Sweet, Sticky Bunbury: A Wrap-Up

Final thoughts on this past weekend's dreamy debut Bunbury Music Festival

click to enlarge Austin's Ume on the AliveOne Stage Sunday at Bunbury (Photo: Jesse Fox)
Austin's Ume on the AliveOne Stage Sunday at Bunbury (Photo: Jesse Fox)

I drifted off Thursday night and had my wonderfully fitful sleep punctuated by the strangest dream. Like most dreams, it was disjointed and surreal, but it made an odd sort of sense. It’s never easy to describe these nocturnal apparitions but it was so vivid, I shall give it a try.

Friday, July 13

I was walking downtown. I knew exactly where I needed to go but I didn’t know exactly how to get there. A ridiculously convoluted route got me to the desired entrance, I received my press credentials and a map of a fascinating kingdom which I entered through the back gate, popping up in the midst of a Craft Beer Village, a place I would revisit many times.

Because of family obligations, I had arrived late, and the celebration, which had been dubbed Bunbury, was already in full swing. I headed for what I perceived to be the main concentration of activity and there ran into Brent and his wife Kat, who I frequently cross paths with at these sorts of soirees and who are always a welcome sight and great companions. Almost immediately, I encountered my nephew Jim, who proceeded to buy me a multitude of beers, a welcome refreshment on a steamy afternoon.

We made our way to the Globilli stage to see The Crash Kings, a keyboard/bass/drum trio that made sounds like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath with a twist of Styx (when they were a decent Rock band) refracted through an Indie Rock prism. Keyboardist Tony Beliveau was improbably wearing a long sleeve flannel shirt in 90-degree heat, but he said they were from L.A., so he may have legitimately been cold. They played songs from their eponymous debut and a few from their as-yet unreleased new album, there was an epic bass solo at one point, and Beliveau made other worldly sounds with the use of a whammy bar on his rig, which I had never seen before. The Crash Kings were incredible, and they would have kicked 1975 square in the balls.

At the Landor Stage, Ponderosa were cranking out some sweet Indie Rock/Soul from their first album, Moonlight Revival and their new album Pool Party, which ultimately led to a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” Kalen Nash, clad in a much cooler serape and stalking the stage in Hobbit-like bare feet, bemoaned the loss of the Southgate House and said to the crowd, “Let’s bring that back.” We couldn’t have agreed more.

Back at Globilli, O.A.R. were giving a sizable audience a fair dose of heartland Indie Rock and getting an enthusiastic response in turn. The band started in Maryland but rose to prominence as students at Ohio State, and became something of a regional phenomenon. Much like the Dave Matthews Band, O.A.R.’s reputation grew by grassroots methodology and hard work. Marc Roberge acknowledged their local ties and thanked fans for their loyalty with a rousing set. Jim’s pals Andre and Kevin arrived at some point, more beers were acquired and all was well.

I took my leave of Jim and his friends to check out Ra Ra Riot at the Bud Light Stage. I love their studio brand of visceral Chamber Pop/Indie Rock and they most certainly do not disappoint in the live arena as they tore shit up good and proper. Ra Ra Riot make compelling feel-good music but I always feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to them, remembering their courage and loyalty when they remained together as a band in the aftermath of losing their original drummer John Pike, a drowning victim five years ago. Their biggest successes have come in the wake of that tragedy, but they remain in contact with Pike’s family who have in turn remained fully in Ra Ra Riot’s corner. That is truly inspirational, and that depth of feeling is translated into every note that RRR puts out into the universe. The real headline from RRR’s set was Wes Miles’ announcement that Bunbury was “the best run festival we’ve ever played,” high praise from a band that’s attended SXSW, CMJ, Seaport Music Festival and a good many others.

