Written by Alex Weiglein
Photos by Craig Weiglein
Sawyer Point’s annual metamorphosis from a lush, green river retreat into a well-worn, sunbaked field covered in footprints is finally complete. Straw-covered mud patches greet visitors to the once verdant spaces, mulch and rocks pepper the sidewalks, and various pathways lead passers-by to wide open spaces that had been filled with thousands of people mere hours before. Every event leaves its mark, and this is Bunbury’s.
2018 has proved to be Bunbury Music Festival’s most successful year ever. At least, with ticket sales, that is. All 3 days were sold out, filling the maximum capacity of 20,000 people to its brim. A first in the festival’s history, much attention and congratulations was focused on this milestone. Exciting though the news was, it presented challenges not seen in previous years. With 4 stages and a long, skinny layout, moving from place to place required a fair bit of walking. With limited pathways, it quickly became a challenge to get from one end of the festival grounds to the other. Further, some unexpected obstacles further exacerbated the issue. For example, a food vendor whose booth was placed such that the line cut across the sidewalk used to get to the Nissan Stage, forcing many to wait to take advantages of brief gaps that formed as the line moved forward. Others walked behind and around, opting to walk on the grass pathways between merchants and shops, while a select few chose to trek around the Serpentine Wall. The CVG River Stage, positioned a few short feet from the river’s edge, seemed to bite off more than it could chew. Numerous acts drew such a crowd that it was nearly impossible to see the performance unless you had claimed a seat on the concrete steps early on. Otherwise, you were out of luck. Many of the viewers stuck at the top of the far sides of the wall were lucky to see the back of a performer’s head once or twice during the set. Though this might be considered a “good problem to have,” addressing this issue in future festival grounds planning is of particular importance.
In typical Bunbury fashion, Cincinnati was graced with a sudden downpour during Friday’s events, causing a delay in the schedule. Every available inch of cover was used, from bridges and trees to booths and backpacks, to avoid being soaked. When the crowd was not being rained on, they instead were graced with a hot sun beating down on their backs and shoulders. As the days progressed, the outline of the crowd shifted, as those opting to sit in the shade had to chase the shadows across the grass.
The lineup selection is always a controversial subject, and this year was no exception. However, one band was the cause of some controversy amongst fans. A late cancellation by Blink-182, one of the most highly anticipated acts of this year’s schedule, was deeply frustrating to those who had purchased tickets specifically to see their performance. While PromoWest did offer refunds to Friday-only ticket holders, many were quick to show their disapproval with how the company handled the situation. Soon after the announcement was made, PromoWest advertised ticket sales for the 2019 festival, which intends to feature Blink-182 as a headliner. Comments on a number of social media sites, such as Facebook and Reddit, revealed that many felt this decision was in poor taste. Several commenters reported feeling that PromoWest was too soon to advertise these sales, and that this was perceived as merely a bandage to bring in future ticket sales. Others, however, felt that the company was in a tough situation and did what they could to offer a reasonable solution to the unexpected problem.
Numerous acts on the lineup appeared to be more anticipated than the headliners. According to the official Bunbury app, Foster the People was the Top Scheduled band of 2018, reaching just under 7,000 people adding the band to their personalized lineup. The Chainsmokers came in second, with approximately 6,500 adds, followed by Post Malone with nearly 6,300 adds in third. Young the Giant and Third Eye Blind came in at just under 6,000, Bunbury alum Fitz and the Tantrums hit approximately 5,500, Incubus peaking at just under 5,200, and Jack White coming in at just over 4,600.
This could be seen in the crowds attending these acts. Young the Giant maintained a strong crowd for the duration of their set, losing relatively few audience members to the upcoming show by The Chainsmokers. This was despite restarting “Silvertongue” due to lead singer Sameer Gandhi’s laughter over seeing a birthday cake on stage left by bassist Payam Doostzadeh, who had received a different cake straight to the face soon after the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Foster the People attracted one of the largest audiences of the entire festival, bringing in a crowd of photographers crammed into the pit to match. The crowd was particularly responsive, with heads and hands bopping along to the music as a poop emoji balloon was bounced around. Despite a modest stage setup, Post Malone brought a substantial performance, reeling in huge numbers of fans who were reluctant to leave until the very last moment. There were more people waiting for his set an hour in advance than the were watching the Dropkick Murphy’s, even when they were in full swing. Jack White closed off the festival, teasing the crowd before his set with a video showing him messing with a countdown clock, causing excited screams each time the clock dropped as he swiped at the numbers. Bathed in a light electric blue, White made quite an impression on not only the crowd, but the City of Cincinnati as a whole. White received a key to the city in recognition of his performance and the steps he has taken to honor Cincinnati’s own King Records.
Despite all the hiccups, Bunbury 2018 has proven to be a success in many ways. PromoWest’s decisions to craft the festival into their own vision has been the cause of some controversy amongst the local music scene over the years, but no one can deny that they have done well for themselves. It’s an impossible challenge to create a lineup that will please all people, and so PromoWest has ignored this fool’s errand. If this year’s lineup was not to your taste, there’s always next year. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember what the core of the festival is all about. Per the FAQ on the website, “To Bunbury, or to go bunburying, is to have a made-up excuse to get out of doing something boring.” Whether or not you go each and every year isn’t really important. Bunbury will still be waiting for you, ready to be the perfect excuse.