WonderBus Fest 2023 — the CAS Grounds in Columbus, OH
The music and arts festival WonderBus, on its fourth year, is still evolving. Day one on the CAS grounds focused on hi-energy performances. To put it in perspective, Riot Fest in Chicago this year has 30 bands playing each day. Wonderbus has a total of 30 bands in three days at a similar price point. Of course, there are many specials run throughout the year to commit to the festival experience without paying full price. It is not a large festival, so on the first day, they allow people the opportunity to come out after work hours to start their weekend without missing any performances.
Rows of vendors selling crafts and food lined both sides of the CAS grounds just outside of the Ohio State University. Parking is $40 cash each day which you can get out of if you have a bike you can ride and lock up during the festival. The three stages are separated by Porta-Kleen shanty towns with lines forming between acts. Opposite the three stages this year, the GA+ and VIP lounges along with air-conditioned bathrooms offer respite from the soupy weather. There is an additional charge for either, but the VIP section also provides cold bottled water, cans of soda, and freshly catered food virtually all day long. It cannot be stressed enough how good it feels to sit in the shade and eat from their catered buffet of foods. They also have a completely vegan meal each day. You may even catch one of your favorite performers sharing a drink with some friends, available for a photo, or ready to be challenged at one of the two vintage upright video game arcade machines in the VIP section.
As long as the performances were not overlapping, you could sit in the VIP section and clearly hear everything happening on the first and second stages. The first performance of the festival belonged to .wavrunner from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This three-piece band was the perfect choice to jump-start the audience with lively moves, beats, and upbeat lyrics. If your kids ask what the lyrics are, tell them you don’t know.
The next hi-energy performance not for the kids came from Geordie Kieffer. His hype man and fellow stage performer tried to warn us of the crazy we were about to experience. Geordie spent most of his time in the air. He sang tongue-in-cheek lyrics with a not-be-taken-too-seriously-vibe unless you are into it. “Swinger” and “Sex Party” were two of the most recognizable songs he performed.
For a short day with a late start, the crowd packed in early for Pitbull. Mostly an older group, but every age group was represented. A family of six from Spain camped out all day to see this performance. He brought in the biggest crowd of the festival. Pitbull was charismatic, and energizing, and everyone knew music. He has so many hits, there are top ten lists of Pitbull’s hits. He danced around the stage with his backing dancers who had several outfit changes throughout the performance.
The second day of the WonderBus festival started at 2 PM with some new music finds and a strong message about mental health. WonderBus music and arts festival is so much more with an emphasis on mental health wellness each year through many of the non-profit vendors on site and informative introductions before most stage performances. RADD Ohio had a booth by the third stage with hopes of making sure everyone got home safely. Local hospitals like Ohio Wexner Medical Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital are also sponsors of the weekend event. Sometimes, the most basic positivity can play a large role in mental wellness. That is how the Parachute People got started in 2014 as a non-profit organization that spread fun and positivity for all ages to music festivals around the country. Each of the Parachute People has their own story about mental health in their daily life as well.
Safety was a huge focus at WonderBus, too. There were two hydration stations available for anyone who needed water or a moment to chill in front of the misting four-foot-tall floor fans. Although the weather started off hot with the threat of rain by 2 PM, the festival stayed dry and cooled down for the rest of the weekend.
Beach Weather is an interesting name for Nick Santino to choose for his band considering the Ohio weather was proving too harsh for him. He mentioned it a few times between songs but it didn’t hinder their performance. They had a cohesive look and sound on stage for the early afternoon.
The Driver Era was lucky enough to take over the center stage shortly after the weather cooled down. This was exceptional for them because they were a wild bunch on stage. Ross and Rocky Lynch formed the band in 2018 in LA. With such a chill vibe in their sound, you could not predict how wild their performance would get. Much of it came from the rabid fans dressed in pink cowboy hats. Ross would eventually tear off his shirt and borrow two of these hats during the end of their performance. Ross also “borrowed” his brother’s guitar during the performance. Rocky was able to call for another guitar so, no harm done.
In some instances, as with a lot of festivals, bands get booked for the wrong stage. Such is the case with The Orphan the Poet. They are a local band, and a lot of local bands were stationed on the third and smallest stage, but their presence; their performance was simply stifled on this stage. The jumps and moves that they are known for were cumbersome to pull off. They pressed through and gave an awesome performance nonetheless.
Chelsea Cutler performed at the first WonderBus, and once again, she had the audience singing in unison. She played crowd favorites “Cold Shower” and “Your Bones,” and finished off her 14-song set with “Your Shirt.” She comes to Ohio often and has not once disappointed.
