Nobody needs to be told how incredibly awesome this 2024 Bourbon & Beyond Festival lineup is. Announced on Wednesday (1-24), the lineup set to transpire at the Highland Festival Ground in Louisville, Kentucky September 19-22 is arguably the best festival lineup we’ve ever seen grace independent country music.
Bourbon & Beyond includes Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers, and Cody Jinks, all of whom would constitute the prime headliner at any other independent country megafestival. Whiskey Myers, Shane Smith and the Saints, Koe Wetzel, and Sierra Ferrell are also headliner-level performers.
You also have headliner level artists from the bluegrass realm like The Sam Bush Band and Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, headliners from the blues realm such as Samantha Fish and Tedeschi Trucks Band, and a ton of top names from indie rock like Beck, The National, and My Morning Jacket. There are also a few classic rock acts thrown in there like Neil Young and The Beach Boys.
Long story short, this lineup is a monster, and even with four days to handle it all, it still looks like too much to take in. But obviously, that’s a good problem to have. The Bourbon & Beyond promoters have added two new stages for 2024 for a total of five, as well as 40 additional performance slots.
It’s not even fair to consider this lineup in the same vein as the country music megafestivals that have popped up all over the United States over the last few years like Under The Big Sky in Montana, Rebels & Renegades in California, Two Step Inn in Texas, and the Railbird Festival also in Kentucky, not to mention half a dozen more new ones that have are coming on line already in 2024.
The Bourbon & Beyond lineup is even bigger, and sort of its own beast. It’s not exactly Coachella, Bonnaroo, or ACL Fest—the true mega monogenre festivals that try to cater to everyone. Even with it’s diverse lineup, Bourbon and Beyond is still slanted to a specific crowd that cuts across a few select demographics.
Bourbon & Beyond also doesn’t come with the corporate baggage some of the other country music megafestivals do. It’s not owned by LiveNation, LiveNation’s cousin C3 Presents, or even AEG. Instead its owned by the comparatively small, but apparently mighty Danny Wimmer Presents. Based in Los Angeles, it’s been a big player in the rock world for years. They also promote the Louder Than Life rock festival in Louisville.
So what is the concern about a festival such as this? There are a few.
First, a festival this gargantuan is inevitably going to put other festivals on perilous footing, or potentially out of business, including perhaps other independent country megafestivals. Bourbon & Beyond is going big here and betting it all on 2024. This is their moment to establish themselves as the big dog in this space.
Who could suffer? The most obvious event would be AmericanaFest in Nashville, which is currently scheduled to transpire on the same week, from September 17th – 21st. The Pilgrimage Fest in Franklin, TN is also often on this same weekend, which has already created conflicts of interest with AmericanaFest over the years. Both of these events are less than 200 miles from Louisville, and this could be significant concern for these organizations.
The Tyler Childers-led Healing Appalachia to promote recovery is also often on this same weekend. Like AmericanaFest, it is a non-profit event.
Born & Raised Fest in Pryor, Oklahoma is also set to transpire the weekend before. Bourbon and Beyond could definitely draw away from other destination-style festivals throughout the fall season, and throughout the United States. Where years previous there were only a few festivals that catered to independent country music, we’re now in the midst of an independent roots megafestival arms race. There are going to be winners and losers.
And despite all of the great names on the Bourbon & Beyond lineup, just like with so many of these megafestivals, you get these wild card acts that don’t really fit in the lineup at all, and seem to be booked just to satisfy certain loud voices in the room that don’t represent anyone but themselves. Maren Morris should be nowhere near this lineup, and not because of her political stances. She is the essence of pop who made a big public pronouncement late last year that she was leaving the country genre.
Breland is once again used as the token Black guy whose sound doesn’t fit the lineup, when performers like Chapel Hart or Aaron Vance would have worked much better. This isn’t fair to Breland or anyone else. It is good to see The War & Treaty on the lineup.
But this brings up the other concern with all of these megafestivals: you see the same artists and bands on these lineups no matter where the megafestival is. It’s like every one of these festivals is cheating off of each other’s lineup posters. Every one of them wants Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers, and Cody Jinks to headline. As great as these guys are (though Bryan and Childers are very polarizing among independent fans for a host of reasons), the repetitiveness of the names lacks imagination.
Meanwhile who you never see on these lineups is Gabe Lee, whose latest album Drink The River was at the top of so many 2023 Best Of lists, and who is excellent live. You never see Mike and the Moonpies, who remain arguably the greatest country band in all of live music. You never see names like Brennen Leigh, who’s been at it for years. Meanwhile you have to get four lines deep into the lineup to find a woman, and it’s Maren Morris.
Sure, only a few select names can headline a festival like this. But when you see lineups like the ones for The Jackalope Jamboree in Oregon, or Laurel Cove Music Festival in Kentucky, you can tell these promoters have done their homework. They’re fans and listen to this music, and know how to curate it intuitively as opposed to just booking what every other festival is booking, or who talent agencies are telling them to.
But perhaps the biggest concern here is when you make these events so gargatuan, you lose some of the most important aspects that make independent music so cool, especially when you back fill these events with indie rock bands and artists like “The Beach Boys” just to increase general interest ticket sales in the local market.
With a lineup that is likely to draw well over 30,000 people—which is the current high water mark for one of these festivals (FairWell Fest in Redmond, OR, 2023)—you can lose the intimacy that fans have with artists, the music, and each other. Sure, some of this can still happen at a megafestival. But the bigger they become, the less likely that is. And guess what, you’re not going to see all the artists on the lineup. You’re not even going to see 1/4 of them. But you’re paying for them all.
There’s no doubt if you buy a ticket to Bourbon & Beyond, you will walk away entertained. This is not to discourage anyone from going. But part of what is cool about music festivals is the camaraderie and the community. Sometimes it’s what happens after the music ends in campgrounds and such that you remember the most. It’s about making lifelong friends out of perfect strangers just because you were standing next to each other on the rail and struck up a conversation.
Make no mistake about it, the 2024 lineup for Bourbon & Beyond is beautiful and glorious as everyone is saying. Who knows, Saving Country Music might even be there checking it out and reporting live from it. But it also feels like someone needs to raise their little hand and give a quiet voice of concern. Let’s make sure independent country doesn’t become like corporate country through the back door. Bigger is not always better. Sustainability and community should be the paramount concern when it comes to curating the live music experience.
Tickets can be purchased HERE.