By Matt Wickstrom
LEXINGTON, Ky. — AC Entertainment, founders of Bonnaroo, Forecastle and countless other high-profile events scattered throughout the country, has partnered with VisitLex to create Railbird Festival, a gathering of top-shelf music, bourbon and equine experiences to be held on the hallowed grounds of Keeneland from August 10-11, 2019.
AC Entertainment has a knack for breathing local culture into it’s events, a trend that AC President Ashley Capps says will continue with Railbird.
“With all of our festivals, we aspire to create an experience that stands apart from others – that is a true celebration of place, of the richness and uniqueness of a community,” said Capps. “That, for us, is at the heart of any truly great festival experience. What a place this is, and what a team to collaborate with. This iconic setting at Keeneland in a city like Lexington, Kentucky, and these visionary leaders who make it all work, from bourbon to horses to bluegrass and everything in between. We couldn’t be more excited for this new venture.”
The name Railbird is twofold. A “railbird” in horse racing is the racetrack regular known for sticking close to the action and hanging on the rail along the track. To “ride the rail” is to do the same at a concert. Railbird will welcome attendees from near and far to get in the action in the same way for an unforgettable weekend of music, art and bourbon in a one-of-a-kind setting.
It wouldn’t be Kentucky without it, so bourbon also will play a spotlight role at Railbird. The festival will host a number of bourbon distillers on-site with special, exclusive offerings, available only at Railbird. Artisanal and local foods will be at the forefront, along with a number of craft beers.
In addition, Railbird’s musical lineup will be revealed on March 25, with tickets going on sale in the days following. The music will feature a mix of rock, Americana, folk, bluegrass and more will feel right at home at the stately Grounds at Keeneland – which also provide a one-of-a-kind venue for a festival, with room to create unique experiences. Specifically, the festival will take place in The Meadow and on The Hill surrounding Keeneland, rather than inside the racetrack gates, paddock or infield areas. The festival will offer a number of VIP and General Admission (GA) level equine-focused experiences, excursions and meals, as well as off-track wagering, and more.
“Railbird will be a celebration of our heritage, and an up-close-and-personal Kentucky experience at our historic racecourse,” said Vince Gabbert, Keeneland vice president and chief operating officer. “AC Entertainment brings an incredible track record and years of experience and expertise in booking and managing highly acclaimed music festivals, so we are so pleased to work with them to create Railbird here on the grounds at Keeneland.”
Some of Lexington’s community anchors have partnered with AC Entertainment to create Railbird. Local businessman and Railbird co-producer David Helmers spearheaded the effort to bring together AC Entertainment, Keeneland, VisitLex, city officials and others to create the vision for a uniquely Lexington event. Helmers says Railbird will become a point of pride for the community, a tourism draw, and a new driver for economic development and talent attraction.
The entire planning process has been 18 months, starting up in September 2017 shortly after the conclusion of Moontower Music Festival, an event which Helmers held a stake in for the final two of the four years it ran at Masterson Station Park. Helmers says that he’s relieved to finally be able to tell people about Railbird after keeping his excitement bottled up for the past year and a half.
“I’m naturally not the best person at keeping a secret, so it’s been very difficult,” said Helmers. “My wife will be excited too, because now I’ll be able to talk about this with other people and not just her… We’re thrilled to be hosting such a premiere event and hope to give people here and coming from elsewhere a taste of what makes Kentucky so special.”
Railbird will also give back to the community by partnering with local nonprofit organizations Central Music Academy, Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, Fayette Alliance and Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Each nonprofit will receive monetary support from the festival, and will have a presence on-site during the event.
“Railbird Festival will bring together A-list music and Lexington’s best this August – Keeneland, Kentucky Bourbon, local cuisine and craft beer,” said Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton. “I look forward to seeing our city shine in the national spotlight.”
To learn more about Railbird Festival, visit RailbirdFest.com.