Fest-a-Ville Gets a Facelift

Photos courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Photos courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

This year, one of the Kentucky Derby Festival’s most beloved staples – Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront – is getting a makeover. The event, which runs April 28 through May 6 and encompasses the Chow Wagon, has long been adored and anticipated by the city. This year, the KDF in tandem with The Event Company is bringing a new face to the 900,000-square-foot venue, successfully  updating its aesthetic to be contemporary, clean and unequivocally Kentucky.

Tricia Siegwald, event manager for Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville and the Chow Wagon, contends that she and her team have been working hard on making Fest-a-Ville more than just a place where you go to get a funnel cake. “What we’re trying to accomplish is making it a place not just to come, get something to eat and maybe grab a beer, but where guests can enjoy the experience all day long,” she affirms. “And that’s part of the reason for the aesthetic change – to make it a place where people really want to hang out and stay.”

Photos courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Photos courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

That aesthetic change has primarily been the responsibility of Gary Loeser, owner of The Event Company. The business has worked with the KDF for over 15 years, but this will be the first year that they will be the official decorator of the Kentucky Derby Festival. Loeser is enthusiastic about the new title and has consequently particularly relished this season’s duties. “This year, we were given the challenge of making the Chow Wagon and Fest-a-Ville a little more festive – to have more continuity in the feel and design of the events,” he describes. “And we’re trying to do everything a little more Kentucky-related.”

What that means in reality is the incorporation of several new elements that give the event a whole new vibe. For example, instead of traditional picnic tables, Loeser is implementing more standing cocktail tables in the form of bourbon barrels. There will also be market lighting under the I-64 overpass, bringing character and elegance to the ambiance of the Chow Wagon. Furthermore, the beer garden will see hanging burlap chandeliers, accented with bourbon barrel staves.

Kentucky’s largest disco ball will also be on display, as will a 40-foot replica of the new Lincoln Bridge, designed to be the perfect place for a photo opportunity. Loeser says the fixture was difficult to realize but will ultimately be a fan-favorite: “The question we were faced with was, ‘How do we make that structure a photo-op?’ So what we did was we made the front where you have your photograph made 8-feet wide, but as you go back 40 feet, it ends up being 4-feet wide at the end. So when you stand in front of it, it looks like this tremendously long bridge.”

As far as the food itself is concerned, Siegwald assures that there will be old favorites as well as some newer offerings. “We’ll have the traditional fare because we know some people come down to have their annual corn dog, but we’re also offering some new unique things,” she teases. Such new items include wood-fired pizza, hand-dipped ice cream, the 2016 Derby Burger – a burger stuffed with blue and feta cheeses and seasoned with bell peppers and onions – gyros, brisket and roasted sweet corn.

The beverage aspect of Fest-a-Ville is also getting a makeover. There will be five bars across the venue with such highlights as Drake’s By the River, which will be a full-service bar and feature cornhole as well as giant Jenga games; the Firefly Sweet Tea Bar, which will offer a relaxation and hammock area; and, of course, the Chow Wagon Beer Garden, complete with a new stone bar, bourbon barrel tables and rustic chandeliers.

Siegwald is also highly anticipating the unveiling of some of Fest-a-Ville’s new events. Attendees can look forward to Neigh-maste (April 29), which will see yoga offered on the Great Lawn; the Ken-Ducky Derby (April 30), where 20,000 rubber ducks will be launched into the Ohio River to benefit Harbor House; Splat Out Cancer (May 4), an event where guests will launch paint-filled balloons at a giant canvas to benefit the James Graham Brown Cancer Center; and NeXtreme Knockerball (all week), where participants can climb into giant bubbles and bump, knock and roll into each other.

Without question, this year’s Fest-a-Ville will be the best one to date. “We’re just trying to keep people really comfortable so that they can make a whole day of it,” Siegwald muses. And with the multitude of other events that are all a part of Fest-a-Ville, such as the Great Balloon Glimmer and the Waterfront Jams Concert Series, there will be no shortage of activities. Indeed, with a new look, new ambiance and new events, this year is surely a milestone for the KDF, as Loeser asserts, “We too are stepping up our game on behalf of the Festival … It’s just a new age for all of us.” VT

A complete schedule of Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville, along with more information, can be found online at discover.kdf.org.