Somewhere between O.A.R. and Ra Ra Riot, I ran into Sean Rhiney (Messerly & Ewing) and Brian Kitzmiller (Black Owls), and was introduced to a flock of people (between them, Sean and Brian know every human in the Tri-State area) whose names are lost in a haze of previous beers but who were constant friendly faces in a sea of humanity over the next three days. I raise a perpetual glass to your continued well being and camaraderie.

It was back to the Globilli stage for The Airborne Toxic Event (named for a phrase in Don DeLillo’s 1985 chemical spill thriller, White Noise), which I’ve found to be one of the better muscular Indie Rock outfits. On the surface, they might seem like one of many innocuous radio-friendly ciphers but they’ve got a fascinating back-story, a fairly intricate sound and impressive songwriting talent. Frontman Mikel Jollett and his TATE cohorts played with a calculated frenzy to a rapturous response, and Jollett even injected a few serious moments into the festival’s spirited atmosphere to plug the Wounded Warrior Project and to offer some bi-partisan criticism (“Don‘t tell us you’re with us if you’re for cutting veterans’ benefits, don’t tell us you’re with us if you’re for raising taxes on returning veterans...”). A show with a message and a blazing soundtrack … not too shabby.

Then it was back to Landor for the most anticipated show of the night, and quite possibly the best show of the festival; the triumphant return of Cincy's Foxy Shazam. Eric Nally was in rare form, in both gymnastic stage behavior, microphone stand ballet and crowd interaction. A sampling of his repartee: (facing GABP) “Hey Votto, if you can hear me, hit the motherfucker out of the park..."; “I did an interview and when I read the story, the writer said we were unique, and I said, ‘Yeah, we‘re unique, just like everybody else..."; “Spill a little wine over here, spill a little wine over there, eventually everything’s red, spill a little blood over here, spill a little blood over there, eventually everything’s dead.”

During “Unstoppable,” someone winged a bottle of Gatorade at Nally, who flung it straight back and took issue by singing “Whoever threw that Gatorade is going to pay” at the close of the song. He then chastised the offender, saying, “Don’t make me explain to my kids why I have a bottle of Gatorade stuck up my ass,” and noting that he would let security allow the thrower backstage if he wanted to fight. Classic Nally.

Later, Schuyler White danced on his keyboard then tossed it onto the front row of the audience and dove into the crowd, playing while the audience held him in place. Classic Foxy. The crowd went batshit crazy when Foxy launched into “I Like It” from their latest and best album, The Church of Rock and Roll. At the breathless conclusion of Foxy’s set, the bar was officially set for the next two days.

With a fairly elaborate stage set complete with women on trapezes and giant video monitors displaying some sort of acid freak-out movie from the ’60s, Jane’s Addiction clearly trumped Foxy in terms of spectacle but fell short in terms of raw energy. Dave Navarro peeled off plenty of scorching riffery, his patented classic combination of ’80s Hard Rock and ’90s AltRock with his guitar set to stun, Stephen Perkins bashed his kit like a man possessed and new bassist Chris Chaney supplied a thunderous heartbeat, while Perry Farrell stalked the Globilli Stage like an earthbound raptor, howling his way through a set comprised of songs from their latest album, last year’s The Great Escape Artist, and heavy on the classics from their other three discs.

The show couldn’t be characterized as lackluster or phoned in, as it was a feast for the senses; plenty of engaging trappings and a propulsive soundtrack that tapped into memories of a visceral and compelling band on the edge of the alternative frontier two and a half decades ago. It was all incredibly entertaining, but it was a far cry from the scalp-tingling urgency of JA’s hungrier days, which is why this tour was designed with so much visual overload; few if any bands are able to recreate their earliest chemistry 25 years after the fact. My favorite JA memory will always be their opening set for Iggy Pop in 1988; seeing Jane’s at Bogart‘s that night was the aural equivalent of licking an electric outlet. I was certainly not disappointed with what transpired during JA’s Bunbury set, but neither was I spellbound by it. And Farrell’s humorously profane diatribe (“Let the pussies hear you!”) linking Pete Rose’s absence in the Baseball Hall of Fame to Jane’s Addiction’s lack of nominations two years after their eligibility was a bit awkward; he seemed to think steroids were somehow involved in Rose’s case, and as far as JA is concerned, well, four albums over a quarter century span, regardless of the influence of the first two, does not a Hall of Fame career comprise. I was glad to have experienced Jane‘s Addiction in the 21st century and I like the bombast they’ve created to present their old and new material but, as Blue Oyster Cult once noted, this ain’t the summer of love.

