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FESTIVAL COVERAGE: Bunbury: Better Than Ever

By Miranda A Woody Every year in the heart of Cincinnati, Ohio, Bunbury Music Festival takes place. Right alongside the river (boasting the incredible, combined venues of both Sawyer Point and Yeatman's Cove) music fans of all ages come out for a three-day long extravaganza of everything from rap and hip-hop, to pop and alt-rock. Although Bunbury Music Festival is not a camping-friendly festival (like Firefly or Bonnaroo), it has just as huge of a heart as any other festival. Upon the entering the gates, festival-goers are greeted by fellow music lovers and artists from all around the world. Bunbury is a place where new friendships are kindled, and old friendships are strengthened. Bunbury is a festival where crazy, lavish sets by your favorite bands are played in a gorgeous park on the Ohio river, and where gourmet food trucks and other bits of Cincinnati's finest culture come out to play. Bunbury is a festival that encourages individual expression, and human kindness. In fact, Bunbury's motto reads, "Bee Here. Bee You. Bee Free.". That is exactly how Bunbury Music Festival made me feel last weekend; the atmosphere was incredible, the sets were undeniably mind blowing, and I made memories that will last a lifetime. This year's Bunbury Music Festival kicked off on Friday, June Fourth. Fans poured in to the festival gates to see Friday's headliners play, and to get acclimated to the festival weekend ahead. Friday's lineup was rather impressive, boasting big-name artists such as The Shins, G-Eazy, Wiz Khalifa, and Death Cab For Cutie. It just so happens that I attended all four of the aforementioned artists' sets, and I can safely say that I was more than entertained by each of them. The Shins played a calm, ambient set amidst a crowd of hundreds at the Sawyer Point Stage. Although the sun relentlessly beat down on them (and on all of us fans) for nearly the entire set, The Shins kept everyone smiling, clapping and dancing the whole time. G-Eazy and Wiz Khalifa both played high energy hip-hop shows on the Nissan Stage, encouraging fans to dance like no one was watching (and share a blunt or two with their neighbors). G-Eazy interacted extensively with the crowd, even running into the crowd at times, and at one point I was no more than twenty feet from him. Wiz Khalifa threw out a shoutout to Pittsburgh, his hometown (and the inspiration behind his hit song "Black and Yellow"), and encouraged all of his fans to always remember where they came from. While both G-Easy and Wiz's sets were mind-blowingly full of energy and enthusiasm, I was mostly impressed by the indie, alternative rockers Death Cab for Cutie. Being a Death Cab fan for many years now may implement a certain bias in my opinion, but I honestly believe their set was among the most pure, raw, and impressive I have ever seen. Death Cab opened with their alternative hit "I Will Possess Your Heart", and continued to perform songs from albums both new and old the entire time. Friday ended with a bang as the Cincinnati Reds shot fireworks into the sky from across the street, and music and baseball fans alike stood in awe beneath the flashing lights. Speaking of "lights", Bunbury Music Festival's Saturday lineup boasted big names from the EDM scene such as Pretty Lights, Tech N9ne, and Bassnectar. With Saturday came the return of the three-day pass holders (ready for day two of their Bunbury excursion) as well as some new faces, primarily made up of EDM fans with hula hoops and LED gadgets galore. Saturday also featured a rap and R&B performance by D.R.A.M (AKA "The Big Baby") who performed earlier in the day but to a rather large audience. D.R.A.M has been riding a wave of success lately with his feature tracks, including Gorillaz' new hit "Andromeda" and Juicy J's "Gilligan". D.R.A.M performed "Gilligan" solo during his set but did not mention "Andromeda", sticking to his own lineup of hip-hop and R&B originals. After D.R.A.M performed at Sawyer Point Stage, it was time for Tech N9ne at Nissan Stage. Tech N9ne put on a wild show, complete with a feature from his favorite collaborator Chris Calico, super heavy bass drops, fog machines, and strobe lights. Tech N9ne's lyrics are considerably more angsty than those of D.R.A.M, so the mood was slightly different as I sailed through the crowd of festival goers. Tech N9ne's performance ran a few minutes late, but fans had no complaints about that. Post Tech N9ne's performance, fans flocked to Sawyer Point Stage to see Pretty Lights' set. As the sun went down and dusk settled in (and as I finished off my first mixed drink of the night), Saturday night heated up with Pretty Lights' bass heavy sound and electric light spectacle. Fans young and old danced all around, creating a movement in the crowd that you couldn't escape. Pretty Lights' sound was too catchy and the mood was too contagious; not a single guy or gal stood still during their set. As Pretty Lights shut down Sawyer Point Stage for the evening, fans hurried over to Nissan Stage to hear Bassnectar perform his incredible, night-ending set of EDM tracks. Bassnectar honestly blew my mind (and my eardrums) as he spun out track after track of bass-heavy goodness, along with the most trippy light show I have ever witnessed. Fans formed circles in the crowd, dressed in LED light-up garb and dancing low to the ground in an almost ritualistic sort of way. One fan looked at me as we danced side by side and said, "it's so beautiful, isn't it?" I have to say now that I agree with her; something about the bizarre, "get weird" attitude surrounding the Bassnectar show was oddly liberating and probably the most fun I have ever had at a festival. Saturday night ended on a high note as Bassnectar played fans out of the park and into the streets of Cincinnati. As if Saturday wasn't insanely