Driving to Bunbury, my path takes me through Price Hill and Elberon Avenue, which winds its way down the hill, overlooking the city of Cincinnati and the Ohio river, a true valley. The excitement is building as my vehicle hugs the curve that shoots me down Pete Rose Way, past Paul Brown Stadium, the Underground Railroad Museum, and the newly constructed Banks nestled next to Great American Ball Park. The Reds are home, I notice the line of people heading in to catch some baseball and a light show for their famous Friday Fireworks extravaganza. My path is to the left of the Stadium at Sawyer Point, which is a park area on the river bank that hosts the Bunbury Music Festival. I drive across the Big Mac Bridge (so named for its resemblance to the golden arches) to park over at Newport on the Levee.
Their underground garage allows me a decent parking price and access to the Purple People Bridge, which conveniently leads right to where the festival is. I begin the walk toward the bridge, and on my way I run into a photographer for cincymusic.com. We chat about the music, the scene, the shots he has captured. He shows me a couple photos as the bluesy sound of Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires and X Ambassadors compete for space in our ears. The Yeatman's Cove stage has a throng of people gathering to watch J. Roddy Walston & The Business. The big concrete steps, or The Serpentine Wall, and the mass of humanity caused him to pause and get a couple of shots of the perfect angles. He leads me to where I need to check in to get my press pass for the weekend and I set out to soak up the sights and sounds.
I caught a few songs from X Ambassadors. Those closest to the stage are thrashing and amassed all together, behind them there are people laying down on the lawn next to a Grizzly tobacco tent. I absorb the initial scene and go in search of an attendant to find a schedule and map for where everything is located. They have gotten rid of one of the stages from last year and converted it into a VIP-type viewing area. No cash or credit cards will be accepted here. All funds must be loaded onto your wristband, which wasn’t that hard to do, but it is a bit enraging to know that there is a hidden 2$ fee when you register and load money onto it. WTF?!?!
My quest begins, the vibe is relaxed, and happy people are everywhere imbibing and laughing, enjoying a perfect spring afternoon. I come upon the craft beer village, which surrounds the perimeter of a paved stone circle, in the middle of which rests Cincinnatus, the Roman General for whom Cincinnati was named. The beers are a mix of big and local beers, proving to be a much better selection than last year. Next to the Leinenkugel's booth stands one of the many food trucks that is down to serve the masses delicious eats. Feeling a bit hungry myself I order a couple of their chicken breast skewers. Bone’s Brothers Wings is their name and mouth watering food is their game. You'll drop $3.25 for a pair of juicy chicken strips, drizzled with their spice bones sauce, and since the spices are perfect and the chicken falls off the wooden skewers, it's a bargain. I wash it down with a Blank Slate White India Ale.
Sufficiently full of sustenance, I continue on to a walkway along the river which is lined with little boutiques, food trucks, desserts and people looking at the boats that have pulled up to catch the end of J. Roddy Walton & the Business (you can hear the music perfectly from a boat on the river). Moving past the throng of people my eyes spy a vacant spot on the stone steps for me to take a load off and allow the breeze of the river to kiss my face as the beautiful blend of piano, guitars and drums massage my ears.
They get calls for an encore, but alas must move on. It was back towards my initial entrance to catch a bit of Mudcrutch. While they perform their sound checks a trio of friends ask if I’d be down for a game of cornhole, and we toss bags as the gravelly, melodic voice of Tom Petty come over the speakers. His original band from the '70s back in all their nostalgic glory. I give them an hour before heading back the other way to get a good seat for The Killers.
I stop to talk to a local clothing company, Operativ. Their brand has made some headway, but they have no store front and rely heavily on the online and festival circuit route. I take their card and my eyes soak in their unique brand symbol. I stumble upon another little nook. Cheesecake covered in chocolate on a stick! Mickey’s Cheesesicles and Icesicles is another local entrepreneur that has no store front, but thrives thanks to festivals, concerts, weddings and online sales. The local Westwood woman’s five-year-old business has great products, including one that is Guiness flavored. It is as delicious as it sounds.
Making my way closer to the stage where the Killers will close down the first night, I see what appears to be a bar, but really it’s the elaborate booth for Eli’s BBQ. The Killers finish their sound check and “Somebody Told Me” comes roaring across the park, which transforms the ever increasing mass of humanity to karaoke along with the band. With everyone at fever pitch, they throw the crowd for a loop by playing the theme song to “WKRP in Cincinnati.” The set continued and then the hidden bonus aspect of playing a concert next to Great American Ball Park on a Friday came to light. Their spectacular firework display commenced right as The Killers shredded the very end of a song. To top it off, the band gave a little mood setting to all the couples in attendance by busting out the Elvis hit “Can’t help Falling in Love” as the fireworks continued to burst.
Walking back across the Purple People Bridge as the Killers finished their set, the edge of the bridge was aligned with people of all different ages, races, stages of life; watching fireworks and listening to music. As the finalé kicked off, the boats idled silently on the river and the many faces of the crowd were all transfixed on the beauty and awe that is a live, outdoor concert with a spectacular fireworks backdrop. I bid adieu to the night, to rest up for the next day, with one peaceful, awesome, uplifting scene to dream upon.