Who would have thought that 24 years ago on a warm August afternoon when a few fellows that used to live in the old “Buttermilk” neighborhood got together for a little backyard cookout that one day it would turn into Bardstown’s best version of a real homecoming. Well that’s just what has happened. Billy, Joey, and Mark Sheckles, Kenny Linton, “Gator” Tonge, Mike Lydian, Kevin and Wayne Rogers, and Joe Dodson had so much fun that afternoon that they made a promise to take time out of their busy schedules to do this at least once a year, and they did. The rest has become Buttermilk history.
The next couple of years, “The Buttermilk Gang”, as they were called, put together a cookout every August and they started inviting people from all over town that used to live in the Buttermilk area or had “roots” in Buttermilk. After the 4th year the cookout had grown to about 400 people and a lot of the women were bringing their special side dishes to go along with the meat the men cooked. They also had shirts made up and sold them to raise money to offset some of the cost of preparing the food. The Buttermilk shirts were a big hit. They also had a wiener roast and camp out for the kids on Friday night.
When the 5th year of Buttermilk rolled around, something happened that changed the whole course of Buttermilk. One of Kevin Rogers good friends, Chris Hurst, had a bad year selling hogs. He said they weren’t worth taking to market. He told Kevin he would GIVE the “Buttermilk Gang” 6 hogs if they wanted to have them processed and they would have all the meat they needed. With all this pork on their hands, they had to figure out a way to get rid of it. They had sausage, bacon, ham, pork chops, ribs, pork burgers, neck bones, pig feet, and more, so they decided it would be a good idea to have a big breakfast as well as a big afternoon cookout. Because they had so much meat, they decided to invite everyone that wanted to come. Bring a lawn chair, your favorite beverage, and come on down—all the food was free! Some of the local DJ’s, Bobby Kimberland, Ronnie G, and Raymond G, agreed to play music all during the day. Since the “Buttermilk Gang” was going to be up most of Friday night for food preparation, they decided to have a street dance for the little kids to go along with the wiener roast and camp out.
The first year of the Buttermilk breakfast was an election year and all the local candidates as well as State Representative Jodie Haydon, State Senator Dan Kelly, then District Judge Tom Dawson, and soon to be District Judge Bob Heaton, and many others made this a good place to fellowship. People could not believe all this good food was free and many gave donations. The “Buttermilk Gang” made request from several local businesses for donations and many responded favorably, as they still do today. The first breakfast served about 250 people and has grown larger every year, with the 2018 breakfast serving about 650 people.
The word was now out about how good the food was and how great the fellowship was at Buttermilk. The local media started doing feature stories on Buttermilk and how this was Bardstown’s best version of a real homecoming. One feature writer for The Kentucky Standard even won a KPA first place award for her coverage of “BUTTERMILK DAY IN BARDSTOWN”. Local families were now putting together their family reunions around the 4th weekend in August. People were coming down on Friday night setting up tents and staking out space on the “Buttermilk Lot”. Children were having a hard time concentrating in school in anticipation of the Buttermilk weekend. And the people kept coming. Thanks to our leaders at City Hall, they were allowed to block off South 3rd street on Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon to allow the Festival to have more room, as the crowd overflowed into the street. In the past several years, with the addition of the STREET CONCERT, crowd estimates were around 3 – 4000 people, and this year celebrating our 25th year anniversary, estimates are that there will be more.
Many activities and good causes have sprung up because of “Buttermilk”. The MISS BUTTERMILK PAGEANT, under the direction of Ms. DeDe Cox, has gained notoriety over the years as her winners have gained titles in statewide competitions. Two years in a row the good sisters of Eastern Star made the coordination and serving of all the side dishes their community project and received numerous awards for their participation at “Buttermilk”. Because of so much bragging about who made the best homemade wine in the area, the Annual Homemade Wine-tasting and Wild Meat Cookout was added to the Buttermilk Lineup on Thursday night from 6:30 till 9 to see who makes the best homemade wine each year. Families are now coming together more and more each year to get a chance to stay in touch with families and friends and also see a lot of additions to their extended families. And then there are people like Horace Belmear of Morgantown, WV, who found some of his lost family at “Buttermilk”. Mr. Belmear, 80 years old, a successful educator for many years at the University of West Virginia was in Bardstown several years ago doing a genealogy trace on some of his relatives. He and his mother had left Bardstown when he was 6 years old and move to Louisville and it was rumored that some of his relatives were white. At the local library, he was asking about some people that used to live in the old Buttermilk area. To his surprise, he was told that they were having a Buttermilk Festival on South 3rd street that same day and maybe he should go there. When he got there he was surprised again to find that they were having a Bard Family reunion—and his mother was a Bard. He was a happy man. He met more cousins than he thought one man should have and filled in a lot of blank spots in his life. He and his wife were faithful attendees until her passing in 2006 and his passing in 2012. There are many more stories that unfold like this at “Buttermilk”.
The past several years because of the huge throngs of people from out of town that come to Bardstown for the Buttermilk Days Festival, the “Buttermilk Gang”, decided to make some changes in their annual lineup. The Homemade Wine-tasting and Wildmeat Cookout still kicks things off on Thursday evening from 6:30 till 9. The Kids Street Dance on Friday nights has been coupled with local bands and DJ’s on the Big Stage. The Famous Buttermilk Breakfast still goes on from 7 till 10 on Saturday morning. The BIG FEED on Saturday afternoon has been replaced with Food Vendors on the MIDWAY on Friday evening and from noon on Saturday till closing. The last several years, through generous local sponsorship, a FREE STREET CONCERT on Saturday afternoon featuring many international recording groups such as NAPPY ROOTS, soulful singer LENNY WILLIAMS, THE ZAPP BAND, RICK JAMES STONE CITY BAND, LAKESIDE, THE DEELE, and many local acts such as BIG BLACK CADILLAC, THE PERFECT FIT BAND, THE UNILIMITED BAND, POSITIVE MOVEMENT BAND, and several others. This year will mark the 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION OF THE BUTTERMILK DAYS FESTIVAL and many of these performers want to return along with other well known groups.
The true meaning of the Buttermilk Weekend is the coming together of friends and family. Old and young, male and female, black and white, all these people have direct ties to making Bardstown what it is today. Our heritages are inexplicably tied together and bringing us all together in harmony is what has made “Buttermilk” a tremendous success. YOU HAVE TO EXPERIENCE IT TO UNDERSTAND IT! Good food, good drink, good music, and good fellowship every 4th weekend in August. Just what Billy, Joey, Mark, Gator, Kenny, Wayne, Kevin, Mike, and Joe wanted it to be!