Festival Review: Bunbury Festival (Cincinnati, OH)

Belle Histoire (Cincinnati, OH), Maps and Atlases (Chicago, IL), LIGHTS (Toronto, ON), City and Colour (St Catherines, ON), Good Old War (Philadelphia, PA), Neon Trees (Provo, UT), Death Cab For Cutie (Bellingham, WA)
July 15, 2012
Bunbury Festival in Cincinnati, OH

This year marked the inaugural Bunbury Festival in Cincinnati, OH.  This festival went so well that it is sure to be at least a direct competitor to Forecastle Festival in Louisville in future years.  Neon Trees even said it was one of the best festivals they have ever played at, but more on them later.  The festival is located in the adjacent Yeatman’s Cove and Sawyer’s Point parks, right on the Ohio riverfront and stones throw from downtown Cincinnati with its pro sports teams. A prime location.

We arrived mid-afternoon just in time to catch the tail end of local group Belle Histoire, wrapping up a set on the Bud Light stage which originally Passion Pit was slated to headline later in the day (before illness forced a cancellation).  I only heard a few minutes of their performance, but consider them a blend of Eisley and Deas Vail. I was intrigued.

After some brief exploration we ended up at the Globili stage (the main stage) where Maps and Atlases was playing a slightly delayed set. The band sounded exactly like on the record, a quality some will like and some will dislike.  They played a slew of cuts from Beware and Be Grateful, including “Fever” and “Old and Gray.” The drummer was fun to watch but I felt like the balance of the band could have been a bit more into it.  Also, the long silent transitions between songs made the set feel kind of awkward.  Nonetheless, these guys are good musicians and I’m glad I saw them.

Maps and Atlases

We made our way to the front of the main stage pit to wait for Canadian electro-pop songstress LIGHTS to bring it to the crowd.  Let me say it right now – she is an incredible performer.  I don’t mean this like she’s the next Lady Gaga or anything – in fact I mean the opposite.  The vocals were spot on, the band was fun to watch, and the whole time I got the sense that she was genuinely enjoying herself onstage, all the while conveying an aura of humility.  As for the setlist, it mostly consisted of cuts from her grittier record Siberia, including the title track, “Flux and Flow,” “Banner,” “Everybody Breaks a Glass,” “Fourth Dimension” and many others.   The bass and especially the dubstep influenced breakdowns SHOOK the ground – it was like an artificial breeze where we were standing.  I can’t stress enough how enjoyable this performance was – and she’s a cutie, which helps (she’s taken guys, sorry).


City and Colour had a heck of a challenge following up that performance on the main stage, and unfortunately it didn’t seem like the band was trying terribly hard to get into it.  Dallas Green had a great voice, but the balance of the band just looked uninspired.  I did like what I heard though, and wasn’t bored by the act (a good thing, given that this tends to happen with folk acts I’m unfamiliar with).

I then wandered over to the Landor Stage to catch the indie/folk-rock trio Good Old War to kill some time.  This was another group I was unfamiliar with prior to the festival, but had heard good things about.  The trio demonstrated a keen ability to work the crowd to their advantage, with all three members positioned near the front of the stage – no one was hiding behind a large drum kit or keyboard in the back here! Particularly fun was their rousing rendition of the classic “Day-O.”

Good Old War

I left Good Old War early to grab some grub and be near the main stage in time to catch the opening of Neon Trees.  Prior to this, I had only seen a short portion of their set in a Columbus show sponsored by our local alternative station, dubbed a “low dough” show on account of the ticket price.  How things have changed! The field was packed, and people were singing along.  The quartet predictably played their hits “Everybody Talks,” “Your Surrender,” and “Animal” along with a few deeper cuts like “1983” and “Love and Affection.” Tyler Glenn made up for his at times shaky singing ability with lots of charisma, entertaining stage banter, and prancing around in his stereotypical rock star outfit, complete with leather pants and a yellow vest. “Shake your head, shake your phalanges…!” he exclaimed midway through the set.

Most of the crowd stuck around for Death Cab For Cutie, and the field got only more packed.  The band had a sparse stage set-up, with four small towers of rotating colored spotlights in the back.  Ben Gibbard emerged to cheers and proceeded to play a solo rendition of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.”  The full band warmed up the crowd with Codes and Keys opener “Home is a Fire.”  One of the highlights of the set followed with the full 8+ minute version of “I Will Possess Your Heart.”  This performance cemented Nick Harmer as my favorite Death Cab member to watch live – his bass playing is flawless and he appears into it without being over the top.  The full set from the band numbered around 19 songs, and it flowed quickly without much talking between tunes.  Other highlights from the set included the unexpected performance of “Summer Skin” and the rousing main set ender “The New Year.”  By far the most amazing part of the set was the dual drum set-up that took place during the long outro in “We Looked Like Giants” that had Gibbard pounding away on his own set, facing Jason McKerr.  For the encore, the band performed “St Peter’s Cathedral” and “Soul Meets Body.”  It was fitting end to a nearly flawless performance, in which the sound mix was perfect.  This fitting end demonstrates that Bunbury Festival holds promise as far as festivals go, and I look forward to seeing who they bring in upcoming years.


  1. I Will Follow You Into the Dark
  2. Home is a Fire
  3. I Will Possess Your Heart
  4. Crooked Teeth
  5. Why You’d Want to Live Here
  6. Doors Unlocked and Open
  7. Grapevine Fires
  8. Summer Skin
  9. Lightness
  10. Portable Television
  11. You Are a Tourist
  12. Lowell, MA
  13. Amputations
  14. Cath…
  15. We Looked Like Giants
  16. The New Year
  17. Blacking Out the Friction / St Peter’s Cathedral
  18. Soul Meets Body
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