Photos and Review by Alex Weiglein
Bellwether Music Festival returned for its second year at the Ohio Renaissance Festival fairgrounds in Waynesville, Ohio. In contrast to last year’s setup, the festival was within the fairgrounds rather than in the neighboring fields. Making full use of the location, the festival provided several Renaissance-themed offerings for attendees, including a rock and roll joust featuring legendary competitors. Bellwether kept similar stage placements, with two stages on opposite ends of the fairgrounds. This made for an easy walk from one stage to the other in between performances. The Shipwreck Stage made for a unique setup, allowing performers to check “play a show on a pirate ship” off their wish lists.
Bellwether attracted a modest attendance this year, though the enclosed surroundings would have made for an uncomfortable experience if the crowd was substantially larger. A significant improvement over last year’s arrangement was the addition of more shaded areas, provided by the many buildings within the fairgrounds. Compared to the singular tent in the center of last year’s layout, there were plenty of shade to be found under shops and stalls, dining areas, and shade covers installed in front of the Shipwreck Stage. Though there were no headliner-cancelling thunderstorms like last year, it is nice to see that there are more places to seek shelter should something similar happen in the future.
CAKE and Beach House were this year’s headliners, and naturally the biggest draws for the crowd. Each performed on the aptly named Sunset Stage, which was located near the bottom of a hill that made it easy to find a good spot to watch the performances. CAKE’s performance was brightly colored and enthusiastic despite the swarm of bugs that decided to join them on stage. John McCrea introduced himself and his bandmates by stating, “We are CAKE and we’re here to serve you!” Beach House opted for a backlit, silhouette-driven stage design and a more serious, reserved performance.
STRFKR’s set was easily the most hands-on and engaging performance, featuring crowd- surfing astronauts, free t-shirt-wearing mannequins launched into the audience, and an inflatable pelican pool float. The astronauts served as the band’s backing dancers, spinning their helmet and encouraging the crowd to get more and more energetic as the show progressed.
Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices and Dayton, OH native greeted his audience by asking if they wanted to hear some beautiful music. Naturally, he received an enthusiastic “Yes!” before breaking into the setlist. Pollard opted for no mic stand which allowed him greater movement and flexibility on stage to enthusiastically move around and kick his legs into the air.
Acts such as Real Estate offered more relaxed performances to offset the high-energy stylings of bands like We Are Scientists, who were added to the lineup after it was announced that Arlie would no longer be on the billing. Overall, Bellwether offered a healthy variety of musical talent that kept things interesting as the hot, sunny days progressed.
It was interesting to see how Bellwether reinvented itself this year and took advantage of its unique home. All the changes made this year were for the better and made the festival feel more established and put-together. Though it was not as big or eventful as some of the big name 3-day festivals, Bellwether is not trying to be one of those festivals. Having a smaller 2-day festival is a nice addition to the variety of music events in the Cincinnati area and makes for a more relaxed and approachable experience. Despite the blinding sun and the skin-burning temperatures, this year’s festival was a great experience. Attendees will surely be excited to see how Bellwether evolves and grows into itself in the years to come.