steamy during the popular singles, “If I Didn’t Have You” and “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not.” Ridgeland, Mississippi’s The Band Perry combined high octane rock, power fueled ballads, and a three screen visual presentation that added dimension to their covers of “Amazing Grace” and Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Tapping the gold and platinum treasures of their self titled 2010 disc and 2013’s masterwork, Pioneer, the sibling act of Neil Perry on mandolin, Reid Perry on bass guitar and Kimberly Perry on lead vocals won over Buckle Up’s Sunday night throng with the shout out loud choruses of “Chainsaw” and “Done.” It was a majestic end to 2014’s initial unveiling of Cincinnati’s Buckle Up Music Festival, and it left one in great anticipation of it’s return to the Ohio river’s waterfront in 2015.