fun enough, Sunday (the third and final day of Bunbury) rolled around and man oh man, did it have a LOT of amazing acts to pack in to a small window of time. Moon Taxi, Watsky, AFI, 30 Seconds to Mars, The 1975, and Muse all performed on Sunday, and I honestly cannot tell you whose sets were more or less incredible. Moon Taxi played early and boasted a high-energy show, complete with their mega fans in tow. Moon Taxi has been on the rise for a while now, and they have catapulted themselves into festival circuit and alt-radio fame in recent years. My good friend (and founder of East Coast Live) Nina Martin has seen them perform many times, and she concluded later in the day that Bunbury's Sunday afternoon set was one of their best. As the sweltering sun beat down on fans, the afternoon acts played on relentlessly despite the heat. Flogging Molly made an appearance on Nissan Stage and threw cans of cold Guinness into the crowd of overheated fans. Watsky stepped out on CVG River Stage and performed his millennial-age anthems "Sloppy Seconds" and "Tiny Glowing Screens" parts one and three. Watsky ended his performance with his most popular hit song "Whoa Whoa Whoa", and although his sound went out halfway through the song, fans danced and sang along like it was their job. I left Watsky a bit early to get a good spot for AFI's set, my middle/high-school favorite band. AFI has been around for roughly twenty years, but their energy is as high as ever. Lead vocalist and frontman Davey Havok came out on stage clad in black with the rest of the band, boasting a studded vest and a slick, fashionable new haircut. Davey Havok has aged so well, and his rugged handsomeness almost distracted me from the show from time to time (just almost). AFI played their older hits such as "Silver and Cold", "Girls Not Grey", and "Love Like Winter" as well as their new hit song "Snow Cats", closing their set with the infamous track "Miss Murder". The angsty tone of AFI's music translated through the entire set as fans thrashed and slammed along to each song, creating a wild, energizing effect in the crowd. As AFI closed their set, I ran to recharge my phone and hydrate well before 30 Seconds to Mars' dusk set on Nissan Stage. After hydrating with a huge glass of shaken lemonade and filling up on a delicious grilled cheese from the Midway Cafe food truck I was ready to take on the world (or, at least, Jared Leto's massive personality). I scored an awesome spot roughly four rows back for Mars' set, and when Jared Leto paraded onto the stage in his trendy, Gucci garb I nearly fainted. Leto kicked off the show with a ridiculously high energy performance of "Up In The Air", accompanied by his bandmates and an explosion of giant balloons. Leto's personality was so electrifying and positive, I honestly had more fun at Mars' set than I have ever had at a show. Leto ran into the crowd to perform an emotional, acoustic version of Mars' hit song "The Kill", called fans up on stage, swung an American flag around his head while belting out anthemic lyrics, and generally bore his heart to the audience time and time again. Leto's genuine love for performing was almost magical to witness and, to be honest, Mars' set was the best festival set I have ever attended as a result. Mars only played a total of six songs during their hour long set, but no one was upset about that. Mars filled the rest of the time with conversations with fans who had been called up on stage, random dance breaks, and inspirational speeches complete with giant balloons, confetti, and plenty of happy-tears from fans and Leto alike. The show was truly magical and full of love, hope, and positivity. I can now say that, honestly, Mars is truly a "festival" band, or at least a band that should be experienced live at least once. After 30 Seconds to Mars' uplifting show I didn't think the night could get much better, but as fans flocked to Sawyer Point Stage for The 1975's set I could tell that the night had only just begun. The 1975 played a crazy, cool atmospheric set complete with ambient backlighting and some inspirational dialogue between them and their beloved fans. I sat way back in the grass as my friends fought their way to the front for The 1975, and I simply soaked up the peaceful, positive vibes coming from the faraway stage as I listened along. By that point in the evening, fifteen THOUSAND festival goers had checked into Bunbury's final day, and I am pretty sure I had to fight through every single one of them in order to get a good spot for Muse at Nissan Stage. Muse closed the entire festival out, being the headliner of all headliners, and I honestly cannot describe to you how surreal and fantastic their set was. Utilizing a combination of Mars' energy and AFI's raw talent, Muse put on a show of pure, rock n' roll goodness. Muse banged out track after track of rock n' roll sounds, complete with robotic sound effects, more confetti and giant balloons, and crazy light projections on huge, rectangular set pieces that moved around during the show. Muse was slated to end the festival no later than eleven, but the British-born rebels played well past eleven PM and nearly into midnight on Monday morning. Fans had no complaints, though, as Muse banged out their super hits "Madness", "Uprising", "Supermassive Black Hole", and many, many more. Muse was the best possible way to end the most incredible Bunbury Music Festival to date, in my humble opinion. Bunbury 2017 was better than any of its predecessors, and it left me with the hope and excitement that next year will only get bigger, better, and more electrifying than ever. Bunbury Music Festival has made its name along with the big-kids in festival culture (such as Firefly and Bonnaroo), and I cannot wait to see where this festival ends up in the next five years. Happy Bunbury, friends.

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