At some point during the JA set, I spied my most excellent zen editor Mike Breen, so I sidled over for some quick face time (being freelance I don‘t get into the office as much as I probably should), and he seemed to be digging the show greatly. I look forward to his thoughts on it because I greatly respect his musical opinions in a completely non-ass nuzzling way. (Editor's Note: You're hired! Fireworks rock! And "Free Pete Rose"!)

And Jim’s wife, my niece Robin, came late to the festival but somehow spotted me in the twilight and gave me a nudge in the back. Even though she is only five years my junior, I have been married to her aunt for almost three decades, and so I am and will forever be Uncle Brian, which is both touching and charming. A good number of the nieces and nephews I inherited when I started dating my wife have kids of their own now. Time and the generations march on.

I left Mike to his JA reverie when I spotted revered music connoisseur and branding legend Matthew Fenton (once an occasional CityBeat music contributor), who came down from his lair in Chicago to experience Bunbury’s inaugural year. I had e-mailed him to ask if he and his most excellent girlfriend Kelly would be in attendance, but never heard back. Turns out he’d quit his job after last year’s MidPoint and has taken up the study of improv comedy at Second City, a program from which he will graduate next month. I am both astonished and completely unsurprised because Matthew is a genius that makes geniuses insecure. Matthew assured me that Kelly would be around for Saturday’s festivities and introduced me to his older brother John, an equally princely guy by all indications.

Now we have a festival.

Saturday, July 14

I made my way back to the media entrance, this time being tended by old friend Jacob Heintz (Buckra) and the lovely and talented Sara Beiting (a former CityBeat all-star). The cloud cover was heavier, and it had already rained relatively hard north of the city but it didn’t seem to have impacted the downtown area too badly. I grabbed a beer and made my way through the throng … or did I make my way through the throng and grab a beer? The skies were not the only things that were partly cloudy.

At the Globilli stage, I was just in time for the start of Alberta Cross, a British duo now getting their mail in Brooklyn and fleshing out their live sound with a full fledged band. They sported an expansive vibe that had an appealing Verve quality, or Oasis without the contentious brothers problem screwing everything up.—-

I ducked out of Alberta Cross a shade early to navigate the full length of Bunbury over to the AliveOne Stage in order to see Black Taxi, another band from the wilds of Brooklyn. They were very much a New York band, offering a purer Indie Rock spin on The Strokes, with an occasional Space Rock shimmer and a seemingly endless well of energy. Just as Ezra Huleatt sang, “I just need a little sunshine, it doesn’t have to be a lot,” a muted ray peeked through the cloud cover on cue.

I love when Rock reflects life.

En route to Black Taxi, I ran into Mark Messerly, one of the only musicians doing double duty at Bunbury with both Wussy and Messerly and Ewing (unless you count Bunbury founder and M&E drummer Bill Donabedian, who was apparently looking forward to their imminent set because it was an opportunity for him to be told what to do for a change this weekend). Mark was in the company of his two young sons, Owen and Lincoln, and in his wisest father tone warned them that I was with the press. In my most menacing voice, I hissed, “I can ruin you.” The boys laughed, which really speaks ill of my most menacing voice. Perhaps this is why my daughter never actually believed that I was going to bite the nose off the first boy she brought home.

After Black Taxi, it was all the way back to Globilli to witness the spare magnificence of Jukebox the Ghost, who vibrate on a similar wavelength as the Ben Folds Five, with maybe just a shade more Indie and a brushstroke or two more Rock, a la Queen, Jellyfish and Sparks. In the midst of a rousing set, vocalist/keyboardist Ben Thornewill issued the quote of the day; “You can only take so much acid before nothing happens.”

Just outside the Bud Light Stage, where I was headed to catch a portion of the Messerly and Ewing set, I crossed paths with the Fenton brothers and Matthew’s exquisite moll Kelly, who is either quite fond of me or a stunning actress. Either way, an old man loves a hug from a pretty woman. I was also hailed by CityBeat publisher and all round good guy Dan Bockrath, who informed me in no uncertain terms that the buying of beers was strictly a MidPoint phenomenon, not to be repeated on today’s festival turf. “So blog that!” he yelled as he slapped me with his glove, whipped out his rapier and carved the Bunbury bee into my left cheek. Serves me right for having my pants down in the first place, I suppose.

First up in the next cluster of shows was Messerly and Ewing, who are an Indie Pop powerhouse of no small proportion. Mark and Brian are exceptional songwriters, back that up with some nice guitar work and harmonize with a natural ease typically reserved for siblings. Mr. Rhiney is the polar opposite of a stoic bassist as he whomps out M&E’s pulse with the rubbery animated vigor of a lead guitarist, and Mr. Donabedian unleashed all of his pent up festival anxiety in a torrent of blistering rhythm. Mark introduced the band (“We’re from Brooklyn. We could be from Seattle; no, we’ll be from Brooklyn...”) and announced that they would be available for a meet and greet after their set (“So if you want to snuggle sweaty middle aged men, come on over...”).

Later, Mark asked his son Lincoln how he liked the show, eliciting this pointed critique; “It was good, but you still talk too much.” Ah, kids. You can’t live with them and you can’t put them in stocks and pillories anymore.

Then it was back down to the AliveOne Stage for the briefest taste of The Sundresses. I’ve said it before and here it comes again, my journalistic objectivity is pretty much over the falls and down the river where the ’dresses are concerned. I love what they do and I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future. They’re on the verge of releasing a new album, so I’ll save my wild-eyed hyperbole for that. They finished up their set with a heart-pounding spin through “Hey Hey Bang Bang,” which connected like a truncheon in the solar plexus, as always. I loves me some Sundresses.

I skated back to the Bud Light Stage for a couple of songs from Imagine Dragons, who were being followed by a film crew documenting their day at Bunbury. I really liked what I heard of them online when I wrote up their preview but I found them slightly less compelling live, although the fairly large crowd they attracted seemed to be loving it. Maybe I was hoping for a little more spit and a little less anthemic polish. It certainly wasn’t bad, just not what I wanted at the moment. No harm, no foul.

So with that, I rolled back down to AliveOne, where I knew I could get a quick fix of filthy from The Lions Rampant. Stuart MacKenzie and whoever happens to be comprising the band at any given moment have the innate ability to kill it every single time. The Lions Rampant makes Garage Rock that is every bit as dirty and yet completely functional as an actual garage.

After The Lions Rampant divested the pastoral AliveOne landscaping of a few leaves, it was a quick stroll back to Globilli for one of my favorite contemporary bands, Manchester Orchestra. Seven years ago, I was at Maggie May’s in Austin during SXSW, lunching by myself at a patio table that would comfortably seat more, when a group of kids came up looking for a table. Seeing none, they approached and asked with the most impeccable manners if they could join me. I said, “Absolutely,” and as we worked on our buffet plates, we traded reasons for being at SXSW. When I mentioned that I was a writer, one of them immediately reached into his pack, produced an EP and handed it to me. They looked barely out of high school (in fact, they were), but I liked their chosen name — "Manchester Orchestra" — and I loved the intricate title of their five-song release; You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, But Brilliance Needs a Good Editor. I popped it in the rental car CD player later and was knocked out by their mix of power and subtlety, an amazing dynamic that blended Indie Rock vulnerability with scorching Shoegaze volume.

