For anyone who loves a strong bourbon and a sassy, string band, Bourbon & Beyond was the September music festival to attend in the home of bourbon, Louisville, Kentucky.
Headliners Jack White, Brandi Carlile, Pearl Jam, The Doobie Brothers and Chris Stapleton did not disappoint. While their performances on the main stage were nothing short of incredible, the magic of the festival was revealed behind the curtains of The Rocks Room tent.
This large tent near the festival gates featured intimate performances from CAAMP, Courtney Barnett, Shakey Graves and St. Vincent. To snag a spot in the audience, attendees had to make a number of money transactions through Zelle, the tent sponsor. Each performance saw 50+ people enjoying free drinks, food and the show.
To kick off the festival’s intimate sessions, Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known as American musician Shakey Graves, played a short acoustic set before taking to the main stage.
Rose-Garcia awkwardly mounted the small stage. He was clad in a brown plaid suit and dashing black boots. It was apparent that he’d never played a show quite like this before, but the experience was new for everyone in the room, including me.
As many artists do, Rose-Garcia resorted to cracking jokes to ease into the intimacy of the show. Yet, he discovered there was no guitar chord on stage for him to plug into. Instead, another microphone was positioned in front of his acoustic, which sounded just as good as it would have through an amp.
I was front and center, clutching my cameras and resisting the urge to jump from my seat to sway to the tunes. Sitting when one of your favorite musicians is playing your favorite songs merely inches away from you is quite challenging. I began shaking my legs up and down aggressively in a way I’d never done before.
Rose-Garcia performed stripped-down versions of his songs including Look Alive, Ready or Not and Family Tree. In the midst of rapid strumming, he dropped his only guitar pick and it settled below the leg of his microphone stand. Unable to find it, I quickly sprang into action and pointed it out to him—as if I didn’t already feel part of the show.
Standing on the left side of the Rocks Room stage, fumbling my camera in my shaky, sweaty hands, I anxiously awaited St. Vincent’s entrance.
I don’t often get starstruck around musicians (aside from Tom DeLonge), because it’s my job, right? But never in my life did I imagine I’d be close enough to touch Annie Clark, known as St. Vincent, as she strutted out on stage right in front of me. I could have poked her if I really wanted to.
She wore striking, pale pink, thick-based heels, and a black suit jacket that just barely covered her bra, spanks and black tights. Her signature soft red scarf hugged her neck. Her jet black hair was pulled back, secured to awaiting the blond wig she would throw on for the main stage. Her St. Vincent Signature Music Man gold electric guitar was draped over her shoulder. Her red lipstick was still marvelously intact (she’s known for a lip-smudged face from singing too close to her microphone).
St. Vincent is an artfully crafted character. A full-on St. Vincent show is a beautiful, theatrical performance. It’s easy to forget Clark is a quirky human just like the rest of us. It was a rare, special sighting to see her in her purest form as a musician. What’s unique about Clark, and any St. Vincent live performance, is that her songs never sound the same twice. She alters her vocal range, tempo and even some chord progressions. She is a true alternative artist, playing however she feels the music should be played on that particular day.
With the air conditioner not working that day in the private tent, the air was stagnant and sweat dripped down the faces of Clark and everyone in attendance as she played The Nowhere Inn, Masseduction and The Melting Of The Sun.
The soft strumming of guitar and banjo strings floated from the other side of a thin, purple curtain near me. Three members of the American folk band CAAMP, out of Ohio, made their way to the stage with hats on their heads and Michelob Ultras and guitars in hand.
Sitting on a row of stools, the trio offered humorous stories of life on the road and enjoying the outdoors between strumming a handful of songs. If their band name didn’t give it away, they’re a group of avid campers and outdoorsy folks.
The trio brought attendees back to the beginning of their career as a band with some older songs, including Vagabond. They’re known for their dynamism with the strings, and even without a full band to accompany them, the performance was cohesively sound. It was my first time seeing them live, and it was a great introduction for their full-band set later that day.
Gaining more traction this year after the release of their latest album Lavender Days, the group’s voices rang out on their top single Apple Tree Blues, as well as an unreleased song.
Kendall Polidori is The Rockhound, Luckbox’s resident rock critic. Follow her reviews on Instagram and Twitter @rockhoundlb.