The unseasonably warm temperatures didn’t seem to deter the thousands of people from crowding into Louisville’s Champions Park this weekend for the inaugural Bourbon & Beyond. With an impressive lineup of musicians, chefs and bourbon distillers, the two-day festival appeared to be a success.
Insider was there for both days and talked to many people in the crowd to gauge the yays or nays. Of course, the festival’s organizer, Danny Wimmer Productions, couldn’t have predicted a ridiculous heat wave in mid-September, and that seemed to be the No. 1 complaint.
Some pointed out the need for more water and misting stations. We found a refillable water station in the VIP area, but if you didn’t have that kind of access, we believe many simply had to keep purchasing $3 bottles at the various bars around the event.
The cost of amenities also seemed to be an issue to some. Most parking near the fest was $20, domestic beer started at $8, all bourbons started at $10 and went up from there, and we had a cheeseburger for $13 and decided not to get the side of $7 fries. High prices for food and drink are nothing new at festivals and sporting events, but if you were on a budget, it did vastly limit what you could enjoy throughout the day.
And the last overwhelming complaint was the chaos of finding an Uber, Lyft or taxi afterward, as many people opted to get dropped off to be safe and/or avoid parking fees.
Organizers had designated areas for pickup, but with hundreds waiting for rides, many people decided to start walking either toward downtown or Frankfort Avenue.
And now onto the yays. Each act took the stage on time, which is rare for a music festival of this size. That shows respect for the audience and also is evidence of an organization that has its ducks in order. The bourbon and food sessions also ran on schedule and offered intimate access to the movers and shakers in each industry.
We attended a few sessions led by local bourbon expert Fred Minnick, and each was fun, informational and offered tidbits and inside stories you just can’t get by visiting a distillery.
Also, the Big Bourbon Bar was a fun area that offered bourbon from participating distilleries (for $10+), and it was quite a sight to see all the brands lined up along the back of the tent.
We recognized many of our talented local bartenders manning each station, as hand-crafted cocktails were available as well. The Hunter’s Club, run by the guys of Haymarket Whiskey Bar, was an opportunity for people to taste hard-to-find bourbons — for a fee, of course. Other highlights included a tiki bar, the Brown-Forman Char House tent with smoking barrels and all the company’s whiskey brands, and a secret speakeasy sponsored by Rabbit Hole Distilling.
Another positive note we heard from some attendees was the cleanliness of the grounds — they had several people picking up trash all day long, trash cans were emptied before they got full, and people seemed to understand the difference between trash cans and recycling bins.
Headliners Eddie Vedder, Steve Miller Band and Stevie Nicks all put on great shows. Vedder seemed a little confused as to where exactly he was, but he knew it had to do with bourbon.
“I’m more of a tequila guy,” he said, and some people reported that he sipped some bourbon on stage and ended up spitting it out. We didn’t see that ourselves, but we wouldn’t be surprised.
Also, we enjoyed Nicks’ banter with the audience Sunday night, which included her plea for people not to blow cigarette smoke in her direction. We suspect a lot of that smoke was coming from the nearby Char House, which promptly cut the smoke after her comment.
Here’s a closer look at some of what we witnessed at the inaugural Bourbon & Beyond: