One of the 30 most populous cities of the United States — and the largest city within the state of Kentucky — Louisville is an ideal year-round destination for travelers of all ages, backgrounds, and professions. As Louisville International Airport offers direct flights to and from countless major cities — including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, New Orleans, Denver, and Philadelphia — it is easier to get to than many Americans may realize. Those who prefer driving to flying also ought to be aware that Louisville is within 300 miles of Nashville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St.Louis, Toledo, Columbus, Fort Wayne, and Lexington.
While Louisville is primarily associated with bourbon (its Bourbon Row includes destinations related to Old Forester, Angel’s Envy, and the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co.), baseball (Louisville Slugger is based there as are the Louisville Bats baseball team), and horses (it is of course home to Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby), there is so much more to the town. I had the pleasure of visiting the city during the 3-day Louder Than Life music festival — one of three multi-day music festivals hosted in Louisville in September 2019 beyond the NuLu Festival — and learning more about its many contributions to the global landscape beyond bourbon, baseball, and horses.
A continuation of my article published last week, here are 6 more Louisville experts were available for Q&A to help educate me and the readers of UrbanMatter about the city:
– Selena Fragassi, owner of FR PR, journalist and publicist at the Louder Than Life
– Andry Rakotoniaina, Beverage Manager of Garage Bar
– Myron Reed, professional wrestler for MLW
– Ian Abel, frontman of the Ian Abel Band
– Jeremy Rochman, singer of Anemic Royalty
– JK McKnight, Founder of Forecastle Festival, Forecastle Foundation and more
What do you enjoy most about Louisville?
Selena Fragassi: There is always so much to do here, and for every interest! If you love sports there’s nothing like touring the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. The Speed Art Museum has some great exhibits for art aficionados. Of course, there’s bourbon a-plenty and Mayor Fischer has really done a tremendous job in turning Louisville into a destination capitalizing on its bourbon history with so many distilleries offering tours along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Louisville is also a very haunted city with some great ghost tours and stories like that of the Witches Tree on 4th.
Andry Rakotoniaina: I moved here from Western Kentucky to further my experience with bourbon in the hospitality industry, which this town has plenty of! The biggest surprise was finding a “can-do” attitude adopted by many Louisvillians that extends into warm, welcoming, inclusive communities- whether its the local music and art scene, refugee ministries, youth groups, LGBTQ+ outreach; all of these are so much more accessible than I’d expected!
Myron Reed: It’s where I’m from. I’m pretty much grinding in my hometown around family, mom, dad, girlfriend, family — it’s the best place for me right now.
Jeremy Rochman: My favorite thing about Louisville is that it really feels like home. I feel like I’ll always be able to come back to Louisville and relax.
JK McKnight: It’s “the City of Art & Parks.” We have a world-renowned park system designed by the brilliant Frederick Law Olmsted — Central Park, Biltmore Estate, US Capitol Grounds, etc. — who designed more parks in Louisville than anywhere else in the country. He is largely considered the father of American landscape architecture and we’re fortunate that his footprint is everywhere here. The arts scene here is equally impactful and felt throughout, with nationally-respected theaters like the Actors Theater, The Palace, etc., venues and festivals that have nurtured, molded and fostered incredible stable of talent that keeps our city vibrant and interesting.
Ian Abel: First I’d like to start by thanking you, Darren, for one, showing my city love and two, giving me the opportunity to talk about the place I call home. Now for what I enjoy most about Louisville. Hmm… This is a difficult question because my hometown offers so much to be admired. Rich culture, incredible food, amazing local music, unbelievable live theater, the DERBY… The list goes on!
But if I had to narrow it down to one thing, I’d have to say it’s the people. For instance, my parents moved to Louisville from Nashville when I was 3 because my dad was hired on at a large manufacturing company. My mother started working at a packing and supply company that was close to my dad’s work and there she met a man by the name of Chris. Chris was a south end Louisville boy through and through. Hard-working, down to earth and funny as all get out.
