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Water of Life festival planned for Derby weekend in Paducah

Water of Life Festival

A Paducah business owner is organizing the Water of Life Festival – a celebration of Kentucky culture – to coincide with the Kentucky Derby in May.

The May 7 gathering will be free to attend and feature Derby-themed activities in addition to live music, bourbon tastings, food trucks, artists, charity and nonprofit participation and a children’s area that will host a stick-horse derby. Barrel & Bond owner Brian Shemwell says the event is an extension of the Paducah Bourbon Society, which he also founded.

“Kentucky culture’s important to us, specifically this part of the state so often gets overlooked,” Shemwell said. “This is something I think that people will embrace and learn to celebrate and take ownership of themselves.”

The name of the festival is a literal translation of the Gaelic phrase “Uisce beatha,” which is what Irish monks called distilled alcohols during the Middle Ages. The festival’s logo alludes to mother nature and the tree of life, which Shemwell wants to represent the vitality and health of the community.

Shemwell says, going forward, the event will have a strong charity and nonprofit component. This year, local nonprofit organizations are invited to put up booths and promote their causes.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to help folks here and I think in years to come we’re going to be able to really do a lot of good things for them,” he said.

The organizer hopes the event can dispel some of the “country club” reputation that Derby parties have.

“I wanted to lose the exclusivity and remove that from how people perceive Derby parties,” Shemwell said. “Water of Life is meant to be a family-oriented affair and we’re going to have a lot of activities geared towards children.”

The festival will take place on the lower three blocks of Broadway in downtown Paducah from noon until around 6 p.m. with live music staggered throughout the day. The shops along that stretch of street, Shemwell said, will all be doing some sort of Kentucky or Derby-themed celebration or activity. Water Street, immediately adjacent to the riverfront, will host the children’s activity area.

The confirmed music lineup is:

1:30 p.m. – Kylah Hawkins

2:30 p.m. – Leight July

3:30 p.m. – Melanie Davis & Fate Macafee

4:30 p.m. – Cherry & Jerry

More information is available on the event’s Facebook page.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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