MO played the World Cafe showcase that year, but their time slot conflicted with a show I was covering, so I didn’t get to see them. But I’ve followed them closely ever since and have yet to be disappointed. This was my first chance to see them live, and they didn’t disappoint in that context either; Manchester Orchestra is a face-melting force of nature onstage, and even their desirable subtlety gets an adrenalized kick in the ass. For an hour set, they stuck mainly to their last two albums, 2009’s Mean Everything to Nothing and 2011’s Simple Math, but they did dip back to their 2006 debut full-length, Like a Virgin Losing a Child, for “I Can Barely Breathe,” but it was all stunning. Let‘s have lunch again sometime soon, guys.

Then it was time for a beer run and an actual run to the Bud Light Stage to catch a little of the Dan Deacon show. I had just interviewed Deacon for an upcoming piece in Magnet, and I loved the Kraftwerk-meets-Classic-Rock vibe of his new album America and his very different take on the DJ culture, as well as his very pointed political and social opinions. Deacon, his iPod backing tracks and his two live drummers ripped through a couple of songs, but the other thing that he loves to do is crowd interaction (“Everybody raise your left arm; now point to the cloud that represents your idea of justice...”), so while he was organizing a dance contest near the front of the stage, I motored.

I might well have stayed for more of Dan Deacon’s antics, but 500 Miles to Memphis was just around the bend at the AliveOne Stage, and I couldn’t miss that. For the smaller stage and truncated set, 500MTM was shaved to a five-piece but like anything with a kick, when you distill it down to its essence, it delivers its full potency in a smaller dose. Ryan Malott was in full-bore mode, the band was tighter than a Republican gnat’s ass and the crowd was sopping it up like a biscuit to gravy.

Then Malott called David Rhodes Brown to the microphone and took his place at Brown’s pedal steel as the Cincinnati music veteran uncorked a stunning version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” which he had done for his debut solo CD, 2010’s Browngrass & Wildflowers; clearly, it was based on Rick Rubin’s arrangement of the song for Johnny Cash, but in the hands of 500MTM, the dynamic was even greater, a quiet desperation swelling to a swaggering declaration. It was, like all things touched by 500 Miles to Memphis — rockin', twangy, tangy Alt.Country goodness.

I meandered back to the Globilli Stage and sat under a tree with Trish Appleby as we waited for The Gaslight Anthem to start. My legs and back were starting to protest the punishment I’d been subjecting them to, plus I was starting to get ravenously hungry; I’d used up every molecule of energy in my slice from Pizza Bomba earlier in the afternoon. But those concerns were blown to vapor with the first visceral chords from the Anthem; I’ve had the chance to interview Brian Fallon a couple of times, and I absolutely love his down-to-earth demeanor and his Asbury Park-spin on Punk. Equally informed by Misfits and Bruce Springsteen, The Gaslight Anthem crafts a blistering Punk soundtrack that roars with the epic power of needle-pegging heartland Rock. Fallon and the boys offered a quick taste of their new album, Handwritten, with the song “45,” then drove like maniacs through their estimable catalog, throwing in a Pearl Jam cover and finishing up with an exquisite take on The Who‘s “Baba O’Riley.”

With “teenage wasteland” as my walking music, I hightailed it back to the Bud Light Stage area, not for a band but for a little bucket of Island Noodles. On every trip through this vendor plaza, I caught the scent of noodle goodness and I was determined to regain my strength by seeing if their taste was as good as their aroma. Was it ever. There is a ridiculously funny story that goes with this meal break, but in the interest of time and space, I’ll skip it. If you really want to hear about it, drop me a line or stop me on the street and say, “Tell me about noodle karma.”

I had planned on checking out Grouplove but chose dinner, so with the noodle bucket empty and my soul and stomach filled, I headed back to Globilli for the evening’s closer,  Weezer. The crowd for Rivers Cuomo and company was easily twice as large as the assemblage for Jane’s Addiction the night before and, perhaps exppectedly, slightly more unruly.

