While the Kentucky Derby (and Oaks) is the crown jewel of Louisville, the party starts well before the races. Several exciting events dot the calendar in the weeks leading up to the most exciting 2 minutes in sports.
The first thing to do before landing in Louisville is learn how to pronounce the name of the city...unless you enjoy getting the evil eye from the locals. It's correctly pronounced "LOO-uh-ville"...not "LOO-iss-ville" or "LOOY-ville." Can't pronounce the pronunciations? Click here for the audio pronunciation.
On Friday, April 29th, the Great Balloon Rush-Hour Race is set for a hopeful 7 a.m. start, weather permitting of course. During the rally, balloon pilots chase a "hare" balloon and attempt to drop bags of Kentucky Bluegrass seed as close to a target on the ground as possible. Take a look here for several other hot air balloon-related events, including "The Glimmer" which takes place at night.
A few days before the Derby on Wednesday, May 4th a race of a different kind hits the waters of the Ohio River. Majestic steamboats The Belle of Louisville and The Belle of Cincinnati participate in the 2011 Great Steamboat Race. The race has evolved from a simple race to finish line to a competition for points accumulated by the boats' crews performing tasks and the race itself.
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For country music fans, The Derby Eve Jam takes place Friday, May 6. Justin Moore is set to headline the concert with songs like "Small Town USA" and "Backwoods." Dustin Lynch opens the show at 8 p.m. with Moore set to hit the state at 9 p.m. at the Kroger Fest-a-ville on the Waterfront. The Fest-a-ville on the Waterfront will be the site of tons of great things to do in the weeks leading up to the Derby.
If you're looking for a place to eat and hang out in downtown Louisville then check out the "Fourth Street LIVE" area, located on 4th Street (obviously). It's filled with entertainment destinations like the Improv comedy club and Howl at the Moon dueling piano bar (fun time!). If you're looking for a nice meal, I can personally recommend the prime rib at the Red Star Tavern (thanks Ann!). If you're looking for something a little more authentic "Kentucky" try a Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey and bacon concoction that was invented at the Brown Hotel right there in Louisville in 1926. You have to have desert for at least one meal, and that desert should be a nice big slice of DERBY-PIE®. Yes, the secret recipe is trademarked and shouldn't be confused with Kentucky Pie or other imitations.
Have fun at the Derby, but don't forget to check out all the other Louisville attractions! If you have a favorite hot spot in Louisville, e-mail Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org and look for the post on the Sports Traveler Facebook page.