Louisville is a city with a lot to offer – a decent cost of living, a vibrant arts community, a reputation as a foodie town, and a location that is a stone’s throw from the bourbon capital of the world – Bardstown. More than 10 years ago, music industry veteran and concert promoter extraordinaire Danny Wimmer discovered for himself what made Louisville special. With his staff at Danny Wimmer Presents, he has spent the years since creating several destination music festivals to help people outside the city’s boundaries explore what makes Louisville so special, and remind locals what the city has to offer guests who visit.
Danny Wimmer’s initial visit to Louisville wasn’t related to music. He had become enamored with bourbon and was considering launching his own brand. “I immediately felt at home everywhere I went in Louisville,” he says. “There was a real pride, sense of community and charm that I just fell in love with. It’s my home away from home.”
He decided he wanted to create a music festival that would focus on rock music, but remain rooted in the local landscape with bourbon as an integral part. Louder Than Life was born in 2014.
Even though music festivals typically last one weekend, they are definitely not an inexpensive endeavor, which is why the Danny Wimmer Presents team took its time in bringing a second festival to fruition. “When we enter a new market, we go in with one festival and see if that market has the legs to sustain a second, third or fourth festival,” says Chamie McCurry, chief marketing officer at Danny Wimmer Presents. Louder Than Life’s success led to the creation of Bourbon & Beyond five years ago. “The emphasis of Bourbon & Beyond from day one was always to highlight the bourbon as much as the lineup,” McCurry says.
While Louder Than Life is a very rock-specific festival, Bourbon & Beyond includes country, classic rock, alt-rock, bluegrass and indie-alt, and is what McCurry calls a lifestyle festival. “It has several genres represented,” she says. “It has a little bit of everything for everyone. The bourbon and culinary aspect is elevated at that festival.”
Both festivals are held at the Kentucky Exposition Center, last four days each, and include an opportunity for attendees to camp on-site. Different pass options give concertgoers the ability to pick and choose which days (or all the days) they want to attend. It is possible for attendees to make an entire vacation out of the festivals, since there is so much to do in Louisville and surrounding areas on the days in between. “The long-term growth of this is that we want people coming in for two weeks and experiencing Louisville on the days when there isn’t an active festival happening,” McCurry says.
The influx of attendees from all over the country provides a financial boon to the city. According to McCurry, a 2019 independent study calculated the economic impact of both festivals at more than $43 million. Of course, COVID-19 affected many public events and their financial windfalls for communities. While Louder Than Life took a hiatus in 2020 and came back in 2021, Bourbon & Beyond is only just now returning after a two-year break, which in some ways feels like starting over. “We’re working to reintroduce that brand to the marketplace,” McCurry says.
Through the years some things have changed with the concerts, which is to be expected. Both festivals began as two-day, two-stage festivals, but their popularity has led to growth. Both festivals now have four stages of music, and Bourbon & Beyond has two additional stages for workshops and presentations. The lineup has expanded as well. Louder Than Life now showcases 90 musicians and bands, while Bourbon & Beyond sees more than 50 musical acts performing.
Putting together music festivals this large takes a massive amount of planning, not only because of the music, but also because of the camping option and all the logistics that ensue. “Across the street we have car, tent and RV camping,” McCurry says. “Fans can arrive on Wednesday, set up their campgrounds and live on-site with us for the festival weekend.”
The staff members at Danny Wimmer Presents spend all year preparing for these festivals to ensure attendees have the best experience possible. Essentially, McCurry says the company is building a small city. “We plan all year for it,” she says. “We work very closely with the City of Louisville, the parks department, the Kentucky Expo Center, the Louisville Police Department. We have an entire office and production team that works closely with our local partners in building out the most fan-friendly and safe concert experience.”
The boots-on-the-ground staff in Louisville frequently checks on little things in the months and weeks before the shows, like how the grass is growing and how rainwater drains, so that any problems can be addressed beforehand.
Before, during and after the music festivals, Danny Wimmer Presents uses social media to assess attendees’ expectations and experiences. “We’re able to make changes and adapt pretty quickly,” McCurry says.
In 2021, when rain prevented grassy areas from draining at Louder Than Life, staff brought in tons of gravel to alleviate standing water. After the event, surveys are sent to attendees to get their feedback. “We know it is a very competitive marketplace for consumers’ entertainment dollars,” McCurry says. “We want them to feel very satisfied.”
In 2021 Louder Than Life became the biggest rock festival in the country, with 160,000 passes sold. “Now we’re doing everything we can to get 40,000 people a day there,” McCurry says. The headliners for the Louder Than Life festival, which runs from September 22 to 25, include Nine Inch Nails, Kiss, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the festival is also shining a light on up-and-coming bands. The Danny Wimmer Presents talent team spends a lot of time and energy booking artists that are getting airplay and buzz. In 2021 the company introduced its Twitch channel, DWPresents, which streams original content from unsigned musicians and bands, some of which have gotten signed and made it to the Louder Than Life stage.
The feel of Bourbon & Beyond is a little different. It’s a little more mellow, and could be considered the slow and steady wind-up to Louder Than Life the following weekend. Of course this doesn’t mean the musicians who perform at Bourbon & Beyond this year, from September 15 to 18, can’t totally rock it out. Jack White, Pearl Jam, Kings of Leon, and Chris Stapleton are some of the big-name headliners. To be sure, part of the attraction of Bourbon & Beyond is the “beyond” aspect, which includes different bars, workshops and experiences with bourbon experts. Bourbon lovers can get their fill of rare and experimental bourbons at The Silver Dollar Hunter’s Club. And if you don’t like bourbon, don’t worry – there will also be a wine garden and craft beer area.
For more info, visit dannywimmerpresents.com.
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