Not being a huge fan of Weezer, I came to the show with little expectation beyond hearing the handful of songs I was familiar with and seeing their energetic presentation. I was actually quite surprised at how many songs I recognized during Weezer’s 90-minute set, a fairly consistent reminder of how ubiquitous they were on the radio in their heyday. The band’s diehard fans, who were in great abundance, were clearly and rightly loving every minute and every note, even if Weezer’s musical performance was far outpacing their physical presence.

Perhaps more disconcerting for me was Cuomo’s crowd interaction, which seemed to straddle the line between hipster irony and disaffected douchery. He welcomed fans to “the Bunbury Festival, Friday (sic), July 14, 2012 … at least that’s what it says on my set list,” and perpetually addressed the audience as “Cincinnati and the surrounding area” (as in “Thank you, Cincinnati and the surrounding area,” or “Good evening, Cincinnati and the surrounding area,” or “How are you tonight, Cincinnati and the surrounding area?”). I found myself wondering relatively frequently, “Is he being funny or is he being a dick?” which ultimately led me to play a game show in my head: Funny or Dicky? Dicky won by, well, a dick.

The band played a handful of obscure B-sides and lesser known tracks like “Longtime Sunshine,” but Cuomo skirted the edge of insulting his core fanbase by intimating that an overwhelming percentage of the unwashed at his feet wouldn’t know the song and only a small sliver of believers would appreciate the song and the band’s memory of it. He didn’t use those words but his tone was every bit as condescending.

Weezer's encore of Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” was greatly unexpected and wildly received and finishing up with “Beverly Hills” was a nice exclamation point on a fun but relatively unremarkable set.

Sunday, July 15

After once again being greeted by Jacob and Sara at the media gate (sadly with the news of the cancellation of Passion Pit’s set due to illness), I navigated through the Craft Beer Village to the Bud Light Stage to experience the expansive wide-eyed wonder of Belle Histoire, who incorporate a number of disparate influences into a sound that resembles a heartland version of the Cranberries.

I had done an interview with keyboardist/vocalist Jane Smith and bassist Mitch Winsett earlier in the week and after spinning through their just-released album Dreamers a couple of times, I was really looking forward to hearing them in the live context.

The sky was fairly overcast, but it had been for most of the previous day and the only result on Saturday was a brief 20-minute shower that barely registered as rain. While waiting for the show to start, I ran into my pal Paul Roberts and his wrecking crew, who had seen BH at last year’s MidPoint and were looking forward to this set. Just as the quintet hit the stage for what was to be guitarist Aaron Hunt’s final performance before embarking on a production career, the rain began to fall, and with each successive song, it fell with greater force and volume.

By the end of Belle Histoire’s third song, the rain was somewhere between monsoonic and biblical and lightning was streaking between clouds, creating sonic booms of thunder. At that point, staff rightly halted the proceedings, Jane said, “I think we’re going to take a little break until this clears up,” and most everyone hightailed it away from the flagpoles/lightning rods that dotted the area.

A number of us hid out under the Big Mac bridge but the storm continued unabated for over 30 minutes. Belle Histoire were ultimately able to finish their truncated set, but the Black Owls — featuring former Sparrow Bellows drummer (and another former CityBeat allstar), the aforementioned Brian Kitzmiller — were washed out completely, a sad circumstance since they’d drawn family and friends from their Granville, Ohio, home (and well beyond) for their Bunbury set. Luckily for us, they’ll be back to play in August, and they’re scheduled for this year’s MidPoint in September, but it’s small consolation for the Owls’ entourage who came to Bunbury.

