Moonlight Festival set to let downtown shine Saturday

Christopher Harris I CJ

Starting back in 2014, the Harvest Moon Festival lit up the night sky with a warm glow and the buzz of citizens around the judicial center plaza downtown. That festival has gone by the wayside, but the concept helped give birth to Saturday's Moonlight Festival, the latest town event from the City of Somerset, which will go from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. downtown.

Fifty years ago, we put a man on the moon.

This Saturday, October 19, the City of Somerset hopes to put a whole bunch of people on the streets for the Moonlight Festival.

"We are so excited about another amazing festival planned for downtown," said Somerset Mayor Alan Keck. "The weather is scheduled to be wonderful, and please remember, it will be a free, family-friendly day of fun!"

Somerset's latest foray into the realm of outdoor festivities -- following a summer filled with food trucks -- is in many ways actually a phoenix risen from the ashes of another popular community event, the Harvest Moon Festival.

"Tiffany Bourne worked with the Pulaski County Government and developed a partnership working with Master Musicians Festival (MMF) to put on the Harvest Moon Festival," said Leslie Ikerd, the City of Somerset's Director of Tourism, recalling the autumnally-themed event that began in 2014. "The next year, City (of Somerset) Tourism partnered with the Pulaski County Government. We worked together for two years. It was a great line-up of music and food vendors, but scaled down at the (judicial center) plaza. It was always people's favorite time of year."

Acts that were on the MMF radar and looking to perform at the July outdoor music festival would take the stage, bathed in the warm glow of golden strands of lights surrounding the circular plaza. With a crisp bite in the air, dressed in warm flannel and enjoying flavors like apple cider, the Harvest Moon Festival set a certain mood that was memorable for anyone who attended.

But with Bourne departing from her government position and the county moving away from the project, with the city unable to do all the lifting for the project on its own budget-wise, the Harvest Moon Festival disappeared from the horizon last year.

"I hated to see it go," said Ikerd.

But last November, shortly after the time when the Harvest Moon Festival would have been held, something significant happened: Keck won his bid for Mayor of the City of Somerset, a validation of his stated vision to "light up Somerset" with a cornucopia of downtown activity.

"(Keck) came in on a mission to revitalize downtown," said Ikerd. "A great way to do that is through festivals, music and food and fellowship. We didn't want to forget about the Harvest Moon Festival going forward, and with his campaign to 'light up downtown' we came up with 'Moonlight.' It's still the same enthusiasm and passion we had with Harvest Moon, and what Tiffany was able to start years ago. We wanted to have a little piece of that and bring the energy back to downtown."

The festival starts at 11 a.m., which is not anywhere near the time when the moon will be out, noted Ikerd with a laugh. Still, the festival will go until 10 p.m., ending with the moon high above in the night sky.

"It'll get dark early," said Ikerd. "We've not had a (city) festival done up that way, with the lights (decorating the scene)."

And, Ikerd promised, it will have the same fun fall feel that the Harvest Moon Festival tried to capture in its heyday.

Ikerd is especially impressed with the musical line-up that the city was able to pull together, featuring a number of performers that are favorites of local crowds, having performed at MMF, the Blues, BBQ, and Arts Festival, Jarfly Brewing Co., and other hotspots around town. The schedule is approximately as follows:

11 a.m. Rachel Crowe Band

12:15 p.m. Kites

1:45 p.m. The Soul Revue Band

3 p.m. Restless Leg String Band

4:45 p.m. Gangstagrass

6:30 p.m. The Steel Wheels

8:30 p.m. J D Shelburne

"The whole line-up is amazing," said Ikerd. "We're excited to put together a showcase that everybody can enjoy. The music line-up has something for everyone -- country, rock, soul, bluegrass, R&B. Nobody can come to this festival and say they didn't get anything out of it."

And of course, it wouldn't be a downtown festival without food trucks -- as Ikerd put it, "Who doesn't like food?"

Ikerd pledged that many of those locals "know and love" will be on hand, as well as some new ones.

"We have people driving in from as far as Cincinnati and Louisville to be here," she said.

And since it's so close to Halloween, it's the perfect time of year for spirits -- not the supernatural kind, but the drinking kind. The Moonlight Festival is being presented by Evan Williams Bourbon, and the Bardstown, Ky., brand will be set up at the festival to sell its product to the public. In all, there will be six brewers and three wineries on hand, said Ikerd.

The Moonlight Festival itself is free to enter. However, if you wish to drink, you will need to buy a $5 bracelet at the gate when you enter. If you don't have one and try to buy alcohol, you'll be sent back to the gate to purchase a bracelet. The money goes to help pay for the event and the musical artists, noted Ikerd.

There will be three entrance gates -- one at the intersection of East Mt. Vernon Street and North Maple Street, and another across the street at South Maple Street. The other will be up by North Central Avenue. The area will be gated off from Cumberland Security Bank to near the Carnegie Street on Main Street, and from the old Food Fair building down to around Jarfly on Mt. Vernon Street at different points around the square; Ikerd said it will be similar to the area blocked off for Somernites Cruise, but not as far north or south on Main Street. Road closures are being done at 7 p.m. on Friday to prepare for the festival the next day, so please consider accordingly when driving downtown Friday night. Those wanting to know more about road closures can visit the City of Somerset Facebook page for additional information.

The stage will be set up on Main Street facing the square, between the courthouse and the former Goldenberg's space. People can sit in the street or on the square and watch the performers.

There will also be other activities available, including cornhole, mixology education, and more.

"Great music, great food, and lots of time together as a community," promised Keck of what people can expect Saturday. "Bring a chair and plan to stay a while."

Ikerd credited a team of city employees, "going above and beyond" their normal jobs -- including Kathy Townsend, Jason Weatherford, Chris Jones, Joy Carroll, Steve Hyden, Marc Travis, Angie Travis, Aaron Dockery, Janet Wilson, and John Adams -- without making the event possible.

"We've been planning this for just three months," she said. "There's no way to do that without a great team."

Of course, in addition to lighting up downtown with festivals, Keck has had a number of visions for the city. The Moonlight Festival is only one of them. Keck has also been interested in the possibility of bringing Somerset into the fold when it comes to bourbon tourism in Kentucky, one of the the state's signature draws for visitors. Considering the Evan Williams sponsorship and prevalence of spirits at this festival, might that tie in with Keck's distillery dreams?

Too soon to say; Ikerd could only offer the following: "I will give one of the mayor's quotes: Stay tuned."

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