Bourbon & Beyond: Don't Miss These Acts

Aug 15, 2023 at 11:15 pm

Bourbon & Beyond is quickly approaching. Happening the weekend of Sept. 14 - 17 at Highland Festival Grounds (1016 Phillips Ln.), we know that folks are excited about Bruno Mars, Blondie, Duran Duran and Brandi Carlisle but we’ve got a few of the other acts to catch while you still have time to plan for your Bourbon & Beyond weekend experience. While these acts are not at the top of the bill, they are not to be missed, and we think once you hear them, you’ll agree. 

COUNTRY, SOUL, ROOTS | Kelsey Waldon

Thursday, Sept. 14

You won’t want to miss Kelsey Waldon’s Thursday night show at Bourbon and Beyond. This songstress cleverly combines classic country sensibilities with progressive commentaries on life. Waldon told LEO Weekly that she can’t remember a time when she was not singing. Growing up in Monkey’s Eyebrow, KY, her influences included various local bluegrass bands, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Beatles, and the Grateful Dead. After moving to Nashville, and honing her performance skills for more than a decade, Waldon’s career suddenly got a big boost when she caught the ear of the late John Prine, who signed her to his Oh Boy record label several years ago. Throughout her ever-expanding discography, Waldon’s insightful lyrics (about addiction, poverty, church-going people and so forth) and plaintive vocals are enhanced by the sensational sonic environment she consistently cultivates in the studio. Of her top-notch backing band that will also accompany Waldon during her upcoming festival set, she said, “we’re seriously telepathic at this point, and it comes through in the music, even though a lot of what we capture is perfectly imperfect in many ways.” Waldon definitely seems pleased that she has transcended her original notoriety as a throwback artist. “I’m not that. I am just an artist. One that’s making music right now. I am not stuck anywhere in the past.” 

—Kevin Murphy Wilson

Buddy Guy. - Photo provided by artist.
Photo provided by artist.
Buddy Guy.

Blues | Buddy Guy

Thursday, Sept. 14

Even though he was born near the Mississippi Delta, Guy is a Chicago bluesman with his electric guitar and songs that have influenced some of the most extraordinary acts in rock and roll including Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. 

Currently on his “Damn Right” farewell tour, this may be your last chance to see Buddy Guy live. 

Guy has had a decorated music career but had his beginnings picking cotton as a child for $2.50 per 100 lbs and working as a custodian at Louisiana State University. Guy’s humble beginnings make his accomplishments that much sweeter. He moved to Chicago in 1957 and was mesmerized by fellow bluesman Muddy Waters whom he worked with. Guy worked with many of the blues greats as a session musician including Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Koko Taylor. Guy has also played for the Obamas at the White House. 

Guy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Eric Clapton and B.B. King in 2005. Throughout his career, he told Cleveland college station, WRUW-FM,  that he is always trying to get the right notes or to say “the right things” to get on the big stations — the classic rock stations. We’ll be happy to see Guy get on the big stages at Bourbon & Beyond.—Erica Rucker

R&B, soul, gospel | Mavis Staples

Thursday, Sept. 14

Mavis Staples is one of the best singers to ever walk the planet. The legendary R&B, soul, and gospel artist has a long and storied career, beginning with her family band, The Staples Singers, and later as a solo artist. From big hits such as “I’ll Take You There,” to the numerous collaborations with renowned artists such as Prince, Bob Dylan, and Run the Jewels, Staples has had a steady, versatile, and impactful path in music. Through messages that have always been aligned with Civil Rights and activism, Staples’ songs have a distinct power to them. Around a decade ago, I saw Mavis perform at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, and it was one of the greatest sets I’ve ever seen. Her voice soared. Her band was in the pocket. It felt like magic. —Scott Recker 

Bourbon & Beyond: Don't Miss These Acts
JOHN TROY

BLUEGRASS, AMERICANA, ROOTS | The Lil Smokies

Friday, Sept. 15

Back in 2009, several likeminded young men met at a college house party during an open-ended jam session. And that same storied night in Missoula, MT they promptly began assembling a hot little acoustic group that would become The Lil Smokies. Ever since then, and in spite of a few adjustments to the lineup, the band has organically built up quite a following through its well-received recording projects, a relentless touring schedule (150+ shows some years), and high-profile one-off appearances at Red Rocks, LOCKN’, High Sierra, Telluride Bluegrass Festival and more. At times The Lil Smokies found traveling partners in more established artists such as Greensky Bluegrass and Town Mountain. Soon, however, the not-exactly-bluegrass boys will be picking and grinning their way through Bourbon and Beyond. Marrying the energy of a boisterous rock ‘n roll band with the down-home performance chops of a newgrass ensemble, The Lil Smokies continue making a messy mark on the roots music genre and ought not be missed in a live setting. Besides showcasing old time instruments and strong vocals, it’s worth noting that the act also leans into lyric-driven folk music and pop melodies these days. —Kevin Murphy Wilson