If you’ve never seen Oliver Tree perform, the best word to describe it is unpredictable. Eccentric is an understatement. Oliver Tree is an enigma. He will fake an accident on stage, fabricate a backstory to coincide with the town he is performing in, and get mad at the crowd. Every second of stage time is meant to entertain. He doesn’t ask if the crowd is having a good time, he offers one last song 12 times. At WonderBus, he took on three different personas, changing attire twice. He may be a nut, he may be a genius.
Starting out as a child actor on Barney & Friends, releasing their first song in 2008, coming out as nonbinary two years ago, and now supporting Revamped, the first remix release of their earlier music with an emo-rock look and sound, Demi Lovato has been non-stop since they were 8-years-old. Their move in sight and sound was excitedly well-received by the festival participants. They started their set with an explosive rock version of “Confident.” They moved their way to a live debut of “Swine” before finishing off the 18-song set to wrap up the second day of WonderBus.
The third day of WonderBus put spotlights on casual, chill tunes. The weather accommodated and gave CAAMP an easy, serine send-off for the evening. Sunday had the earliest start time for the festival and the most relaxing atmosphere. The third day was reserved for indie and folk musicians. Even the weather had calmed down to a more manageable temperature. A feature of the VIP areas at WonderBus this year was the ability to reserve private suites. There were several premium suites to relax and enjoy each other’s company in the shade. After CAAMP agreed to headline the third day of WonderBus, vocalist Taylor Meier had the idea to reserve the largest of the private suites for his friends and family to enjoy the festival experience on him. Shade wasn’t such a hot commodity on day three with the temperature only reaching the mid-80s, but it was still a terrific space for friends and strangers to congregate and learn how each of them has had an impact on the band to perform on the main stage once the sun would go down.
With CAAMP being the headliner, for a consistent aural atmosphere, you might expect more banjos than horns throughout the day. There were more horns; much more! Even if only a trumpet, nearly every band had a horn section. Folk rock Austin-based Briscoe was the only performer that had them both. “Hooped Earrings” was a crowd favorite for their set. Their first full album is out September 15.
San Diego’s Dawson Daugherty, Cole Clisby, and Luke Fabry have been performing together as Almost Monday since 2015. They performed at WonderBus in 2022 on the smaller third stage, but have graduated to the second stage. They’ve earned it with a more confident and polished stage presence and releasing three more singles since last year. If you missed their performance, they will be at the Life is Beautiful on September 22 in in Las Vegas.
Vibin’ on the third stage, almost exclusively reserved for local acts, Parker Louis‘ seven-piece brought fans and casual festival-goers together under the shady skies. Parker’s music frequents a local independent radio station. If his music is a reflection of his persona, he is an easy-going, groovy friend with heart. His music could stop a fight between squabbling strangers. Being a friend to CAAMP, he was invited to perform on stage with them halfway through their set at the end of the night.
The biggest stunt of the entire weekend was performed by Saint Motel’s frontman AJ Jackson. He climbed to the top of the stage during their last song, “My Type.” When asked how he accomplished something like this, he simply said, “I think of everything as climbable.” Being the first artist to climb the stage will forever be a milestone in the history of WonderBus. Their latest single, “Fine Wine” is out now and maybe a hint to a new album.
Since 2009, Brittany Howard has been the front person and songwriter for three bands and has brought that experience to her own solo work started in 2019. Her performance exceeded the expectations of a midday band and probably took with it more than a few new loyal listeners.She had the most electrifying performance of the day. Still, the intensity of her show went well with the other performers of the day. Like a box of assorted chocolates, hers just had a touch of heat to it.
Originally formed in Alaska, and now stationed in Portland, Portugal. The Man has a terribly rich history and the depth of it is displayed in their stage performance. They played two of their biggest hits “Feel it Still” and “So American” during their 21-song set. The band may have been started by two friends from school, but they have had a number of member changes over the years. This has created a mixture of diversity in relationships, styles, sounds, and experiences to share with their listeners.
CAAMP is a Midwest four-piece that has only been writing and singing since 2015 together. When the headliner of a music festival is also a local favorite playing their hometown, you know it is going to be a good show. Their first single that they loaded onto Spotify themselves was appropriately named, “Ohio.” They have a real love for their roots in Americana and it creates a soothing blanket of serenity to see them perform their music live. It was a great way to finish off a terrific weekend of music, art, food, and positivity.
Harry Acosta is a professional photographer who started out shooting concerts. He is an avid concertgoer and loves to capture his favorite musicians and unseen moments we take for granted in everyday life.