Railbird music festival canceled, but says it’s coming back in a new location in ’23

·4 min read

Railbird, the music festival that debuted to critical acclaim at Keeneland in 2019, has been canceled for 2022.

Organizers announced Tuesday that it will return June 3-4, 2023, but at the Red Mile, Lexington’s historic harness racing track that is now also a gambling venue.

Lexington tourism officials cheered the news that the festival will be coming back.

“The move just down the road to Red Mile, the nation’s second oldest track, signals exciting growth for Railbird Festival,” said Mary Quinn Ramer of VisitLEX. “Near the heart of downtown Lexington with easy accessibility, the historic Red Mile will keep the equine experience at the heart of the festival while also providing a great venue to showcase Kentucky’s bourbon heritage and the nation’s best artists.”

Keeneland officials did not comment on why the event will not be returning.

“Hello from Railbird! Thanks to all of you who joined us for Railbird Festival in 2021. We have listened and taken your feedback to heart and are working behind the scenes to create an exceptional experience for the next edition of the festival,” Railbird officials said in the announcement.

“Railbird will take a pause in 2022, however, we are excited to share that you can mark your calendars for Railbird Festival 2023 taking place June 3-4 2023 at its new venue, Red Mile Gaming & Racing, located in the heart of Downtown Lexington!”

The concert apparently will be in the infield of the Red Mile, at 1200 Red Mile Road between Broadway and Versailles Road, a much smaller location with less parking in an urban setting.

“We are eternally grateful to our partners at Keeneland and appreciate their continued support during this transition and want to thank our friends at VisitLEX for everything they do to champion this great festival,” said Ted Heinig, President, AC Entertainment, promoter of Railbird, in a statement. “We are excited for this new chapter of Railbird and look forward to many years of success working with our new hosts and partners at Red Mile.”

The first Railbird drew 30,000 people and about 70,000 were expected at the 2021 event based on ticket sales. It’s unclear how many will be able to comfortably fit onto the 114-acre Red Mile site.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Red Mile hosted music festivals, often on Memorial Day, but crowds were only around 10,000 attendees or so.

After a largely well-received inaugural year, Railbird was canceled in 2020 by the COVID pandemic. The two-day festival returned last fall but ran into major trouble on the first day when patrons, who were prohibited from bringing in filled water bottles, waited in long lines in 90-degree heat at refill stations and bars.

People wait in line to get water at a water refill station at the Railbird Festival at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021.
People wait in line to get water at a water refill station at the Railbird Festival at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021.

Railbird organizers acknowledged the problems and on Sunday water was plentiful.

But the bad publicity apparently caused a major black eye for a place that prides itself on getting things right: Keeneland.

Keeneland is hosting the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships in November and has already begun build-out for that event.

“Keeneland is proud to have helped successfully launch Railbird, and as our team focuses on our core racing and sales operations, we look forward to supporting the festival as it transitions to its new home at Red Mile,” said Keeneland president and CEO Shannon Arvin in the release. “Railbird has quickly become a highly anticipated event for the local community and music fans across the country, and we are excited for its return in 2023.”

Railbird organizers said they expected to bring back ancillary parts of the event, including “immersive” experiences in bourbon, food and horses.

Shannon Cobb, chief operating officer for Red Mile Gaming and Racing said in a news release, “Our team is excited to join with the Railbird promoters as the festival’s new host location. We look forward to providing a fun, convenient concert venue, as well as having the opportunity to reintroduce our community to the new Red Mile facilities and activities.”

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