Bourbon & Beyond: Louisville’s annual music festival where the grass is blue, the vibes are easy going, and the bourbon whiskey flows like a gentle, high-proof waterfall; an event that brings together honky-tonkers, foodies, and the kind of people who can teach you how to make an old fashion the right way. It’s a haven for all things that make you feel good.
For their most recent edition, which went down this past weekend, the Danny Wimmer Presents festival doubled down on its core essentials while tweaking its winning formula to allow for one of the most eclectic lineups they’ve ever pulled together. Working nostalgic favorites, pop icons, and unexpected crooners into their usual pool of country and bluegrass stars, Bourbon & Beyond 2023 proved that mixing good music with quality food and drink options makes for a pretty damn fun time — who woulda thunk it?
Of course, no matter how simple the combination of tasty meals, tasty cocktails, and tasty jams sounds, a four-day festival with expectations for 140,000-plus attendees can leave quite a bit of room for disaster. Hosting an event of this scale in the modern era can be like stacking bottles in the backseat of your buddy’s van while they’re pulling donuts in the parking lot; any amount of unfavorable weather, unruly fans, or unpolished planning can turn a large music experience into a debacle. Thankfully, Bourbon & Beyond sidestepped any of the issues that have plagued the summer festival season, going down smoother than top-shelf whiskey.
Here’s everything that went down last weekend in Louisville.
A Healthy Lawn of Bluegrass
By and large, the winning genre of the weekend was none other than the fast-paced, stomp-hollering, rootsy style of bluegrass. From the smaller names of the undercard to modern genre icons like Billy Strings, the festival was full of banjos, upright bass, washboards, and fiddles — and it was all the better for it.
Hidden in the back of the festival grounds, opposite of the main stages and adjacent to the culinary and bourbon stages, was the humble Bluegrass Situation stage, an enclosed area with a small spot for performances plopped in between approximately 200 alcohol vendors. There were tables and chairs, and because it served as a cool break from the sun, one might expect this little corner of the fest to be much more low-key than the rest of Bourbon & Beyond, especially given that it hosted bands with smaller profiles. And yet, it was consistently the most hopping place on the entire premises.
Though many attendees probably knew very few of the bands playing the bluegrass stage, the tent was never empty. In fact, it was never even close to empty. Countless groups filled up the dance floor and danced in between sipping drinks while bands played a mix of original tunes and classic standards. If you measure success by which stage had the highest number of smiles per capita, the Bluegrass Situation stage would have handily taken home the first place prize.