Bourbon, bluegrass, and microbrews. Horses, hillbillies, and history. Clerks, coal miners, and climate change deniers.
Welcome to Kentucky.
Kentucky’s reputation in the minds of its fellow Americans has taken a severe beating over the years. When many think of Kentucky, if they think of it all, they dismiss it as a relic of our past, both economically and culturally.
Many folks, particularly those in the coastal liberal strongholds, enjoy making Kentucky the butt of its jokes. To point, to laugh, or even to scorn.
When Ashley and I mentioned to friends, family, and even my barber that we were heading to Kentucky for our vacation, the reaction was unanimous. “Why?” As in, “why are you going to that cultural backwater?”
Yes, I felt great trepidation about Kentucky. It is hard to ignore the negative stereotypes that dominate our national conversation about the Bluegrass State. I was both fearful and optimistic for meeting its citizens, but promised myself I wouldn’t discuss politics, for fear my centrist moderate sensibilities veered too far “left.” Although Texan by birth, I am a resident of Seattle, an adopted citizen of the hated West coast and therefore, guilty by association, a liberal elitist.
Yet, this hesitation wasn’t enough to dissuade me as I had a passion for something unique to this part of the United States. Bluegrass music. I was first exposed to it as a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin. It ignited a passion in me for the banjo, the mandolin, the stand-up bass, and incredible vocal harmonies. It is the music of America’s history and our immigrant ancestors. My love of bluegrass music and our country’s history far outweighed any concerns I had about our partisan modern American politics.
We arrived in Louisville, technically it’s Jennifer’s Louisville now, cautiously optimistic and ready to explore.
Louisville is an optimistic city that seems, at first glance, to be trending upwards. There is year over year improvement in the need for skilled jobs and the city’s unemployment is at a respectable 5%, which is on par with the national rate, and lower than the rest of the Bluegrass State.
New jobs in medical fields as well as an increase in demand for cubicle-dwellers like myself are propelling the city’s economy forward. Yet, I wasn’t interested in learning more about the rise of the information economy in Kentucky’s largest city.
I had two primary interests – bluegrass music and one of one of Kentucky’s oldest economic drivers – bourbon. Do not, even in jest, mistake Kentucky bourbon for Tennessee whiskey. It is a far greater faux pas than discussing politics or religion with strangers.
What did I think of Kentucky? Did it conform to the stereotypes or was the truth something more nuanced and layered?
You’ll have to watch the video to find out. Coming soon to my YouTube channel on Wednesday, March 7!