Bourbon + Bluegrass + History = Hit Show

There just may not be enough bourbon-themed tourist attractions in this town, so it was time for someone to create an entertaining Bluegrass music/Bourbon history show.

So says comedian Bernie Lubbers, the self-proclaimed Whiskey Professor, who along with mandolin-picker Hickory Vaught has created a 75-minute show touted as “an all-sensory historical live musical performance piece.”

IMG_1643 IMG_1642 bernieI got an invite to the performance at the Haymarket Whiskey Bar this week, only the second time the full show was presented before a live audience. I came away a little tipsy and trying to remember some pretty fascinating bourbon-related history.

The Manhattan, for instance, was created in the 1876 U.S. presidential election between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes.  There was a party hosted by Lord and Lady Randolph in New York, a fundraiser for Tilden, and the drink served was a Whiskey/Vermouth/Bitters combination. The event took place at the Manhattan Club, hence the drink’s name. Oh, and Lady Randolph, at the time, had a two-year-old son whose name was Winston Churchill.

Lubbers takes the audience through bourbon history from the 1700s to the present, offering up samples from five different periods, beginning with a clear liquid that tasted a bit like tequila.

“We’ve been working on the show for seven or eight months,” Lubbers said. “The people at the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Mint Julep Tours kept telling me they wished they had something to take all these Bourbon Trail guests to go to. It hit me one day, I’ve got a great idea.”

That idea was to mix Bourbon and Bluegrass music in an entertaining history lesson. Lubbers, who says he travels three weeks a month as an ambassador for Heaven Hill, said the challenge was whittling down 200 years of history into a fun show. Throughout the show, Lubbers tells some funny stories and joins in to perform songs from various eras.

Stacey Yates, of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, was at the show and loved it. She said that it will be part of packages her group will offer to tourist groups and convention-goers.

Michelle Kay, a Mint Julep Tours sales rep, said she thinks the show will be popular with groups and that her company is marketing it to corporations and individuals.  She said a group from a Knoxville country club, planning a trip to Louisville, is considering buying the show.

It’s a side venture for Lubbers and Vaught, who plays a weekly gig at the Marriott downtown. At Monday’s performance, guests were seated around barrels, with five shot glasses filled with whiskey, along with a diagram showing the era each was from. Throughout the show, Lubbers explains the history and invites guests to taste. There were about three dozen guests there.

Lubbers said the Haymarket is the home base for the show, but it can be performed anywhere. He’s not sure when or how often it will be performed.

“I don’t know where this thing is going, but it’s going to be fun,” he said.