Once the rain let up and the skies cleared to an improbable blue, I bolted over to Globilli to check out the sinewy Math Rock of Maps and Atlases. Everyone’s slots were being shortened to keep the schedule as intact as possible and get it all done before the intractable Sunday noise curfew of 10 p.m., so M&A blew through their truncated set with a masterful combination of power and intricacy as a decent sized crowd showed their enthusiastic support.

Then it was right next door to the Landor Stage for Wussy, who just moments before had been wolfing down a quick snack to sustain them during their set. Everyone who spied the band (myself included) asked them when they were going to go on, to which they shrugged and offered some variation on “Soon.”

Singer/guitarist Chuck Cleaver ultimately noted, “We’re so bad at marketing this band … it’s like someone trying to sell buggy whips or something.”

Within minutes, Wussy hit the Landor Stage with tremulous takes on “Funeral Dress” and “Airborne,” and a couple of shambling psychedelic delights from their latest, Strawberry. During the bulk of Wussy’s set, a yacht sat floating on the river just behind the stage, populated by several women in bikinis and Santa Claus caps, who waved at the crowd on the Serpentine Wall.

It was a strange and strangely appropriate visual accompaniment to Wussy‘s gentle fury.

The always entertaining quartet finished up with a chaotic and squalling version of “Rigor Mortis,” which they had clearly intended as their set closer. After a quick aside, Chuck leaned back into the mic and said, “That was anti-climactic. We have eight minutes …” and so the band launched into the gorgeous and compelling “Don’t Leave Just Now,” perhaps the most quietly beautiful song in their canon. It was a spectacular finish to a much-too-brief Wussy set.

After chatting up and commiserating with the always animated Kitzmiller, a quick con-fab with Dave Davis, among the best ears in Cincinnati music, and a brief what-up with Eddy Mullet — host of the Friday evening slot on Class X with whom I do my weekend music guide — who was shepherding his daughter around the festival, I headed over to the Bud Light Stage to enjoy The Seedy Seeds, one of my favorite local bands in recent memory. With the rain a distant memory and the sun baking down, Margaret Darling announced that she was challenging notoriously perspirational bandmate Mike Ingram to a sweat-off; Mike in turn noted that he had already spotted Margaret a T-shirt, as he’d soaked one clear through during load in. She never stood a chance.

The one disadvantage of the Bud Light Stage was its distinct lack of shade anywhere near the actual stage, so after three Seedy Seeds tunes, I was done to about medium rare and chose to move down to the tree-lined comfort of the AliveOne Stage to catch the latter portion of Ume.

It may have been a few degrees cooler because of the shade surrounding AliveOne, but the heat generated by guitarist Lauren Larson and her hammer-and-tong rhythm section was clearly greater than the cool derived from the trees and the breeze. Hailing from Austin, Texas, one of the greatest music cities on the planet, Ume (oo-may) roars with the thunderous authority of a classic ’60s power trio as Larson shreds, shrieks and careens around the stage like a woman possessed. There was more than a hint of Blue Cheer to Ume’s visceral set and I was also reminded of ’80s guitar goddess Sylvia Juncosa, whose band To Damascus provided a similarly contemporized slant on psychedelic Hard Rock, but Larson offered an even broader and more physical interpretation, at one point manipulating her guitar-and-pedals rig to simulate the sound of a massive church organ, an awesome and hair-raising effect.

Ume was musically and visually one of Bunbury’s highlights for me.

I’d planned on skating down to catch City and Colour, but I chose to accept a beer from Matthew, and check out a few songs from Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, and then head back down to the AliveOne to enjoy the always captivating live-and-taped sounds of Bad Veins.

The shade that blanketed the plaza above the AliveOne Stage didn’t extend to the “dance floor” in front of the stage or to the apron of the stage itself, so Bad Veins guitarist Benjamin Davis and drummer Sebastien Schultz were broiling like flank steaks in the unrelenting sun. Schultz in particular looked like he was on the verge of a stroke, and Davis quipped at one point, “Have I complained enough about the sweat in my eyes?,” which he followed quickly with, “Wah, this job is so hard.” They may well have been on the verge of dropping, but Bad Veins pushed all the right emotional and physical buttons with their powerful and engaging set.

