The second day of the inaugural Bunbury Festival at Sawyer Point seemed to have a much bigger draw than Friday, which was attributed to geek-rock favorite Weezer headlining.
Saturday offered a mix of spitting rain and sunny, humid temperatures, but at least it wasn’t a 100 degrees.
First on the docket was the UK band A Silent Film. I didn’t know much about them, but from the street I liked what I heard enough to gravitate to their stage. As they played, the sky opened up and sprinkled, which was fitting for their moody rock ‘n’ roll. Their anthemic power pop songs garnered them comparisons to Snow Patrol and the Killers, and after listening to “Anastasia” from their latest record “Sand and Snow”, the assessments were definitely apt.
Three bands played at 5:15 p.m.: Imagine Dragons, the Lions Rampant and Graffiti6, which inevitably divided my time unequally.
On my way to check out buzz band Imagine Dragons (also similar to the Killers), I stopped into the air-conditioned TechBury tent replete with cell phone charging stations. I’d never seen this at another fest (and I’ve been to a lot of music fests), but it was a great idea and hopefully more fests will adopt it.
Other great ideas were the beat-driven Red Bull DJ tent, the iconic Serpentine Wall acting as concert seating, free water filling stations (you’d be surprised how many fests don’t offer free water), the Craft Beer Village overflowing with sudsy Bell’s, Troegs, Hudepohl, Moerlein and Avery Brewing beers, and the EcoMarket with fresh smoothies, soba noodles and hummus pizza.
Gauging the crowd at Dragons, a lot of other people were curious about them, too. Many outlets heralded them as the next big thing, but after listening to songs like the intense “Radioactive,” “Demons,” “On Top of the World” and “Round and Round” from their new “Continued Silence” EP, I thought they just were okay. The crowd on the other hand loved them and threw their hands in the air.
Lead singer Dan Reynolds was affable and joked how he had to use the largest mallet ever to play his kick drum. He announced it was his birthday and said he was happy to celebrate it in the Queen City, his first time playing here. The crowd then sang him Happy Birthday.
I made it down to the farthest stage, aliveOne, in time to catch a couple of songs from local countrified-rock group the Lions Rampant. A small group of jaunty folks had formed in front of the stage and danced, and the more they danced, the harder it rained, but they didn’t seem to mind the deluge.
By the time I made it all the way to the other end to the Landor stage for the blue-eyed soul of English group Graffiti6, the rain had practically stopped and the sun came out. Fans made a mass exodus over to the main stage for alt-rockers Manchester Orchestra.
Two songs into the set, I decided to leave the packed area and make a bee line over to see another local group, Jeremy Pinnell and the 55’s. Earlier, they did a sound check on the adjacent stage while Lions Rampant played and they sounded pretty good. The mood was much more relaxed over there with a few people camping out on blankets and listening to Pinnell sing about a good-hearted woman in his country twang.
With no time to wait in extremely long food lines and no time between sets, I headed to see Dan Deacon, someone who I’d seen many times and always enjoyed. Today, he was set up onstage with two drummers. He usually does a theater-in-the-round scenario and avoids stages, but he made the best of the vast field in front of him.
The loquacious MC rambled on about moats and killing snakes and said, “You know you’re doing something important for Earth when you’re playing in front of a Bud Light sign,” he joked about signage on the, well, Bud Light stage. He then asked the crowd to point their fingers to clouds and kneel on the ground. Most people did this with the exception of a few who Deacon labeled as Reds fans and proceeded to jeer at them for not participating.
While playing the electro “Kinono Ripoff Number One,” he challenged a guy wearing a shirt with “I Am Awesome” to a dance-off against another attendee, and those dancers traded off with new dancers who did push-ups and even do-si-do’d. Deacon commanded all spectators to dance and thus mad dancing ensued.
I caught some of the Gaslight Anthem’s Bruce Springsteen-inspired Jersey rock including new one “45” and older ones “Old White Lincoln” and “The ’59 Sound.” Scraggly vocaled lead singer Brian Fallon asked the crowd, “Does the fireworks mean the Reds won?” He asked who they played and the crowd responded with the Cardinals. “Oh, St. Louis. We were just there!” The crowd booed in displeasure, but Fallon zinged them with, “You want to boo? We’re Yankees fans.”
L.A. band Grouplove sang upbeat pop songs from last year’s debut “Never Trust a Happy Song” in front of a very crowded Serpentine Wall audience. The band’s confetti-colored backdrop oddly matched lead singer Christian Zucconi’s blue hair. They gave a highly entertaining and energetic set and kept the audience and themselves dancing throughout “Lovely Cup,” “Itchin’ on a Photograph,” the beach song “Naked Kids” and the howling “Close Your Eyes and Count to Ten.”
“I slept in the back of the car for two hours just to be here tonight. It’s amazing to see you all,” Zucconi said.
He also mentioned their equipment didn’t arrive so Manchester Orchestra was nice enough to let them borrow their stuff. They closed out there set with a brief cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and their number one hit, “Tongue Tied” that sounded even better live. The crowd went nuts and jumped up and down while white balloons bounced around.
One advantage Bunbury has to other fests is there’s only one headliner a night, unlike Lollapalooza where fans have to choose between two acts that are miles apart. The much-anticipated Weezer greeted the fest’s most packed crowd yet with their signature giant “W” glowing in white bulbs.
Frontman Rivers Cuomo, who was dressed professorial in a brown blazer and an argyle sweater vest, opened with the song “Troublemaker” from “The Red Album”.
“What’s up people of Cincinnati and greater surrounding areas?” he asked and then worked it into “Undone – The Sweater Song.”
He said because they were playing such a long set – 90 minutes to be exact – they could play stuff they normally don’t get to, like the obscure “Longtime Sunshine” that was actually supposed to appear on “Pinkerton” but wasn’t released until it appeared on his demo compilation album, “Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo.”
There were a lot of moments when fans sang along and knew all the words to hits like “Surf Wax America,” “My Name Is Jonas,” “Put Me Back Together,” “We Are All On Drugs,” “El Scorcho” and “Say It Ain’t So,” but it was the penultimate song of the regular set, “Perfect Situation,” where Cuomo got the crowd to sing the “whoas” and “ohhs” as loud as they could.
Weezer walked offstage and came back for a two-song encore including a fun cover of hair metal band Poison’s hit “Talk Dirty to Me” and the infectious Grammy-nominated “Beverly Hills.” Weezer played a great mix from many of their albums giving both die-hard and casual fans what they wanted.
Saturday at Bunbury will go down as the day it finally rained and when Rivers Cuomo kept repeating, “Cincinnati and the greater surrounding areas” so much, it’ll probably appear on a t-shirt.