ASHLAND, Ky. — You could hear the buzz of voices a block away coming from the tent stretched across Winchester Avenue Saturday for the third annual Firkin Fest.
And by about 3 p.m., you could almost feel the convivial buzz of a crowd sipping samples of craft beer, listening to live music and enjoying each others’ company.
The festival, which brought 103 craft beers under one canvas roof for lovers of the brew to sample, has steadily improved, said Ed Prichard, who has attended all three.
“It’s a lot broader. There’s more things going on this year,” said Prichard, who lives in Huntington, but is originally an Ashlander.
From a beer-only festival — good as far as that goes — the festival has added food and music that enhance the afternoon, he said. “I love that it’s expanding. We need more things like this in town, more cultural events,” he said.
The selection of beers was “phenomenal,” including specialties brewed specifically for the event by in-state breweries like West Sixth and Country Boy, said Prichard, who verified his own Kentucky country-boy credentials when he rolled up his sleeve to display an outline of the Commonwealth tattooed on his arm.
The festival’s biggest selling point, other than the beer itself, might be the good-time vibe. “It seems more communal here, everybody gathers and has a good time. I’m loving it,” said Michael Fioretti of Lexington, who attended with his Ashland friend, Ian Anderson. And the beer is good, he added.
The beers flowed from coolers manned by mostly local volunteers, who said the job was a pleasure given the easygoing crowd. “We enjoyed the beer for an hour and then we pour for three hours,” said Jonathan Taylor, who teamed with Jenna Dillow to dispense beer. “The people are awesome, down-to-earth, having a good time.
“It’s a good vibe, as long as you pour the beer good.”
Another volunteer was Sandy Conville, who came from her home in Bordentown, New Jersey, on the suggestion of her Ashland friend Yvonne Cubbison.
“I wanted a vacation and Yvonne told me about the Firkin Fest, and I thought it would be great fun. It is great fun,” she said.
“It’s something Bordentown could use. They do a lot of arts and crafts events but not a beer festival,” Conville said.
No head count was available Saturday afternoon, but Ashland in Motion director Whitney Lowe said attendance almost certainly exceeded that of the 2016 festival. “People are having fun. The music is great. Good music sets a good pace,” she said.
A morning run attracted 163 racers.
This year’s festival has double the number of food vendors and six times as many retail vendors, she said. “It’s all part of the festival vibe. These other elements work together to make a festival.”
“It’s just nice to see our downtown doing more progressive things to attract more young people,” said festival committee member Paul Castle. Attendance skewed young and under-30 festival-goers predominated, according to Castle’s informal estimate.
“This is the type of thing younger people love and flock to,” he said.
At the same time, Firkin Fest is structured to be family friendly, he said. “People have embraced it as a family-friendly event and we have shown we can be responsible.”