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Exploring Kentucky: Linger outside to enjoy summer’s evening events

By Katherine Tandy Brown

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Ballet Under The Stars in Lexington’s Woodland Park is 27 years old and returns this year Aug. 4-7.

It’s July, and the dog days of summer have arrived, complete with soaring temperatures and sticky humidity. You’ll want to be exercising early in the morning, then chillin’ in cranked-up A/C or underwater in a pool, an icy drink within arm’s reach. Until nighttime. When the crickets and katydids strike up a chorus, the air is breathable and rife with the smell of new-mown hay, and the stars – elusive by daylight – pop out to add magic to summer evenings.

What’s more, it turns out that Kentucky has scads of things to do outdoors under those li’l twinklers. The following is but a sample.

For 27 years now, Ballet Under the Stars has brought a taste of culture to Lexington’s Woodland Park. From Aug. 4-7, you can pack up the family, lawn chairs or a blanket to spread, and a picnic supper, and be awestruck by the dancers of the Kentucky Ballet Theatre spinning en pointe and leaping gracefully across the stage, sometimes throwing in a touch of contemporary dance to boot.

Continue your classical immersion the following Saturday, Aug. 13 at Opera Under the Stars, which after a highly successful test run last summer, returns to the Moondance Amphitheatre in Lexington. Professional singers will delight with a light opera that even newbies to opera will enjoy. Again, bring a chair or blanket, food and drink.

If you don’t feel the urge to cook or even throw together PB&Js for either event, just hit the concessions for goodies at both. ([email protected], (859) 425-2057)

The same advice applies for the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, which takes place in the heart of Louisville’s historic preservation district at Central Park. There, food trucks supply scrumptious suppers you can pair with Brown-Forman libations, wine and beer, all available onsite. Running through Aug. 14, this year’s productions are “Romeo and Juliet,” “Winter’s Tale” and “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” all of which feature a slate of terrific actors, including canine star Hope, the Golden Retriever. (kyshakespeare.com, (502) 574-9900)

Speaking of outdoor theater, the state has a wealth of stage venues for summer night entertainment (kytheatretrail.com). Pioneer Playhouse in Danville – started by Col. Eben Henson in 1950 and still family-run – is the oldest in the state and has nurtured the careers of such famous names as John Travolta, Lee Majors and Jim “Hey, Vern” Varney. Though you can come to see only the show, you’ll want to arrive early for the complete experience, which includes exploring an 1800s Antique Village, a re-creation of the town of Danville; ogling a fascinating collection of memorabilia and photos from the movie “Raintree County,” filmed in Danville with stars Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift; and best of all, chowing down on a wonderful barbecue dinner.

All plays move indoors in case of rain. Check out “The Murder Room,” a zany British murder mystery spoof that runs Aug. 9-20. (pioneerplayhouse.com, (866) 597-5297)

Fairly new to the scene, “Blood Song: The Story of the Hatfields and the McCoys” is in its second season and runs weekends through Sept. 1 at the Hatfield-McCoy Outdoor Theater in McCall, near Pikeville.

Seating is bleacher-style but feel free to BYO lawn chair. Watch the play, stay overnight and visit the historic spots of family feud nearby. (hatfieldmccoyarts.com, (606) 432-2534)

If you’d rather have a nighttime experience communing with nature, reserve a spot in a canoe under the full moon on one of Thaxton’s Moonlight Floats in Northern Kentucky’s Pendleton County. A total of 45 paddlers set out around 7 p.m. for a several hours of peaceful, moonlit communion with frogs, crickets and owls on the quiet Licking River.

“We time our floats on the weekend,” says Glen Thaxton, the outfitters’ operations manager. “Then people can stay up late and not have to worry about getting up for work the next day.”

A bonfire and delicious, chocolatey s’mores top off the night. Should you not want to drive home in the wee hours, bring a tent and camp. Or better still, reserve one of six waterside cabins, where you can park your paddle and slide right into bed. (gopaddling.com (859) 472-2000)

Bourbon and bluegrass music strike a harmonious chord every other Saturday evening through the end of August at MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke. Founded in 2009, this family business is the state’s first completely “grain to glass” craft distillery, with free tours and tastings Monday through Saturday.

The distillery’s Pickin’ on the Porch events in the bucolic west Kentucky countryside take place all summer long, with upcoming events on July 30, and Aug. 13 and 27. Musical festivities commence at 6 p.m. Arrive early with your lawn chair, blanket and food (though the latter is optional). Your hosts offer MB Roland products (bourbon, fruity moonshine, et al), food, beer and sno-cones. (mbroland.com, (270) 640-7744)

For a flash back to teenage evenings – as John Travolta sang about in “Grease”…“Those su-uh-mmer ni-ights” – you can still take in a drive-in movie. Though the number of Kentucky’s outdoor movie theaters is way down from its high of 117 statewide in 1958, the few left are proudly carrying on the tradition. The Calvert Drive-In Theater near Kentucky Lake in Calvert City not only shows great flicks, but its concession stand, The Grill, also offers carryout orders of yummy burgers, dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and upscale pizzas. (Think goat cheese, tomato and basil pies.) Just remember, no hiding in the trunk to get in free! (calvertdrivein.com (270) 395-4660)

Katherine Tandy Brown is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected].

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