Show Review – Bunbury Music Festival 2017, Sawyer Point, Cincinnati, OH


Review by Alex Weiglein

Photo by Craig Weiglein

With cicadas buzzing and sunbeams beating down on the people below, Bunbury 2017 has come to a close. With a number of small tweaks implemented this year, PromoWest brought the people of Cincinnati (and the folks flocking from far and wide) an experience full of what we have come to expect when heading to the riverfront for our very own music festival.

One of the most well-received changes from last year was scrapping the cashless wristband system. Due to technical hiccups, inconvenient Top Up stations (that charged a fee for you to get back money you didn’t use), and the feeling of being at an outdoor, beer-friendly Chuck-E-Cheese parlor, the system was tossed in favor of the much-preferred cash and plastic.

Festival-goers had the same stage setup that has been used in past years, which seems to have become the standard design. It’s a bit tricky to fit enough stages in the riverfront area, and the varied layouts seen in past years have had mixed success. Though it took a slight walk to get from stage to stage, the current design presents an optimal use of the space. Whether it was by design or due to weather conditions, the stage tucked into the Serpentine Wall was absent this year. Given how much of Cincinnati’s character is focused on the river, it’s always a nice touch to have a stage right next to the water. Seeing the lit-up bridges, river currents, and Newport makes for a great backdrop as well.

In order to keep crowds energized and moving, festivals need to offer plenty of food. Fortunately, Bunbury always does an excellent job with offering a wide range of choices for hungry music fans. Bunbury favorite Island Noodles returned once again with their large woks cranking out tasty meals all day while Cincinnati staple Eli’s BBQ was churning out their famed meals all day long. Tweedle’s Mini Donuts had a nearly constant line to grab their hot and fresh donuts that have been consistently popular with Bunbury taste buds over the years. On top of stationary food booths, a huge focus was placed on food trucks this year, with a number of vendors lining the Serpentine. Hungry Bros. was one of the most popular eateries this year, and Chicken Mac’s exceptional cornbread could be seen scattered throughout the crowd all day long.

Southwest carved a space out for themselves in the shadowy patch hiding behind the craft beer village, offering inflatable hammocks to lounge in while cooling off. It was a regular sight to see people working in tandem to run across the grass, hammock in hand, trying to inflate them as best as possible. Once they had a place to relax, festival-goers could sit back and enjoy some quieter tunes coming from the small Southwest stage.

The lineup offered this year seems to be moving towards the lineups offered at other major festivals throughout the nation. The first few years of Bunbury focused primarily on indie rock lineups with a special focus on local Cincinnati bands. This year, as have the past few years, spread out to a more diverse offering of bands, though the reduced number of stages leads to a shorter billing overall.

Friday’s schedule was an odd mix – The Shins and Bunbury alum Death Cab for Cutie were mixed in with acts G-Eazy and headliner Wiz Khalifa. This seemed to bring in a broad range of people, but at the cost of an inconsistent lineup. Saturday offered a well-received mix of rap, hip-hop, and electronica acts that brought in a highly costumed crowd, while Sunday went more of the traditional Bunbury route with a focus on indie and alternative rock. Muse capped off this year’s festival, and theirs was easily the crown performance of the entire weekend.

It seems that the spirit of Bunbury is finally settling in as the festival begins to mature. Though each year has been distinct in their own ways, there has been a consistent trend of “Bunburiness” that connects them all together. The unique qualities that the Cincinnati riverfront offer to music fans are key players in what defines Bunbury as a festival in its own right. Though PromoWest might change things up here and there, we can all have a pretty solid idea of what to expect next year. Until then, sun-kissed merch, plenty of selfies, and all kinds of great memories will have to keep everyone tied over before we all head back down to the riverfront for another great Bunbury weekend.