WonderBus 2022

Jenn & I recently attended our first music festival: WonderBus 2022. We bought weekend tickets back in February when the nightly headliners were announced as Duran Duran, Lorde, and The Lumineers, because we haven’t seen any of them live, and each of us is a big enough fan of two of the three to justify going all-in.

Jenn surprised me with a T-shirt.

Short version: We had an amazing and exhausting time, and enjoyed some excellent live music.

Longer version: Read on.

We stayed about 15 minutes from the venue, and while we’d initially planned to rideshare to and from the hotel each day, we made a last-minute decision to pay for on-site parking. (This would turn out to be an excellent move.) Got to Columbus mid-Friday afternoon, grabbed an early-ish dinner, and got to The Lawn at CAS a little before 6pm, I think. Long line to get in: Jenn hopped out of the car and got a spot while I parked. 

Friday wasn’t a full festival day: There were only four bands scheduled, playing on alternating stages beginning at 7pm, so we didn’t bother with blankets or chairs. Sat on the grass and really enjoyed Daisy the Great, but then realized the area was filling in pretty early for Duran Duran and we didn’t want to lose our spot. This meant I had to settle for listening to Cannons from a distance instead of seeing them up close, but they sounded good.

Daisy the Great

Duran Duran? Holy shit. Look, I’m a full-on child of the ’80s, aging from 9 to 19 during that span, so this band is way up there in terms of musical acts that shaped my decade and – although I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time – helped fuel my love for new wave and synth-driven pop. They opened their set with “Wild Boys” – one of two songs I was really hoping for, along with “A View to A Kill” – and just ran from there, even including a couple fan-favorites that were new to me. (“Careless Memories” and “Hold Back the Rain.”) Simon’s voice is older – he did have one rough patch in that Bond title track, but recovered for the rest of the night – but still distinctive and wonderful. And Nick Rhodes continues to do wizard’s work with a keyboard. In my headcanon, Nick & Gary Numan hang out on weekends just synthesizing weirder and weirder awesome sounds together.

Duran Duran

We were back at the hotel within a half-hour of their closing number – “Rio” – and so glad we’d paid for that parking pass, because the rideshare area seemed like a real clusterfuck. Here’s the Duran Duran setlist.

Saturday we bought lawn chairs and a blanket and headed to Wonderbus a little bit earlier to catch some of the mid-to-late afternoon acts. We found a spot in the shade while The Knocks (I think) played, and when their set wrapped up, we moved up closer to see Cautious Clay, who’s from Cleveland. Super talented and enjoyable. In addition to singing, he played flute, guitar, alto sax, and tenor sax during his set.

Cautious Clay

The plan had been to leave our seats and go see Coin before returning to our spots for Lorde, but fans really started packing in early, so again, we just hung out and listened from where we were. We also moved ourselves back a bit so we weren’t in quite as tightly-packed an area.

Coin at sunset.

Lorde’s hour-long set was a little shorter than it was blocked for, but I’m a big fan of her first two albums in particular, so I thought we got a near-perfect 15-song selection. (And to be fair, Duran Duran also played a 15-song set, but they added a two-song encore.) I’ve often said that you could drop copies of Pure Heroine and Melodrama through a wormhole into my 1989-90 dorm room at Bowling Green State University and they’d sound unique while still fitting right in with the Xymox, Kate Bush, Erasure, Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins and related alternative pop soundtrack to my freshman year.

In Columbus, I got to hear nine songs from those first two albums, including my favorite Lorde tune, “The Louvre,” along with others I can’t get enough of like “Homemade Dynamite” and “Ribs.” Nestled in the middle of it all was a jewel of a cover of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” followed by a wrenching “Liability.” And while her Solar Power album hasn’t connected with me as strongly as the first two, she played songs from it which I enjoy, closing out the night with a great rendition of the title track.

Lorde singing “Cruel Summer”

Lorde was really in good vocal form – supported by excellent backup singers and musicians – and seemed to be enjoying herself. And as a fellow member of the Andy McCluskey School of This Is How I Dance and I Don’t Care What You Think, I thank Lorde for being one of us. I missed out on her Melodrama tour, and am incredibly glad I was there for this. Here’s her Wonderbus setlist.

Jenn & I knew we were in for a long Sunday because it was going to be hotter (90F) and muggier, and we had a “can’t miss” 3:20 performance on the list. We just relaxed at the hotel and had an early lunch and then more chill time before going to the festival.

First act: The Vindys. They were a late addition to the festival that had us excited: As a Northeast Ohio act, they get a lot of airplay on our local indie stations and have a reputation for kick-ass live shows. Turns out it’s well-deserved – simply everything about their set rocked. It was hot as fuck out there and everyone was pouring sweat onstage and off, and the Vindys held back exactly zero. Jackie Popovec is a stellar front, lead guitarist John Anthony blisters charismatically, and rhythm guitar Rick Deak – I mean, look, I don’t have the musical journalist chops to detail it, but they’re fantastic. Doesn’t hurt in my book that they have a horn section and I’m a total sucker for rock sax – Garret Kuchmaner was playing this gig and just killed it. Also they covered Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” and did it more than justice. Go listen to them and see them and have a fucking great time.

The Vindys

Meg Myers was supposed to play, but she had to cancel – which was disappointing, but she was also going to overlap The Vindys, so we avoided that conflict. The next band we wanted to see was Beach Bunny: Jenn and I both dig the early-to-mid ’90s alt-energy of founder/frontperson Lili Trifilio (think Juliana Hatfield, Kristin Hersh, or Tanya Donnelly). We stayed in the stagefront crowd for a few songs, but then headed back to listen from our seats in the shade. Stayed there for James Bay – Jenn’s more familiar with his music than I am, but I recognized two of his more-played songs – and then moved up for The Lumineers. Local Natives played the neighboring stage in between, but at that point, Jenn & I were mostly just hanging out and talking.

Beach Bunny

The Lumineers put on a good show. I only recognized their hits, but their full band was entertaining. (Did you know there are only two Lumineers? We did not. Jenn and I were under impression they were a big Talking Heads-type group. In retrospect, we have no idea where this perception came from. They do tour with a sizable complement of talented musicians. Anyway.)

The newest of moons (on Sunday).

Overall: Fine weekend, and a great experience. As far as the festival grounds and organization and that kind of thing? Mostly well-organized – that long line to get in was only on Friday, and I’d guess it was due to it being opening night and a surge of Duran Duran fans – with the exception of the rideshare loop, which maybe shouldn’t have been in the middle of the pedestrian path to the parking lot. Not sure how I’d handle it, though. 

I liked the layout of the grounds and the food selection, and that the festival’s goals include promoting mental health conversations and raising funds for organizations supporting mental health. Fun seeing the different audiences for each day’s headliners, and while you certainly could get yourself down in some shoulder-to-shoulder crowds for the big acts, it was also easy enough to hang back comfortably and still enjoy the music.

By Sunday night, I felt a little like I’d been at a convention like Gen Con or Star Wars Celebration – maybe having gotten a bit more rest, but also with more dancing. A lot of fun and at the same time energizing and exhausting.

Also we stopped at Grandpa’s Cheesebarn on the way home, so here is a picture of Ohio in cheese form. (No, I didn’t buy it.)

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