Six years in, and GonzoFest just keeps getting more and more popular. And while the full-court pressure last year to get Bill Murray to show up didn’t work, 2016 does offer plenty — from the usual slate of live music to special guests who knew the festival’s subject, Louisville journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
One new feature this year is that, while the festival itself is this Saturday, April 16, from 1-11 p.m., on Sunday evening there will be a screening of the 1998 film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” as well as a meet-and-greet with Laila Nabulsi, co-producer of the film and friend of Thompson.
It will be Nabulsi’s first GonzoFest. Of course, one of the first things you might wonder is what Thompson himself would have thought about a hometown festival honoring him.
“Debatable,” Nabulsi told InsiderLouisville. “He would no doubt enjoy the attention, hate the crowds, demand a suite at (the Brown) with all room service paid, and hunker down with a salon of like-minded individuals.”
Dennie Humphrey, a GonzoFest founder, agreed. Mostly.
“As far as Hunter’s thoughts, I feel he would think this was a farce in his time,” Humphrey said. “I do, however, feel he would have liked what the city of Louisville has become.”
Still, while Nabulsi has never attended a GonzoFest, she seemed excited by the concept, calling it “grand” and “fitting that it would emanate from his hometown of Louisville.”
She added, “I hoped it wasn’t just celebrating the notion of personal excess, but more about the work. Hunter was a serious journalist and writer, and his focus every day was getting work done.”
This year’s festival features another diverse lineup of local and regional musical acts, with Nashville roots rockers Fly Golden Eagle and rock trio Natural Child headlining the event. Other bands performing include well-known Louisville-area rockers Wax Fang; old-school hip-hop artists Dr. Dundiff with Touch AC and Smoke Shop Kids; garage punk band Chrome Pony; indie rockers Quiet Hollers; indie-pop band Frederick The Younger; Louisville rockers Your News Vehicles; and acid-country rockers The Bottom Sop.
Of course, no GonzoFest would be complete without the special guests and spoken-word performances, not to mention a literary contest. The keynote speaker is Thompson’s son Juan Thompson, who also will do a book signing and talk this evening, April 12, at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Crescent Hill to promote his book, “Stories I Tell Myself.” He will do a reading and signing on Saturday as well.
Other guests include Thompson’s grandson William Hunter Thompson; historian and Thompson editor Douglas Brinkley; long-time personal assistant to Thompson, Deborah Fuller; and several others. Many of the proceeds from this year’s festival will go to fund a sculpture of Thompson by local artist Matthew Weir, who also will be on hand.
In addition, Tinderbox Circus Sideshow, the self-proclaimed “most mind-blowingly devilish backwoods troupe from the ground up,” will perform at the Gonzo Today Stage throughout the day. And as usual, there will be plenty of food and beverage vendors (the festival is sponsored this year by Falls City Beer and Four Roses Bourbon).
An after-party begins at 11 p.m. at the New Vintage, with the movie screening at Baxter Avenue Theatres Sunday at 7 p.m. The meet-and-greet is just before the screening at 6 p.m. And a Q&A will follow the film.
Nabulsi’s first GonzoFest will actually be her third visit to Louisville — she came here once to visit Thompson’s mother, and again when he received the key to the city. She suggested she looks forward to returning.
“I always thought Louisville a most lovely city, and to be honest, some of my favorite people are from Kentucky,” she said. “I was always so impressed with how the natives of Kentucky seem to be among the most literate of the South, and their graciousness and hospitality are legendary. Combined with that Southern charm and Southern accent — can’t beat it.”
GonzoFest will be held at Waterfront Park’s Big Four Lawn on Saturday, April 26. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online or at the door. Those with a Louisville Free Public Library card can purchase tickets at the door for $15 by showing their card. Children under 12 are free to attend. No dogs or outside coolers/chairs are allowed.