Alternative, Indie | Inhaler

Friday, Sept. 15

Named after singer Elijah Hewson’s wranglings with asthma, the band Inhaler plays Bourbon & Beyond on Friday. If the name Hewson sounds familiar, it’s because the kid has a famous dad. But don’t let the fact that he’s Bono’s son make you think he’s not really talented. Inhaler has been impressing music fans and making a name for themselves worldwide by playing at festivals and touring with bands like Kings of Leon. 

The Irish band got its start at St. Andrews College in Blackrock, Dublin, and has released two studio albums to date. 

When the comparisons to Hewson’s famous dad are made, he claims that anyone from Ireland is at risk of sounding like U2. So when his voice comes across as a bit familiar, it’s just the luck of the Irish or genetics. The band is more than Hewson’s voice for sure. He’s rounded out by bandmates: Robert Keating on bass, Josh Jenkinson on lead guitar, and Ryan McMahon on drums. Touring with the band is keyboardist Louis Lambert. Whatever you do, Inhaler is definitely a performance to catch at Bourbon & Beyond this September.­—Erica Rucker

Folk | First Aid Kit

Saturday, Sept. 16

Consisting of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, the Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit uses a vintage country sound, evocative lyrics and gleaming harmonies to create a poignant neo-traditional singer-songwriter style. Ever since the 2012 album The Lion’s Roar put them on a wide-reaching radar, First Aid Kit has been a celebrated part of modern folk, with a sound that feels both refreshing and timeless; breezy and cutting. The duo’s latest record, 2022’s Palomino, injects an aspect of 1980s rock into their soulful take on folk. What remains is their evocative writing style which is unique and relatable, a detailed trip through their relationships and life, but their stories remind you of your own. They’re great at achieving a prodigious feat of songwriting: connection. —Scott Recker

Blues, R&B, Roots | Fantastic Negrito

Sunday, Sept. 17

Triple-Grammy Winner, Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, better known by his stage name of Fantastic Negrito is playing at Bourbon & Beyond on Sunday, surrounded by a killer line-up. 

Dphrepaulezz was born in Massachusetts, the eighth child of 15, and was raised in a strict Muslim household. He found his way to the streets and into trouble selling drugs and carrying weapons. He would sneak into music classes at Berkley and learn about music there. Early on in his career, he had a couple of record deals including one with Interscope Records that was cut short after his near-fatal car crash that left him in a coma for three weeks. Dephrepaulezz credits this accident with freeing him from the Interscope Records contract. It gave him the chance to figure out what he wanted to do, which first included opening an illegal nightclub. In 2007, he decided to retire from music but came back to the calling in 2014 and began using Fantastic Negrito as his stage name. Since that time, his music which he calls “Black roots music for everyone,” has won three Grammy Awards. 

See him on the same day as Aloe Blacc, Ryan Bingham, Jon Batiste, and Bruno Mars.—Erica Rucker

Bluesy alt-country | Ryan Bingham

Sunday, Sept. 17

A former bull rider and hard traveler, Ryan Bingham uses his explosive, blues-soaked alt-country and his rugged voice to connect his past to his discography. His first two albums — Mescalito and Roadhouse Sun — were a fantastic way to enter the scene, as there was no one else playing music quite like him. In 2009, his popularity rose further, after he had a role in the movie “Crazy Heart.” He also co-wrote the film’s flagship song, “The Weary Kind,” which won an Academy Award for “Best Orginal Song.” Over the past few years, his work has grown more introspective as he has wrestled with personal loss and other issues. As a whole, his career has provided an honest, poetic look at his life. We’ve watched him grow from a scrappy artist looking to find his way, to a well-established voice in the industry. But, while his music and situation have changed, the authenticity and emotional pull of his songs remain. Bingham’s superpower is that it never feels like he’s selling you anything; he’s just giving you a peek of everything he keeps inside. —Scott Recker