I believe as the story goes, we had only been in Louisville for a couple of months and Thanksgiving was approaching. Unprovoked, but knowing we had no family in the area, Chris called my parents and invited them to THEIR families’ Thanksgiving dinner! It’s people like that, who make Louisville such a unique place. And as you can imagine, we are still so incredibly close to them. Even though we are a house divided when it comes to college athletics in the state of Kentucky — GO CARDS! — I consider them my family.
Chris & Dena (who became my godparents) and their entire family, hold the common characteristics shared by people from Louisville and that is what I enjoy most about the city. Also, next time I’ll have to tell you about how my mom played a role in getting those two together in the first place. Something about Chris being too nervous to talk to Dena & then somehow dollar dances at a wedding we involved…
What do you wish more people knew about Louisville?
Selena Fragassi: That it’s very accessible. It’s an easy day trip from Chicago, Indianapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Columbus, and well worth the drive for a uniquely American city.
Andry Rakotoniaina: The Olmsted Park System here is an absolute gem! We have a chance to embrace a sustainable and green network of trails that are bike-friendly and usable for more folks.
Jeremy Rochman: I wish more people knew that Louisville is a real city with a ton of culture and art and things to do. It has a very vibrant music scene with lots of great artists and there will be like 5 shows to choose from on a given Saturday night.
JK McKnight: We’re often overlooked — “flyover country,” according to my west coast buddies — or pigeonholed as about “horses, bourbon and baseball bats.” We’re a lot more than that, and anyone who spends a weekend here will see that. Parks, arts, culinary, entertainment, history… There’s a lot to do here. More than meets the eye.
Ian Abel: This is probably going to come off a little rude, but I don’t really want people to know more about it than they already do. I’ve always feared that when people go there, they’ll fall in love with it, move there and start to try to make their own little changes like so many have done recently in other cities.
Of course, that being said, here are some notable Louisvillians: Muhammad Ali, Jennifer Lawrence, Hunter S. Thompson, My Morning Jacket, Diane Sawyer and yours truly. That diverse list of legends should give you a great glimpse as to what kind of city Louisville is.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Louisville?
Selena Fragassi: We recently tried Seviche and I was blown away by the food presentation and unique flavors. Chef Anthony Lamas really knows his way around the kitchen — the pecan-crusted brie is to die for! We also always make it a point to go to Holy Grale for drinks and food and are dying to check out Gralehouse, their breakfast/brunch/lunch spot. I also love the creative interiors of Proof on Main. Please & Thank You has to be one of my favorite coffeehouses, too; I highly recommend their butterscotch latte and famous chocolate chip cookies.
Andry Rakotoniaina: I’m on the edge of my seat for the ramen menu change at Mirin in Clifton. It’s gonna be fire.
Myron Reed: I really like Chili’s. That’s probably one of my favorite restaurants of all time. KFC — chicken, of course, I’m going to say chicken. It’s awesome here. There’s a lot of great restaurants. If you have it in your city, it’s probably here.
Jeremy Rochman: My favorite restaurant changes a lot because of how many fantastic restaurants there are, but right now I’d have to say Taco Luchador. It’s a wrestling-themed taco and torta place. Mmmmmm…
JK McKnight: El Mundo, Butchertown Grocery, Lilly’s and The Holy Grale are my top ones at the moment. Someone told me a while back that we have more independent restaurants per capita than anyone except Austin and Portland, so that’s noteworthy…
Ian Abel: You’re going to think I’m crazy, but Louisville Italian food is insanely good. There is a particular Louisville style of pizza so anyone visiting needs to stop by Wicks, Impelizzeri’s or Bearno’s by the bridge and get a Falls City pitcher to wash it down.
What was the last concert you saw in Louisville?
