It’s the most exciting two weeks in the world… all for a two minute horse race. Nonetheless, the two weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby are some of the most insane days of the year for Louisville residents. Even the locals who wouldn’t be caught dead at the Derby still enjoy the benefits of the Kentucky Derby Festival. There are more than a 60 different events affiliated with the Kentucky Derby Festival that one can enjoy, many of which are free with a pegasus pin. No matter who you are, there is most likely an event or two for you. Some of these events are obvious, but some are hidden gems, even among the locals. These are what I consider to be the best events of the Kentucky Derby Festival.
Battle of the Bounce | May 4, 2016 | Waterfront Park
For everyday corporate world business people in Louisville, this is certainly a favorite to participate in, however just being a spectator will make your day too! Teams of four compete in a head-to-head race through an obstacle course that is setup right on the lawn at Waterfront Park in downtown Louisville. Some of the obstacles include a bouncy gauntlet run, a climbing wall, a human hamster ball course, and a sprint to the finish on a blowup horse. You can’t make this stuff up. Food and beer are served all day, and the racing usually starts at 11:00 am. Take a half day at work and check this one out!
Taste of Derby Festival | April 26, 2016 | Louisville Slugger Field
You know that I’m a food nerd. This event screams for food nerds across the city to come and taste the Louisville greats. An $80 ticket gets you a plethora of tastings from some of the best Louisville appetizers, entrees, and desserts that are offered. The ticket also includes a bourbon tasting, a bloody mary contest, and a silent auction. Come to this Kentucky Derby Festival event prepared for food, fun, and fellowship with your neighbors. Let’s not forget the most important part: all proceeds from the Taste of Derby Festival go to benefit the Dare to Care Food Bank.
Thunder Over Louisville | April 23, 2016 | Ohio River / Downtown
Thunder Over Louisville is quite possibly the most well-known Kentucky Derby Festival Event. It’s the official kickoff for Derby Festival, and it certainly lives up to its name. The all-day event begins with an airshow at 3:00 pm showcasing fighter pilots, high speed maneuvering, and historic aircraft as well. The fireworks usually start around 9:30 pm. This is the largest fireworks show in North America, and it’s 100% awesome. This year the weather forecast is a beacon for the people of the world. With temperatures around 70 degrees and lots of sun, you need to be prepared for record attendance. People will camp out all day long. If you’re doing this, make sure you drink lots of water. There are a ton of locations for you to watch the festivities and most of them will have food and drink vendors on the ready. One of my favorite places to watch is at Louisville Slugger Field. There are nice restrooms, plenty of food and drink, and you have a seat that you can use when you are tired of standing. Some other tips for Thunder Over Louisville:
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes
- If you’re driving, you’ll want to park pretty far from the river. Try NuLu or Butchertown. If you get there early and park near the river, you’ll be stuck there for a long time
- Bring a fillable water bottle
- If you’re not driving you can take the Tarc, take a cab, or grab a Lyft or an Uber (these are all good options because traffic is a complete disaster)
- DON’T: bring your pets, ride your bike, wear rollerblades, bring a skateboard. It will suck, I promise
- DO: try to be patient, be kind and courteous, be safe, smile, and enjoy the fun
Beerfest | Wednesday, May 4, 2016 | Waterfront Park
Beginning at 6:00 pm on the same day as the Battle of the Bounce is a fairly new event that’s all about craft beer. A $45 ticket gets you a tasting glass and the opportunity to choose tastings from some 50 different national, regional, and local breweries. This is a great chance to chat with some fellow beer enthusiasts and brewers about the delicious treats that are available on draft.
Kroger’s Fest-a-ville | April 28 – May 6, 2016 | Waterfront Park
Kroger’s Fest-a-ville is live music, food, drink, dance, outdoor awesomeness… some people might say that it’s the ULTIMATE ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCE (according to the Kentucky Derby Festival website). Look, here’s the deal: on any given night throughout Kentucky Derby Festival you can catch some really awesome live music here. They will have national music acts like Cold War Kids or Easton Corbin or even Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick! There will also be regional and local musical delights such as: Whiskey Bent Valley Boys, The Monarchs, The Rumors, and Wax Factory. Go on down to the river, check out some music, and enjoy the outdoors!
Great BalloonFest | April 28 – April 30, 2016 | Waterfront Park/Bowman Field/KY Expo Center
The Great Balloon Fest has turned into like 15 different events. It’s the charity race, balloon glimmer, the rush hour race, balloon glow, and finally the actual Great Balloon Race (ok, that’s only 5 events). Still, this event has been a mainstay throughout history, and it’s always a great time. Definitely catch the rush hour race, Friday April 29 at 7:00 am. It’s a combination of bright colors, family fun, and excitement. You also need to check out the actual Great Balloon Race on Saturday, April 30th starting at 7:00 am. There’s a lot of history and pride behind this event, and you can feel it in the air.
You must experience the feeling that comes with the Kentucky Derby Festival and the anticipation of working our way into the craziest 2 minutes that sports has to offer. There are plenty of events for friends and family to enjoy together, these are just a few of my favorites. Check them out!
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