HISTORY OF THE FESTIVAL
“For several years before the 1988 (optimistically) First Annual Garvin Gate Blues Festival, the Rudyard Kipling had been serving up mo’ and mo’ better blues, among them Rocky Adcock (musically, or “bluesically,” known as Rocky Amaretto), had begun to pester owners, Ken Pyle and Shelia Joyce, to have a blues festival in their parking lot. Meanwhile the Garvin Gate Association, was reforming as the Garvin Gate Neighborhood Association – enlarging its boundaries to include Fourth and Sixth, Oak and Ormsby – and considering some kind of annual event (perhaps a flea market, someone suggested a white-elephant sale). But there was no question that this event was anticipated to be a “next-year” reality, not as it happened – something that would be pulled together in a few weeks.
“It all started with a beer or two at the Rudyard Kipling – after the neighborhood meeting where an annual event were discussed – and Ken Pyle asked me if I thought the neighborhood would be furious if we took the music outdoors for a “jam: in the parking lot. I thought the idea was fine as long as the hours were reasonable, but my friends the parking lot is dramatically better looking today than it was in 1988, and I thought the site would be absolutely grim. “What about having it at the Garvin Gate,” I said. “Possible,” he said, “How would your neighbors feel about that?” My job was to find out.
“First stop Association Chair, Paul Porzio, who loved the idea and talked to neighbors. Their response great idea! Results that year: it rained so 500 people came, we had a little profit from Paul’s aggressive sweatshirt sales. Year two, the Festival became an official event of the County Judges Jefferson Discovery Program. We had great weather and 10,000people came! The festival was still south of the gate. Everything went smoothly but police recommended closing Oak Street for year three.
“In year three, Oak Street was closed between Fourth and Sixth and the bands were moved to the intersection. Twenty thousand people came! They came from east, west, south and Indiana, some even came from out of town. They represented all colors, economic level, and sexual orientations. The common thread was an appreciation of good music.”
Written by Ann Hassett long time Garvin Gate resident -1941-2011,
Now, this two-day event is the largest free neighborhood street music festival in Louisville and takes place the second full-weekend in October at The Gate on Garvin Place and Oak Streets in historic Old Louisville, just a mile south of downtown. The festival attracts a very diverse audience from all over the Midwest, making it one of the largest and most recognized free blues music festivals in the U.S. Countless legendary blues musicians have performed at the Garvin Gate Blues Festival throughout its 24 plus years, they help to keep Louisville's blues heritage alive. Louisville played a role in the Great Migration from the South after World War II, but it was during urban renewal when we lost a lot of our urban blues culture. The festival is run entirely by volunteers with proceeds from sponsorships and vendor sales benefiting The Garvin Gate Neighborhood Association, the historic Old Louisville preservation district neighborhood, the Kentuckiana Blues Society and different charities chosen each year.
To see more about how the festival history continues, click here.