After a Covid -19 forced Hiatus, the 2021 Railbird Festival got back on track with blazing performances by My Morning Jacket, Billy Strings, Leon Bridges, Midland, Black Pumas, Margo Price, Joy Oladokun, Magnolia Boulevard, and many others.
Railbird Festival returned for its sophomore edition in the last week of August, after a very promising debut event in 2019 and a pandemic-related cancellation in 2020. With a lineup that was even more exciting than the inaugural event, people piled into the grounds at Keeneland Racecourse with eager anticipation for the weekend ahead.
Similar to the 2019 edition the festival grounds were bookended by the two main stages (The Limestone and the Elkhorn stages). This year the third stage (the Burl stage – named after a great local venue Located in the historic Lexington Distillery) was moved to a much better location midway between the two mainstages and provided a much better viewing/listening experience for festivalgoers. The day was unbearably hot and humid! With straight temperatures topping out in the low 90’s and the heat index pushing 100 the Railbird festival staff and vendors were stretched to their limits and the overflowing crowd struggled to stay hydrated, but the music and performances were nothing but stellar.
Here were a few of the standouts of the first day of the festival
Joy Oladokun, a singer-songwriter based in Nashville, got started on the Limestone stage with a few songs from her latest album In Defense of My Own Happiness. Her blend of folk, R&B, soul, and rock is a perfect vessel for her storytelling, and her reflective song “I See America” displays that perfectly. Written in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Oladokun sings about how she sees America through the eyes of a lesbian woman of color. Emotional, raw, and vulnerable, Joy Oladokun got things going in a big way to start off what would be an amazing day of music.
Black Pumas were up next on the Limestone stage, and they really turned the heat up on the day. The founding duo, Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada and their band got festival-goers clapping and snapping along with the groovy, silky smooth psychedelic soul in no time. On a day when the heat was affecting everyone, there was no sign of bother from the Black Pumas as they rocked the mid-day set with tenacity. As they closed out their set with their big hit “Colors,” the festival ground felt like the best place in the world to be.
Leon Bridges is always a phenomenal show, and this performance was even better than what his fans have come to expect. Touring in support of his new album Gold-Diggers Sound, Leon Bridges’ sound has evolved and grown from the Coming Home days, and he’s collaborating with tons of great artists in the jazz, soul, and R&B world. His style is unmistakably cool, and his performance at Railbird was a standout of the day. Between a few tracks from his new album, an amazing performance of “Smooth Sailin’”, and a performance of the collaboration between Bridges and festival co-stars Kruangbin, Bridges covered all the bases in a memorable way.
Billy Strings was the penultimate band on the first day of Railbird, and for the fans of Bluegrass music, you couldn’t possibly ask for anything more. It seemed like every person at the festival was crowded around the Elkhorn stage for a chance to hear, sing and dance with Billy and the guys.
With the sun now fully set behind the rolling hills of the grounds of the Keeneland Racecourse, Local Louisville rockers My Morning Jacket closed out the opening day’s performances with a set that exceeded all expectations. Known for their live performances, MMJ seemed to pull out all the stops tonight with a 2-hour set that was simply fire from the opening song “Victory Dance” to the day’s final song and huge fan favorite “One Big Holiday”. MMJ closed out the first day of the Railbird Festival in an epic way.
Other performances throughout the day belonged to Margo Price, Midland, Japanese Breakfast, Briston Maroney, Bendigo Fletcher, Magnolia Boulevard, Sarah Jarosz, Abby Hamilton, John Moreland, The Brook and The Bluff, and Nicholas Jamerson.