Discover Louisville's Festivals and Nightlife

By Chris Russell on August 17, 2012 at 9:43 pm EST
Nightlife at Proof on Main

Louisville residents know how to party, taking good times to a greater level with a host of nightlife entertainment options and a calendar packed with fun events.

Between the constant stream of festivals and concerts to go along with a plethora of restaurants, bars and nightspots, the town seems almost custom-made for a good time – and then some.

It's no wonder that the International Festivals and Events Association recently chose Louisville as the “top world festival and event city in North America.” Seemingly everything is celebrated here, from art and music to bright ideas, a famous horse race, a cult Hollywood movie, and even zombies.

Festival Force

Louisville is best known for its spectacular Derby Festival each spring. The festival is actually a combination of more than 70 special events all in celebration of the Kentucky Derby in May. The Derby Festival has won the International Festivals and Events Association award for “best overall festival” five times. 

A must-attend for music fans, Forecastle Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2012 and was named by SPIN magazine as one of the “top 101 things to do in America." Forecastle attracts upwards of 30,000 visitors to the city's Waterfront Park for three days of music from internationally known artists. The nautically-themed event focuses on music, art and environmental activism, says Forecastle First Mate Holly Weyler.

“Forecastle has a lot of personality. We're always told that Forecastle has a really 'family' atmosphere: friendly, comfortable, communal,” Weyler says. “The event features five stages and more than 70 acts across a variety of genres.”

The 2012 festival has been a sort of homecoming for the widely known rock band My Morning Jacket, whose original members hail from Louisville and currently reside in the city. In addition to headlining the festival along with Wilco and Bassnectar, the band collaborated with event producers on Forecastle's many aspects, from the music lineup and visuals to its charitable initiatives.  

"This is something we've wanted to play for a long time," says Jim James, My Morning Jacket lead singer, adding that participating in the festival has been "an opportunity to show people what Louisville is all about and why this is such a special city." 

Other festivals that give Louisville that special flair are the band-tastic Abbey Road on the River honoring the music and legend of The Beatles; Lebowski Fest for all the Achievers out there; the Louisville Zombie Attack Walk on Bardstown Road every Aug. 29; and the IdeaFestival, which converges creative thinkers from diverse disciplines in a celebration of innovation, imagination and cutting-edge disciplines. 

Nightlife Venues Keep The Party Going

In the meantime, Louisville's many bars, hip restaurants and other entertainment venues keep the “life” in nightlife here year round.

Nightlife is particularly hopping throughout The Highlands area just east of downtown, with many spots concentrated along Bardstown Road. There are far too many great options to mention all by name, but one with a particularly interesting story is Holy Grale, once a place a worship but now on Draft magazine's list of America's "100 best beer bars." Originally built as a Unitarian church in 1905, the structure has been renovated to now house a bar offering a constantly changing variety of beers and a seasonally inspired snack menu sourced from local farmers and producers. The bar opens daily at 4 p.m. and the kitchen at 5 p.m.

The Historic Frankfort Avenue Corridor, one of Louisville's fastest-growing arts communities, also is a popular destination for its diverse restaurants and independently owned shopping boutiques. A great way to experience it, the FAT (Frankfort Avenue Trolley) Trolley Hop on the final Friday of each month gives its goers stops at many of the most popular businesses along the route. 

There is plenty of fun to be had downtown, too. 

Proof on Main, named one of Esquire magazine’s “best new restaurants,” combines inventive food and beverages with art-driven design as well as more than 50 of Kentucky’s finest bourbons and seasonal cocktails.

Then there's The Marketplace at Theater Square, a restaurant, bar, wine shop and market located in the Historic Kentucky Theater on South Fourth Street between the Brown Hotel and the Louisville Palace. The destination offers diners a masterful mix of Southern comfort food with Italian flair, an eclectic atmosphere and live jazz three nights each week.

Arts Outings Around Town

One of the biggest events on the Louisville arts scene is the St. James Court Art Show each October. The show, held in the heart of Old Louisville, started in 1957 and has grown to 750 sponsors and more than 300,000 attendees each year. 

"The setting of the Victorian-style neighborhood gives a fabulous backdrop for the art show," says show director Marguerite Esrock. "It's a great walking neighborhood and a nice way to spend a fall weekend in an unusual location. You can easily spend two days to see it all."

At First Friday Trolley Hop along the Main and Market corridor, visitors can feast on an art show, tourist attraction and an electric street party and celebration of downtown Louisville. The event happens on the first Friday of every month from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., rain or shine.

Find out more great places to hit up while you're in Louisville.

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