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Do Something Cool with your Summer! Summer in Frankfort - Written by Patti Nickell

Summer is almost here and that means lots of activity in the capital city – both indoors and outdoors.  Locals and visitors have their pick of themed walking tours, cultural attractions, and a wide array of entertainment options.

Walk in the Footsteps of the Father of the Modern Bourbon Industry

Don’t be surprised if you see a tall, dapper gentleman dressed in a black frock coat, top hat and spats tapping his cane for emphasis as he points out historic buildings to those following along beside him through downtown Frankfort.

Twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) storyteller and yarn spinner Russ Kennedy morphs into his alter-ego, Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr., the Father of the Modern Bourbon Industry.

Kennedy is quick to emphasize the “junior” explaining that “senior” was his uncle, a prominent banker, who adopted him when he lost both parents as a youth.

Never breaking character, Kennedy takes his tour group through several hundred years of Frankfort history, pointing out buildings such as the U.S. Customs and Commons House, used to monitor commerce on the Kentucky River; Liberty Hall (where the city’s most famous ghost, the Gray Lady, is said to reside), and the home of Leopold Labrot, a winemaker from France who quickly discovered Kentuckians preferred corn to the grape.  Being adaptable, Labrot went on to lay the foundation for what is now Woodford Reserve Distillery.

He even points out Taylor, Jr.’s own home, slated to become a luxury bed-and-breakfast inn.

Along the way, Kennedy peppers his conversation with references to historical figures from James Crow, said to have made Ulysses Grant’s favorite whiskey, to lawyer George Graham Vest, who coined the phrase “dog is man’s best friend” to defend a client accused of killing the man who shot his prize coon hound.

Kennedy’s informative and entertaining history stroll is well worth an hour of your time and $11 of your money.

A Different Kind of Sculpture Garden

For a completely different kind of outdoor experience, check out the Josephine Sculpture Park, a short drive from downtown Frankfort, and the only dedicated sculpture park of its kind in the commonwealth. 

On what was once her family’s tobacco farm, Melanie VanHouten has created a 30-acre sculpture park exhibiting some 80 sculptures and murals set amidst native wildflower meadows and ecological landscapes.

“We don’t have a permanent collection,” says VanHouten.  “Instead, we prefer to rotate our collection every year with new pieces from artists we’ve commissioned or those who have participated in our artists-in-residency program.

Another unusual feature of the park is that the art is all created using recyclable materials such as steel, reclaimed wood, stone, fiber fabrics and shredded tires.

Check out Walk the Arc, where recycled telephone poles have been used to create an earthwork; Mother and Child, created from recycled propane tanks, and a multi-level sculpture of recycled wood forming a tree-top walk.

According to VanHouten, this sculpture park is meant to be engaging in more ways than one. Children are encouraged to climb on certain pieces, and all are invited to paint their own graffiti on a wall shaped like a sacred circle.

Before leaving, be sure to check out the Sky Chamber, a sculpture where four windows set at different intervals frame the same view of the sky.

Open daily from dawn to dusk free of charge, this is the perfect place to spend a summer afternoon picnicking on the grounds and viewing the works of artists at different stages of their careers.

A Summer Schedule of Concerts, Cinema and Cultural Events

When a city has a theater as historic as the Grand, it just must show if off as often as possible. This summer there will be plenty of opportunities – starting with a full roster of classic and current films. In the former category are Smokey and the Bandit (June 1), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (June 15) and Cabaret (July 20).

The latter category kicks off with Summer of Soul (June 3) and continues with Being the Ricardos (June 17); King Richard (July 15); Licorice Pizza (July 29); Don’t Look Up (August 12); Tick, Tick Boom (August 19) and Drive My Car (August 26.)

 Children’s programming at the Grand this simmer features six eclectic offerings, including the River City Drum Corps, one of Kentucky’s premier youth organizations (June 14); “Mouse Tales” with the Squalls Puppeteers (July 12); and “A Girl Named Earl,” a play about a musical prodigy who plays a wide range of instruments in a wide range of musical genres ((July 26).

The Summer Concert Series held on the lawn at the Old Capitol Building kicks off May 27th with SOS Band and the Native Invaders and concludes August 5th with Five Below. In total, the concert series will feature six concerts covering a broad spectrum of musical styles from Ben Lacy and his guitar (June 24) to The Pour Decisions, a high-energy band from Shelbyville, equally at home with Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty or Jon Bon Jovi and Patti Labelle.

The Best of the Rest

Whether you’re a comic book geek, a home and garden lover, or an adrenaline junkie, Frankfort has you covered this summer.

Why traipse all the way to San Diego for ComicCon when you can stay home and enjoy FrankfortCon? The local version strives to be Kentucky’s best featuring fandoms of multiple genres:  comic books, toys, pop culture, manga and anime, sports cards, gaming, animation, sci-fi and fantasy.

So, whether you are a Dr. Who or Wolverine wannabe, a Godzilla groupie, or the ultimate Star Trekkie, this will be the place to be on July 16 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

If you’re more into gardens than guns (laser and otherwise), plan to attend the Garden Club of Frankfort’s Living in History Tour (June 11 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) where you will have a chance to tour eight gardens varying in size and scope.

Whether it’s a garden associated with a downtown historic home, or a modern plot lovingly tended by a homeowner with a green thumb, the gardens will live up to the song lyrics “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.”

If FrankfortCon is a little too weird for you and the Home and Garden Tour sounds a bit tame, you can test your mettle with “Rockin’ Thunder,” a two-day adventure on the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers that spans 155 miles, beginning and ending in Madison, Indiana. 

On the Kentucky River portion, you’ll drift through remote canyons, verdant forests and historic locks and dams.

Arriving in Frankfort, you can tour Buffalo Trace Distillery and still have time to explore our historic downtown. After a night at the Capital Plaza Hotel, you’ll head back down the river, connecting to the Ohio, and hopefully spotting bald eagles in their nesting spots.

So, whatever the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” have in store for you, rest assured – you will find it in Frankfort.