A beautiful afternoon on the waterfront alone is enough to make someone appreciate living in Louisville. That being said, it is events like GonzoFest, celebrating the hugely influential Hunter S. Thompson on his own turf, that opens an outsider’s eyes to how glorious this city is. A man, who until recently has been immensely misunderstood and under appreciated, has an entire day set to honor his work and impact on artistic endeavors because his friends in his home town believed he deserved it. Louisville is a self proclaimed weird place, with some less than conventional folks residing here, but no matter what your preferences, beliefs or style might be, it is days like last Saturday, that make it clear this city is accepting to all.
GonzoFest ’15 was the fifth installment of raucous jubilation all in the name of Hunter S. Thompson. Last year was a multi-day and multi-venue deal… this year’s upgrade to a single event and Big Four Lawn location (thanks to the flooding for that one) really means it has arrived in the big leagues.
Seven local bands provided the eclectic background sound for the all-day fest. We caught the second half of the day’s acts: Vessel, Graffiti and 1200. Each was blessed with blissful weather and a hard-to-beat backdrop. Graffiti’s set began with the sun disappearing over the Ohio, giving their [first Waterfront] performance that unspeakable something that no indoor venue or atmosphere could ever conjure.
In the week preceding, we spoke with Jecorey Arthur (aka 1200) about his team’s plans for the day; from what he would share beforehand, we were in for lots of surprises and new elements to his set. Every time we see 1200 perform it becomes clearer and clearer that he spends so much time thinking about each element of his performance: the musical stuff (I obviously don’t know it myself), as well as movement, visuals, lighting, etc. In the past, his background has been a digitally morphed live feed of the show. This was again the case Saturday, but he also interspersed the honored man’s images, quotes and videos within his own performance shots. We were also given the chance to see the other pieces of the whole 1200 act take center stage- Jecorey stepped to the side letting multi-purpose man Nick rip some guitar magic as well as stellar solo’s and Gonzo readings from singers, Jazmyn and Tyler. The ultimate Louisville pride ending was the revelation of the Louisville City Football Club anthem, including a stage full of percussionists (and some of the cutest kids I’ve seen in a while). I may need another time with the song to make sure I have the chant down-pat, but the tune definitely screams “Louisville and its people are freaking awesome.”
The musical performances Saturday were offset by fiery spoken word pieces, including the keynote speaker, Ron Whitehead. Whitehead, “The Outlaw Poet,” was a close friend of the man of the day and a key piece in the success of GonzoFest in Louisville. He spoke of his companion and hero with such adulation and frank clarity that whatever faults Thompson may have had were made unimportant. It was moving to watch Whitehead explain how and why he pushed so adamantly to have Hunter S. Thompson inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. Although I can’t speak for everyone that attended, I believe the day was a unique and fitting representation and celebration of everything good about Hunter S. Thompson and his city, Louisville.
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