I’d flirted with sticking around the CMC Stage for Will Hoge, or even hitting Globilli to give my daughter a report on Neon Trees, but the three day festival was taking its toll and in the end I opted to eschew both in favor of nabbing a good spot for Guided By Voices at the Landor. When Robert Pollard and GBV’s "classic" lineup hit the stage, the packed assemblage on the Serpentine Wall erupted with spontaneous joy as the band launched into a set that was almost exclusively comprised of their two albums from this year — Let’s Go Eat the Factory and Class Clown Spots a UFO — and a few from their soon-to-be-released third installment in 2012, The Bears for Lunch.

There were a few older surprises — Pollard dedicated “Game of Pricks” to a young lady in the audience who was experiencing her first GBV show — but ultimately it didn’t really matter what they did, so long as they were doing what they always do, which was emptying a cooler full of beer, draining a bottle of tequila and filling the air with the most brilliantly hallucinogenic Indie Rock known to mankind.

I stuck around for Death Cab For Cutie, but by that point my head felt like it was filled to overflowing with titanium bumblebees and very little of it sunk in. I ran into Belle Histoire bassist Mitch Winsett, who was looking for the rest of the band, and reported that the rest of their set, brief as it was, had been great. I wished him and the band well and headed down the plaza, where I ran into Matthew and Kelly, photographer Michael Kearns (a super nice guy and a fantastic lensman) and Eric and Trish Appleby (they're in the band 7 Speed Vortex). I wound up getting into a long discussion with Eric about the Cincinnati music scene, its rich heritage and its relative contemporary health and DCFC provided a lovely backdrop for the conversation; I understand that Ben Gibbard offered his opinion that GBV should have closed Bunbury, and if I’d heard him, I would have agreed. At the same time, much like Weezer on Saturday night, Death Cab drew an intensely faithful crowd who were enthralled for the band’s entire 90-minute set, so it was a perfect end to what turned out be an absolutely spectacular debut for Bunbury.

How good was it? No one got arrested, there were no egregious incidents of asshattery (there were several non-egregious incidents but that's to be expected in a crowd of 50,000) and whatever one thought of the bands as far as their specific tastes, everybody walked away loving most of what they witnessed.

Thanks must be spread out among the fantastic and diligent staff who made Bunbury run like a fine Swiss clock, the bands who provided a brilliant soundtrack and, of course, Bill Donabedian, whose Zeus-like head produced the reality of Bunbury.

I would also offer my personal thanks to all the friends and acquaintances who powered my three-day experience and made it a truly special weekend … if you didn’t see yourself reflected in this account, it’s not because you didn’t matter, it’s because I’m way past deadline and this became the Reader‘s Digest version.

And an equal share of the gratitude should be extended to everyone who got up off their comfort zones and headed down to Sawyer Point for what we can only hope is many years of incredible cutting edge entertainment.

PS: One last bit of Bunbury business; at some point, I started keeping track of my favorite T-shirts as I strolled around the festival grounds. I’m not sure why, but what‘s done is done.

Here they are, in no particular order (until No. 1):

"Stop Looking at My Shirt"


"Tight Butthole"

"My Other T-Shirt Has a Skull On It"

"I Would Cuddle You So Hard"

Any Jimi Hendrix T-shirt

Fishbone/Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He‘s the Center of the Universe (hey, that was mine, but it was one of my favorites)

"Don’t Get Emo"

Cap’n Crunch (ironic or not, I love me some Crunch)

"High & Outside" (I don’t think this was a baseball reference...)

"Han Shot First"

And the winner, featuring a posterized photo of President Taft with a huge Afro …

"Wm. Howard Shaft" (with Shaft in the actual movie logo lettering … brilliant)

Click here and here for lots of photos from last weekend's Bunbury Music Festival.