This past weekend was the inaugural Buckle Up Music Festival, organized by the same folks who brought Bunbury to Cincinnati, which took place for the third year last weekend. The advantage of doing these events in back to back weekends is that the stages and tents can all be easily reused. The disadvantage is that it has left me a little worn out and I only attended one day of each. There were a couple of differences between Buckle Up and Bunbury including the primary beer sponsor (Bud Light vs. Warsteiner) as well as some vendor differences, but the setup was mostly identical.
Natalie Stovall and the Drive on Bud Light Stage
Buckle Up was primarily a country music festival. However, Saturday’s lineup was mostly dedicated to folk, bluegrass, and Americana artists, which is much more my style. Natalie Stovall and the Drive caught my attention with an opening set medley of rock cover tunes before moving on to their original country genre, but I soon found myself on my way over to see singer-songwriter Joe Pug’s blend of folk-Americana.
Joe Pug on River Stage
The early Saturday afternoon crowd was light, but boats were already anchoring near the festival site and people were setting up blankets and chairs near the main stage to save spots for later bands. There were obvious age differences between the Bunbury and Buckle Up crowds. The youthful Bunbury crowd quickly bounces from stage to stage all day long, while many in the Buckle Up crowd seemed content to sit at a stage (maybe two) for the entire day, even if that meant time spent without listening to any live bands.
Houndmouth on Main Stage
One cool thing I saw at Buckle Up that I didn’t notice at Bunbury were the temporary tattoo schedules that Cincinnati Bell and other vendors were passing out for free. The tattoos only listed the lineups for the top three stages, but it will still a convenient way to quickly see who was playing without digging out the paper festival guide or unlocking your phone.
My favorite act of the day was easily The Lone Bellow’s performance on the river stage. This would be my third time seeing them play in the last year. Their 5 PM start coincided with the growing crowds, but I arrived a few minutes early to get a good spot on the floor just a row or two from the front rail. Their crowd continued to grow as their set went along and by the end the river stage seating area was near capacity. When I saw them first it seemed like 45 minutes was a full set for the band, but now with a year of touring under they belt they could have easily played for longer than the 45 minutes provided by the festival setting. I look forward to seeing them play again soon.
The Lone Bellow on River Stage
After catching some of Emmylou Harris on the main stage, I made my way back over to the river stage for Drive By Truckers. I was hoping I could get another good spot down on the floor, but upon my arrival it was clear that the crowd had continued to grow. At this point I realized that the crowd was larger than Bunbury’s Sunday attendance.
Drive By Truckers on River Stage
After catching some of Alison Krauss and Union Station on the main stage, I again returned to the river stage this time for Old Crow Medicine Show. Unfortunately the crowd had grown so much that we were forced to watch their set from the far left side of the stage, where the sound was less than ideal. When the crowd is manageable, the river stage is a great place to catch a set, but when the crowd is too large for the contained space, the beauty of this unique setting is lost.
Old Crow Medicine Show on River Stage
Willie Nelson closed out the night on the main stage with a massive crowd gathered on the festival lawn. I’m not sure what attendance was like on Friday or Sunday, but I would have to say based on Saturday’s crowd that the Buckle Up Music Festival will absolutely be back next year. If it does return, I hope that they again dedicate one of the days to music outside of standard country music. I know that I would do it again, but it makes buying tickets before the lineup is announced impossible.