What is the Derby Festival®?

Our Mission:

To provide creative and unique entertainment and community service for the people of Greater Louisville, that directly contributes to the aesthetic, cultural, educational, charitable and economic development of the area.

We will organize, promote and conduct events using the collective efforts and resources of volunteers, small and large businesses, non-profit organizations and governmental entities to enhance the positive international recognition, economic and cultural development, and community image of the Greater Louisville area.


We stretched a famous two minutes into a month-long party. What the Run for the Roses is to horse racing, Louisville’s Derby Festival is to community celebrations. The Festival is one of the premiere events of its kind in the world and a proud five-time winner of the International Festivals & Events Association award for Best Overall Festival. It brings fun, excitement, international recognition and a spirit that is unmatched anywhere. When 1.5 million people gather to celebrate spring and the unique vitality of their community, the focus is on fun and the whimsical.

“We are a community organization of 4,000 volunteers who work all year to provide quality entertainment that enhances the community,” said Festival President and CEO Matt Gibson. Produced annually since 1956, the Derby Festival® has become a whirlwind of more than 70 special events.

The Festival blasts off each year with the Opening Ceremonies – Thunder Over Louisville, one of the nation’s largest annual fireworks extravaganzas! The ensuing two weeks of excitement and entertainment promise something for everyone.

For sports fans there is basketball, volleyball and golf. For music lovers the concerts are almost non-stop. With two-thirds of the Festival events free, families can enjoy numerous just-for-kids activities without stretching their pocketbook.

Other highlights include a half and full marathon, hot-air balloon events and live bed racing! The Great Steamboat Race pits historic paddle-wheelers on the mighty Ohio River. The event that started it all, the Pegasus Parade marches down Broadway.

With outdoor concerts at Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville and the elegant Fillies Derby Ball, dance and dress range from frivolous to fancy. The Festival includes several formal affairs, as well as casual, foot-stomping good times all around the community. From elephant ears and corndogs at the Chow Wagon to ethnic foods and pet-friendly cocktail hours at Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville and local wine-tasting at WineFest, culinary adventures abound.

More than just being entertaining, the Derby Festival generates in excess of $127.9 million annually for the local economy. Events on the Festival schedule also help to raise nearly $300,000 for area charities each year.

The Commonwealth’s largest single annual event, and one of Louisville’s most popular entertainment attractions, the celebration is produced by Derby Festival, Inc., a private, nonprofit civic organization with a professional staff of 23 and a volunteer board of 75.

“We know we have done our job well by the smiles of the people who attend our events,” said Gibson. Smiles that stretch on endlessly.

The Derby Festival is a private, not-for-profit organization. The 501(c)(4) Festival raises all its funds privately.

The Derby Festival does not receive tax dollars for event production.

We are a self-sustaining business with its entire annual budget derived from four primary sources:

  • Corporate sponsorships
  • Pegasus Pin and merchandise sales
  • Concessions proceeds
  • Event ticket sales and entry fees

The overall estimated annual economic impact of the Derby Festival is $127.9 million.* That means for every $1 spent producing the Festival $22 is generated for the local economy.

Economic Impact by Event:

  • Thunder Over Louisville – $56,663,177
  • Chow Wagon/Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront – $16,472,795
  • Pegasus Parade –$22,462,902
  • Great Balloon Fest –  $5,079,449
  • Marathon/miniMarathon – $4,923,936
  • Great Steamboat Race – $703,535
  • Great Bed Races – $465,448
  • $1 Million Hole in One Golf Contest – $306,588
  • They’re Off! Luncheon – $160,579
  • WineFest – $136,194

The Festival hosts 1.5 Million attendees in a traditional year, with the largest event being Thunder Over Louisville. The entire Festival produces 70 events and operates on a budget of $7 million.  The average customer at a Festival event spends $32.

The Festival is produced by a full-time staff of 22 event professionals, a board of directors of 75 community leaders, and a network of 4,000 volunteers.

*Economic Impact Study was conducted in 2011 by the University of Louisville’s MBA Program.