Selena Fragassi: Louder Than Life. (laughs) But I tried getting to Strand Of Oaks on 9/11, the first night we were in town, at Zanzabar. I really was impressed seeing how many shows were in Louisville in the time span we were in town and the shows coming up too like Lizzo, Chance The Rapper, of course, Slayer is coming to town in November. Being from Chicago, in many ways it feels like Louisville is starting to become another major music city in the Midwest with a wide variety of small intimate clubs and big arenas like the YUM! Center.
Andry Rakotoniaina: Knocked Loose at Spinelli’s, Electric Garden at Mellwood Tavern, but the most memorable has been Neutral Milk Hotel at Iroquois Park.
Jeremy Rochman: The last show I saw in Louisville was BOA playing their record release show. It was a great night. Lots of fun and dancing, good picture of what a show should be.
JK McKnight: Probably my own. (laughs) The Forecastle Festival, which I created 17 years ago in Tyler Park. It’s grown into a nationally-recognized celebration of music, arts, and activism, then draws up to 75,000 fans per year. We’ve hosted over 600 artists, this past year it was Anderson. Paak and the Free Nationals, The Killers, Avett Brothers and more. The festival raises money for my foundation, which protects the world’s most biodiverse, but highly-threatened global habitats. We have active projects across 6 countries and 3 continents at the moment and adding more each year.
Ian Abel: My Morning Jacket’s homecoming headlining spot at the Forecastle Festival. I had been going to Forecastle for years. When it went from a park show to a larger venue, the Belvedere, and now it’s a huge weekend event on the waterfront overlooking the Ohio River. Getting to see the hometown heroes absolutely crush it was an incredible occasion.
Now my most impactful show in Louisville was probably seeing Foxy Shazam rock a venue called Skull Alley in 2008. It was an energy I had never experienced before and one that I try to emulate still to this day! Lastly, I’d like to add that anyone reading should go check out Wax Fang in Louisville. Their music is so awesome.
Is there any city in the world that reminds you of Louisville?
Selena Fragassi: I get major New Orleans vibes every time I visit Louisville. From its reputation as one of the most haunted cities in America to its large French influence, there’s something very similar about the vibe. Plus there’s a strong music scene and southern charm just like NOLA.
Andry Rakotoniaina: Louisville is Chicago’s younger brother that got into the bootlegging business and walked out with an MBA while wearing flip-flops in December, and jams to Grateful Dead on weekends.
Myron Reed: Atlanta would be more like a turnt-up Louisville, pretty much.
Jeremy Rochman: This one’s tough. (laughs) Louisville really doesn’t feel much like any other city to me. It has a really unique energy that I personally don’t get from many other places. The people here have a lot of southern hospitality comparing to Nashville or even much smaller towns, but also the buzz constantly going around makes it feel like a big city sometimes like New York or Chicago.
JK McKnight: There really’s isn’t, and a lot of that has to do with its unique geography. Are we the northernmost southern city? Southernmost northern city? Midwestern? There are elements of each sprinkled through. We’re quite a melting pot.
Ian Abel: I have yet to go to Portland or Austin and from what I’ve been told, those 2 are just a little bit bigger versions of my home. Well, I suppose what Austin used to be, but either way, I am planning to go to both cities next year to see if that is true. My all-time favorite record store, Ear-X-Tacy, used to sell “Keep Louisville Weird” bumper stickers and I actually keep one on the flight casing for my pedalboard.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
Andry Rakotoniaina: Please have your ID and form of payment ready when ordering a drink.
Myron Reed: Kids, just do whatever you believe in. If you believe in something, if you think you’re good at it, pursue it, and never give up.
Ian Abel: Please follow us on social media @ianabelband and check out my latest single “Outlaw,” which dropped last Friday!
Jeremy Rochman: Come party with us!
JK McKnight: I started an entrepreneurial impact agency last year after deciding to leave the music business after 20 years as an artist and producer. It’s called Man Of The Land: The Art Of Impact. I’m really proud of it and doing some incredible work. Check it out!