By BRADEN LAMMERS
It’s a little more than two months until crowds gather along the banks of the Ohio River and the sky lights up.
Organizers unveiled the theme to the 24th Thunder Over Louisville event, the traditional kick-off to the Kentucky Derby Festival, at a press conference Monday morning. The theme for Thunder Over Louisville, to be held April 20, is “Thunder Vision,” and will incorporate themes based off of TV shows of the past and present.
“Thunder is always a big party and the 24th will be a fitting prelude into our silver thunder anniversary,” said Mike Berry, president and CEO of the Kentucky Derby Festival.
He and Thunder Over Louisville Producer Wayne Hettinger pointed to how unique it is to have an entire day of entertainment — one of the top five air shows in the country and one of the largest fireworks display in North America free to the public.
“Thanks to the sponsors of the Derby Festival, we’ve got this town so spoiled on this kind of a show that’s completely free, it’s unheard of,” Hettinger said.
Returning sponsors include regulars like UPS, Horseshoe Southern Indiana, Meijer, McDonald’s and Kentucky One Health.
McDonald’s will again host its Thunder Funder program, which begins March 11. A portion of the proceeds received from the purchase of commemorative cups at area McDonald’s restaurants will go to support Thunder Over Louisville.
This year’s Thunder Funder event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. April 4 at the Central American Airways hangar at Bowman Field. Those with a Pegasus Pin or a commemorative McDonald’s cup will be granted admission to the event.
Zambelli Fireworks will again design the nearly 30-minute fireworks display to light up the April night. This year’s TV partner is WHAS-TV and Lite 106.9 WVEZ will be the event’s radio partner.
While hundreds of thousands are expected to line the banks of the Ohio River in Southern Indiana and Louisville, people will be prohibited from going onto the Big Four Bridge the day of the event.
“Because the air show can’t fly over people, having people stationary on the newly renovated Big Four Bridge isn’t possible,” Berry said.
Thunder Over Louisville is one of the more than 70 events produced by the Kentucky Derby Festival in the spring leading up to the annual Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. And while Thunder Over Louisville is free to the public, the weekend festivities do bring a significant boost to the region’s economy each year.
“It’s not only a great event ... it brings economic development to this community — $56 million,” said Chris Whelan, 2013 Derby Festival Chair. “You can’t say that enough. It fills hotels and restaurants, it’s just a key event for our organization as well as the state of Kentucky.”
More details about the Kentucky Derby Festival events are expected to be announced in March.