I was really excited to find out I was going to get Media Passes for the inaugural Bourbon And Beyond. I’ll admit that without the help of my daughter Amelia, I would’ve been writing about it from my house after the show each day. The access this afforded me was fantastic; I could go anywhere except back stage and talk to a lot of the industry folks I would have had to try and find in the crowd both days. Being able to go to the Media Camp and use a faster internet service also helped because there were so many people posting in the crowd about what a great time they were having. Thank you Danny Wimmer Presents.
I haven’t been to a festival of this size in a while so I was a little worried about whether some things might go awry due to this being the first, but not the last Bourbon and Beyond. Guess what, the intersection getting off the highway was the ONLY complaint I have. Once parked, all previous worries were for nothing.
From the minute we entered the gate to when we left that evening I was impressed with the work crews, considering the logistics of keeping an area the size of this festival functioning, safe and clean. There were workers and police officers continually wandering through the crowd helping direct lost attendees, picking up after people that had moved to another area and keeping everyone safe. A couple of early misdirections by some of the younger workers the first morning never happened again. Placed about every 50 yards or so were garbage/recycling stations that were emptied at 20 minute intervals ALL day. Not seeing the receptacles overflowing and trash all over the ground will be one of the main reasons this festival will repeat annually and I’ll be back for every one of them.
I talked to a lot of bourbon folks/nerds B&B weekend and the agreement was that the people were the best. Caleb Kilburn, the Head Distiller (his description) of Peerless Distillery talked about how friendly and courteous all of the Festival workers were. He was impressed at how hard everyone was working despite the unseasonable heat. Dave Pickerell, the Master Distiller at Whistle Pig, Hillrock and George Washington’s Distillery seconded Caleb’s vote on the people working. Dave said he enjoyed how eclectic the crowd was too. Matthew Landan, who owns The Haymarket Whiskey Bar talked about “the people, the whiskey heads that came to be in the middle of Bourbon Heaven, and they come to Bourbon and Beyond and they’re finding it”.
Another big plus in my mind was having two stages next to each other for the main musical acts. While one stage was being used, the other one was being broken down and reset for the next group. This meant each band started at the prescribed time and had only 5 – 10 minutes in between. This noticeably kept the boredom factor of the crowd to a minimum and made for a very enjoyable day. Buddy Guy on the first day and Gary Clark Jr. on the second are my picks for best musical act. Best friends of mine, Jim and Lisa Kraft and their daughter Katie would argue that Eddie Vedder was the best artist the whole weekend and Shannon Fisher, part of the publicity team for Bourbon and Beyond stated that Eddie’s performance gave her chills it was so good.
The second day it was nice to see that everything was as good or better than it was the day before. You know how it is; people are excited and gung-ho at the beginning and overdo it. The heat might have made an impact that could have been difficult to recover from. Far from it. Everything and everyone turned out to impress me all over again. Bruce Corwin is the founder of The Bourbon Brotherhood and his feeling was that it was all tremendous. He said that from the workshop he attended (with writer Fred Minnick , Corky Taylor from Peerless Distillery and Kaveh Zamanian owner of Rabbit Hole Distillery) to the Kenny Wayne Shepherd concert and everything in between, because it was difficult for him to single out any one thing as the best. Sarah Havens who has written extensively about spirits under the name The Bar Belle appreciated the workshops and cooking demonstrations. Linda Rabenecker Ruffenach, the Founder of The Whiskey Chicks and soon to have a book published had served drinks the morning of the Chicks and Champs Gospel Brunch also liked the workshops the most. It was a great way to keep up on her whiskey education.
And some of the best cooking was all of the food trucks and booths. A Gyro from one of the local food trucks was big enough that my wife Catherine and I split it. Day 2 we got the Teriyaki Chicken at the franchise Island Noodles. It felt like there was 8 pounds of food in the container and I couldn’t shove it in my face fast enough. Everybody complimented all of the food even though I did hear rumors that some of the booths tried to raise prices on Sunday. At the end of the festival I was able to talk with Clay Busch, the head honcho of the weekend, about what is in the future for Bourbon and Beyond. I can’t talk a lot about what was said but I can say he was just as impressed with the people coming to the festival as I was with his crew of workers.
My final question for my interviews was to name their favorite bourbon. Yes, its an unfair question and yes, you have to answer it. Caleb was a great advertiser when he answered “it isn’t out yet because Peerless Bourbon is a couple of years away from bottling”. Dave was being sentimental too when he said Maker’s Mark due to his working there for 14 years. There were several votes for “the one in my hand” and I have to go see Bruce soon because his was “the one you’re gonna buy me”. I’m looking forward to what Danny Wimmer has in store for us next year. If you really want to see what can be done to accentuate bourbon and bourbon culture, you don’t want to miss the next one either.