By Autumn Costelle
Americorps VISTA Worker, Jefferson Memorial Forest
Jefferson Memorial Forest used to be known as “Jefferson County’s Best Kept Secret,” but not anymore. With the help of Forest Fest, an annual bluegrass festival that promotes local businesses and artists, the Forest is gaining attention as the most treasured natural playground in Louisville’s backyard.
Forest Fest began 13 years ago, when Tonya Swan, the program manager at the time, decided to try something new to bring Jefferson Memorial Forest into the public eye. The beautiful 6,600 acres of sloping, tree-covered hills right in the middle of Fairdale needed an event to draw in visitors who might not normally come to the forest.
“I wanted it to be something that introduced the rest of Louisville to this great Forest and this very traditional community that held onto its small-town feel right in the middle of the largest city in Kentucky” Swan said, explaining her motivation for starting the event.
Despite Kentucky’s rich Bluegrass roots, Swan felt that Louisville had failed to showcase the genre and the talented artists from the area.
It would take a lot of effort, but she believed Forest Fest would be an excellent opportunity to bring Bluegrass fans out to the forest and put both the music and the location on the map. The first Forest Fest was in 2005, and there were just two bands, 100 people, an oversized stage, and one speaker.
In recent years, however, Bluegrass has made a comeback in Louisville due to regular jams, the work of Bluegrass Anonymous, and local bands becoming more popular in the area.
By 2008, Forest Fest’s headliners were Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, and the event attracted over 5,000 attendees.
The event is growing every year with six musical acts and more local food and drink vendors and family activities. The event could not happen without all of the amazing volunteers, forest and parks staff, and sponsors such as Metro Council, LG&E, and WFPK.
Forest Fest includes both traditional and progressive/Americana bluegrass. The Forest has recently added music and band workshops as well as an expanded camping area for the festival.
Rebecca Minnick, current Program Manager at the Forest, took over the festival in 2013. She starts planning the next year’s festival when summer camps end and works tirelessly to gather all the required resources needed to hold such a huge event in the middle of a forest.
An outdoor event always comes with hiccups and difficulties. But even on a rainy day like they had for Forest Fest 2016, people were dancing in the rain and having a blast.
“One of Minnick’s favorite parts about Forest Fest is the kid’s nature play activities. The kids can make mud pies and fairy villages, get up close with native wildlife, and dance around the trees. Minnick wants kids to say to their parents “I had so much fun playing in the forest, can we go back there?”
The goal of Forest Fest is to promote Jefferson Memorial Forest and raise awareness of all the infinite opportunities for free, fun learning right in your backyard.
Jefferson Memorial Forest is a place for Louisvillians to hike and picnic under the leafy canopy and a chorus of songbirds.
A place to go fishing with your children. A place to discover all the wildflowers of spring. A place to camp under more stars than you can count. A place for your children to look back on and remember those magical days of summer camp where they got to catch bugs, go canoeing, and build forts in the woods.
And lastly, a place to enjoy a beautiful spring day surrounded by the best Bluegrass and Americana music in Louisville!
This year’s Forest Fest is happening May 20th from 10:30am to 7:00pm. Admission is free. Parking is $10 per vehicle.