Sometime around 6:45 in the evening it became fully apparent that this 21stCentury Parks’ Field & Fork thing was going to work.
Or in the words of a woman who was dressed a little more stylishly than a summer sit-down dinner for about 400 friends in a newly-cleared walnut grove along Floyds Fork might suggest: “Write it down sweetheart. Isn’t this just splendid?”
Close enough. With the wine and whiskey flowing, the bugs at an absolute minimum – and the bluegrass music yet to come.
The Field & Fork dinner – subtitled “An Evening at The Parklands. 6.9.2012″ – was a chancy event. If serious rain had fallen – or even threatened – the fall-back position for this fund-raiser-in-the-boonies was a riding stable miles away.
This first major public fund raising for The Parklands was an event years in the making. The presenting and hosting partners were the JPMorgan Chase & Co. and a group called Old Louisville Meets New Louisville – the latter a coalition of young Louisvillians with intergenerational hopes and ambitions. Its mission: To unite the old and new in town in beneficial, non-profit works.
“We all love Louisville,” explained board member Alex Gift. “We pretty much grew up here.”
This connecting across the generations – and with it the hope of raising another $1 million to go with the almost $112 million already raised to complete park development – also came with about a month’s physical labor.
Long aisles were chopped and bush hogged through the walnut grove, itself overgrown with weedy box elder trees and hopeful elm saplings.
Once cleared, tables covered in white linen were lined through the center of each green aisle, white folding chairs carefully placed along their edges; the whole thing offering something of the appearance of a fancy dinner in a young Sherwood Forest.
About 35 local businesses and individuals were listed as table sponsors. The place settings included cut flowers in mason jars, ceramic mushrooms in flower pots, bright-yellow slices of lemon in water glasses and bottles of “Little Black Dress” wine, 2010 Chardonnay, droplets of moisture flowing down its chilled edges.
Individual admission was $150 per ticket. Guests arriving at the remote dinner site off Echo Trail were greeted by very good signage, a few dozen very large round bales of hay in a big pasture and no visible signs of a party, which must have provided a few “Where the hell are we moments?”
The long lane along the pasture eventually led to a parking area and rides on golf carts past smudge pots and beneath a monster, if not reassuring, “FIELD & FORK” sign to the check-in table closer to Floyds Fork.
As more of the guests arrived and chose to walk to the check-in table, they were greeted by half-barrels of bottled water placed along a path newly covered in wood chips, or, better yet, waiters from Ladyfingers Catering in black dress offering hors d’oeuvres and glasses of wine.
Off to the side of the check-in table, Bowling Green, Ky., native and bluegrass legend Sam Bush was leading his band through a sound check on a big stage erected in another pasture – twelve big black speakers ready to boom out mandolin music for miles.
The wood-chip path continued along Floyds Fork toward several table bars set up along the river; one right at the water’s edge. Hand-lettered wooden signs nailed to trees pointed to “COCKTAILS” and “dinner.”
Brown-Forman was very much in the woods. Old wooden whiskey barrels lined this path. On top of them rested more splashes of cut flowers – white Baby’s Breath and yellow Peruvian lilies stuffed into open bottles of Woodford Reserve, the liquid in the bottles the exact color of the product.
In a few years this path will be part of the Louisville Loop – the 100 miles walking and bike trail around Louisville – although party conversation indicated it might someday wind through the walnut grove, too.
Where the path took an abrupt turn down new wood-lined steps toward the water the Louisville band “Appalatin” was performing; its music a rhythmic blend of Latin and Appalachian folk music; the band members from Central America, the Andes and Appalachia complete with guitar, bongos, Andean flutes and mandolin.
Let the party begin: A sunny but not too warm evening, the bug population beat way back with two large sprayings of insecticide well before the event; Sam Bush warming up at one end and Appalatin performing at the other.
So the party began. The guests – asked to dress casually elegant and showing up in everything from women in summer dresses to what a guy would wear on Saturday morning on a trip to the hardware store.
They came in from the parking lot and wandered down the path toward the river, slowly taking it all in; the long white tables, the music, the whiskey and wine.
And it worked.
Within a half-hour the rocky bank of Floyds Fork was crowded with hundreds of people at a cocktail party, talking and laughing beneath big Sycamore trees in the filtered sunlight – surely the most novel gathering in Floyd Fork’s long and once remote history.
In fact, the guests were soon almost oblivious to their surroundings – at least for the moment. It all was, well, both charming and splendid.
At 7 p.m. Christen Boone, 21st Century Park’s director of external relations and head time-keeper, used the Appalatin microphone to thank everyone coming to “the first Field and Fork event” – a promise of more to come.
Then she announced dinner would be served – with Sam Bush to follow: “We have a great date with the sunset,” she said, “and we want to keep you to it.”
Dinner was served by a small army of Ladyfinger’s waiters and waitresses working from a large white tent. Dinner was Kentucky bibb salad with bourbon vinaigrette and Kentucky hot brown chicken. Desert was homemade bread pudding with peaches, apples and bourbon custard.
Shortly before 9 p.m. the guests begin to filter over toward the 400 folding chairs set up in the pasture where Sam Bush would perform. Among those who welcomed them was Paul Costel, president of JPMorgan Chase’s Kentucky market, who summed up a lot of the new-found feeling toward the possibilities offered by The Parklands of Floyds Fork:
“I really didn’t get it until tonight,” he said. “Drinks on the Fork…Dinner in a walnut grove…”
Just about sunset, with patches of pink in a liquid gray sky, Sam Bush took over. Wearing a “Parklands” baseball jersey with a big number 12 on his back, the three-time Grammy winner who began his career right after high school in Louisville, played to the home folks with songs from Bill Monroe, and Louisville’s Tim Krekel.
It didn’t seem to be an audience fully versed in bluegrass music but almost everyone joined in – and offered heart-felt applause – when Bush moved on to that Grandpa Jones classic, “Eight More Miles to Louisville.”
Bush played for almost two hours, mixing bluegrass, new grass, mandolin jazz and long riffs into any direction he – or his band – wanted to go. But he saved his best line of the evening for the people in the folding chairs, or standing along their outer edges in the fading light:
“We’re so happy to be…in a hayfield in Kentucky.”
Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system - all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill's stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.
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