Awesome Country at Railbird Festival in Lexington, KY

Pictured: Marcus King

The Infield at Red Mile in Lexington, KY was flooded with an estimate of 45,000 music-lovers for the fourth Railbird Festival. Despite Mother Nature’s indecision, no amount of rain could stop the outpouring of passion that fans brought to the barricades, bars, and boutiques. This year's Railbird was headlined by Noah Kahan and Chris Stapleton, with incredible performances by Hozier, Turnpike Troubadours, Elle King, Lord Huron, Counting Crows, and many more. 

Railbird is curated to celebrate the unique spirit of Kentucky, featuring bourbon experiences, local eats, and that classic bluegrass-state sound. But, what is a “railbird?” According to the festival website, “traditionally, a Railbird is a horse racing enthusiast known for sticking close to the action, hanging on the rail as each contender comes barreling down the track.” Since 2023, the weekend has been hosted on the racetrack that hosts the Kentucky Futurity, one of the three jewels in Trotting’s Triple Crown. Thus, the name is a fitting homage to the history of the grounds.

Britney Spencer

When the gates opened at noon on Saturday, eager festival-goers sprinted to the barricades to claim their spots for the day. Railbirds, if you will. Brittney Spencer took to the Elkhorn stage at 1pm sharp to show off her thundering voice. Brother Smith kicked off the Burl stage to a raucous crowd with their Americana sound. Over at the main Limestone stage, Ryan Beatty eased fans into the day with a low-key, but high-quality, set. Currently on tour with Noah Kahan, Beatty allowed his smooth vocals to enchant the audience. 

Kaitlin Butts and Abby Hamilton roused crowds with their Saturday afternoon performances, proving that women-in-country are here to shake things up. Butts’ unabashed feminine flair was a visual treat. Her whole band was dressed to match, in sparkles, pink hearts, and red western-wear. Over at Limestone, Flatland Cavalry rocked our worlds, performing their song “Wool,” featured in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, as well as their hit “A Life Where We Work Out.”

Katie Pruitt gave a stunning set over at Burl while Trampled By Turtles brought us up to string-heaven. Their mandolin, guitar, fiddle, cello, bass, and banjo all came together in a concoction of bluegrass goodness. Who needs a drummer when you have a cellist who can use one foot to make a beat? Josiah and the Bonnevilles took to the stage for their largest crowd yet. “I have dreamt of this day for a long time and thought I was prepared,” he said in an Instagram post, “but I had to fight from bursting into tears up there tonight. This has got to be the most people I’ve ever played for by a long shot.” 

Wynonna Judd

South Carolina legend Marcus King highlighted his insane guitar mastery with a set at Limestone. In moving through the crowd and overhearing conversation, it seems that everyone was in agreement: this guy can shred. King’s bluesy-rock performance featured songs from his latest album Mood Swings. Next up was the lovely Wynonna Judd. Taking to the stage with flaming red hair and rhinestones decorating her apparel, she is a force to be reckoned with. Nobody was immune to the power of Wynonna and her beloved tracks. 

Performances by up and coming singer-songwriter Sam Barber and the renowned Counting Crows kept spirits high despite the weather taking a foul turn. Oklahoma’s pride, the Turnpike Troubadours, brought a honky-tonk swag with their set, featuring hit songs “Gin, Smoke, Lies,” and “Long Hot Summer Days.”

Noah Kahan

Day one’s grand finale was a headlining set by none other than New England’s sweetheart, Noah Kahan. After spending all day clinging to the barricade through downpours and daylight, his fans couldn’t have been more elated to see him take the stage. He opened with hit song “Dial Drunk” and touched on a few songs from Stick Season before inviting Adam Duritz (of Counting Crows) to sing “A Long December.” Noah explained that this moment was special for him, as he isn’t sure if he’d be where he was today without the artistry of Duritz. Kahan threw in some oldies (“False Confidence”) and an unreleased work (“The Great Divide”). All the while, he entertained the crowd with his boy-next-door humor and showered them with gratitude.

Perhaps the highlight of the set was when Kahan invited Hozier, “one of the greatest artists of our generation,” on stage to sing “Northern Attitude.” Fans shrieked at the sight and sound before them… a meeting of two giants, and a preview of night two. Kahan wrapped up his set with “The View Between Villages,” “Stick Season,” and an encore of “Young Blood.” 

Sunday started off with an immaculate sunshine. As gates opened and fans once again raced to the rails, we took to the vendors to see the tastes that Railbird had to offer. Highlights include: Nathan’s Taqueria, who were serving up some fresh Mexican street corn, beside Old Kentucky Kettle Corn, who gave us a sweet way to start the day. The Bourbon Hideout was hopping with folks looking to try some true Kentucky bourbon. 

Brent Cobb, cousin of renowned producer Daver Cobb, kicked off the afternoon with a country set on the Elkhorn stage. Cincinnati’s pride, Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle, shared their stuff to a crowd of thrilled fans. Country rocker Kip Moore commanded the Limestone stage with high-energy beats and was met with enthusiasm early in the day, much to his surprise. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he explained. Moore wasn’t sure that people would care to hand over their attention to the day’s earlier acts, but Kentuckians proved that they know how to get a party started. The Infamous Stringdusters and Stephen Wilson Jr. encapsulated the spirit of the festival with their boot-stompin’ sets.

Allison Russell

Allison Russell flaunted the power of her American roots voice alongside her band of talented women. The good vibes kept rolling at Elkhorn stage with Johnnyswim performing through a downpour of rain that only invigorated them to give every ounce of energy. Dwight Yoakam and his Stetson cowboy hat braved the rain to take crowds on a journey through his accomplished country career. Elle King brought her own rock n’ roll twist to country performing her hit “Ex’s & Oh’s.”

Tanner Usrey’s rugged country grit and Nolan Taylor’s backroad-boy charm showcased the new wave of raw country inspired music coming out of today’s younger generations. Following their acts, the Red Clay Strays drew a massive crowd to the Burl stage, leaving the tent area bursting at the seams. Their pull was vast, bringing in a giant audience when with two other stages in full swing. Truly, the energy in the air was electric. Hailey Whitters wrapped up the Burl stage with a bang.

Lord Huron’s set started with an ominous telephone waiting in the middle of the stage. Sure enough, as the band made their way on to the stage, the call was answered by lead singer Ben Schneider. The group is most famously known for their hit song “The Night We Met,” which showcases their moody, yearning vibe. However, they did a complete turn around with bright songs like “Meet Me in the Woods.” 

Fans who’d clung to the rail all day finally got their reward when Hozier arrived on the Elkhorn stage. Still soaking wet from the rain, all of their worries seemed to evaporate when the first notes of “Eat Your Young” emerged from the speakers. Allison Russell was called back on stage to perform a duet version of “Work Song.” People lined every square inch of the viewing area just to get a glimpse of Hozier. Even the restroom area was filled with fans peeking over heads and between rails to witness the talent before them. 

Chris Stapleton

At last, the legendary Chris Stapleton made his dramatic entrance to the Limestone stage to “White Horse” and then “Parachute.” He graced the stage in the midst of his 2024 “All American Road Show,” which is selling out stadiums across the United States. Nearly the entire festival grounds came to a standstill to take in Stapleton’s performance that drew tens of thousands to the Red Mile… a testament to the might of his pure talent. Despite the focus on bourbon all weekend, Stapleton, of course, sent the crowd home with his biggest hit, “Tennessee Whiskey.” 

In all, Railbird Festival was a smash hit. Though it may have just finished, we are already looking forward to Railbird 2025 and can’t wait to see what surprises they have in store. To learn more, visit https://www.railbirdfest.com