From a production standpoint, Cincinnati now has a first-class outdoor rock-music fest.
The inaugural Bunbury Music Festival opened Friday, and it appeared to go off very smoothly for a first-time event of its size. From noon till 11 p.m., roughly three dozen acts were featured on six stages in Sawyer Point and Yeatman’s Cove, with headliner Jane’s Addiction wrapping things up on the main stage.
Bunbury’s infrastructure is impressive. There were all sorts of food vendors, from pizza and chili chains to trendy local barbecue and sandwich joints. There were plenty of craft-beer stands, and, of course, lots of domestic light draft. There was a booth for charging up cell phones, and an air-conditioned interactive technology tent.
And there were rows and rows of portable toilets. Hardly a line, folks.
The short lines could have been due just as much to a soft turnout. The festival announced an attendance figure of 15,000. It seemed like there was room for many more bodies, but Bunbury owner Bill Donabedian didn’t express much disappointment.
“You always learn a lot of lessons on the first day,” he said. “I think the setup went really well.”
Asked if anything occurred Friday that would derail his plan to bring back Bunbury next year, Donabedian answered no.
“If I have to sell my house, I won’t do it next year,” Donabedian said. “But I don’t plan on having to sell my house.”
There are so many variables at hand this weekend that it’s hard to say why the crowd might have been light. It could be because it’s the first year. It could be because the Reds are in town, or because of the World Choir Games. It could be the economy.
Or it could be Bunbury’s competition. This weekend, two established regional festivals are taking place: Louisville’s Forecastle and Chicago’s Pitchfork. Donabedian doesn’t mind.
“The music is different here. The branding is different. I’m OK with letting the chips fall where they may,” he said.
Donabedian went with alt-rock pioneers Jane’s Addiction as his big Friday draw. The band is 20 years past its prime, but it still has the same basic elements in place to put on a very entertaining show: the metal-boogie riffs of guitarist Dave Navarro and newer bassist Chris Chaney, the powerhouse drumming of Stephen Perkins, and singer Perry Farrell, who always aims to entertain.
The schedule indicated that Jane’s was going to do 90 minutes, but instead the band only played for an hour. It was stuffed with all of the essentials, like “Ocean Size,” “Mountain Song,” the unplugged “Jane Says” – with Navarro on acoustic guitar and Perkins on steel drums – the 10-minute “Three Days” and “Been Caught Stealing.”
In the middle of a performance of the song “Stop,” fireworks from nearby Great American Ballpark caught Farrell’s attention and sent him on a Pete Rose rant that left it unclear as to whether Farrell knows why Rose is banned from baseball.
“Free Pete Rose,” he chanted nine times.
“Raise your voices for Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame. (Expletive) these (expletive) that won’t let Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame. I’ve (expletive) done worse drugs than steroids. Let me in the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose, if you’re out there, we love you. What did he do but hustle his (butt) off? We need more people in the world like Pete Rose,” he declared.
About an hour earlier, Eric Nally, lead singer for Cincinnati rock band Foxy Shazam, was on stage doing some profanity-laced Reds-speak of his own. “Hey Votto, if you can hear me, hit it out of the park, (expletive),” he yelled.
Foxy Shazam put on the most entertaining set of the day. Nally delivered everything Farrell once did or should hope to do. He was all over the stage, doing headstands and somersaults, while his equally energetic five band mates could leave an observer wondering if the band’s arena-rock anthems and maneuvers are ironic or the real thing. Either way, it’s a very good live show.
Some of the smaller stages provided other big moments. Roots-music renegades Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band began their set with a little bit of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and, to get the crowd going, Reverend Peyton, playing slide on an old resonator guitar, stepped onto the drum riser and karate-kicked a cymbal stand to the ground, making it plain to see that drummer Aaron Persinger’s floor tom was made out of a plastic five-gallon bucket.
On an adjacent small stage, Matt Pryor of The Get Up Kids played a solo acoustic set. “Where are the Afghan Whigs from?” he asked the crowd. “Are they from Cincinnati?” He then delivered a nice version of the Whigs ballad “When We Two Parted.”
The biggest revelation of the day happened in the afternoon, when Kids These Days, a band of seven teenagers from Chicago, treated the early-arriving crowd to some seriously professional funk and soul music. During their finale of a song titled “Ghetto Music,” they threw in hometown horn charts from Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up,” and the results were climactic.