Creative Minds

Arts and culture thrive in this river town

If someone in Henderson tells you there’s nothing to do, don’t believe them. There’s no shortage of arts and cultural events to create a nice quality of life.


Henderson has a string of music festivals in the warm months that run the genre gamut and keep people tapping their toes.

W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival by Nate Gold

It starts in mid-May with Summerfest, an evening of rock music presented on an outdoor stage with the Ohio River as a backdrop. The site is on the doorstep of nine Downtown restaurants, and there’s a beer garden.

On the Saturday evening that launches June, 10 South Main front porches become the performance spaces for musicians at PorchFest, with food trucks perched nearby. PorchFest quickly is followed by the long-running W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival, whose main stage offers four days of blues artists. Local restaurants and watering holes host their own music for lunch breaks and happy hours.

In July, songwriters take the spotlight at the Sandy Lee Watkins Songwriters Festival. Nashville, Tennessee, songwriters perform their works – often hits by bigname artists – and tell stories about them. Of the five summer music festivals, only Sandy Lee Watkins requires a ticket.

In August, the two-day Bluegrass in the Park Folklife Festival features bands playing both traditional and progressive bluegrass music.


There are plenty of other events sprinkled throughout the year. To bust folks out of the winter doldrums in April, the Breakfast Lions Club hosts Tri-Fest, a street festival with food booths, carnival rides, contests, and fireworks.

Festivals celebrating diversity include Juneteenth and Pride in the summer and the colorful Dia de los Muertos in the fall. In October, the Henderson Lions Club presents an Arts & Crafts Festival at Audubon State Park, offering plenty of fall decor and holiday gifts.


For visual arts fans, there are galleries with rotating shows at Henderson Community College’s Preston Arts Center, Gallery 101, Citi-Center office building, and Henderson County Public Library’s Dick & Sheila Beaven Gallery. Ohio Valley Art League hosts “pop-up galleries” in Downtown businesses at November’s Art Hop.

Seven murals lend local color to Downtown buildings, and a walking trail of bronze bird sculptures depicts the works of artist/naturalist John James Audubon, who lived here for about a decade. In addition to gallery shows, the Audubon Museum possesses a world-class collection of Audubon art and historical artifacts.


“Chicago” photo provided

Henderson Area Arts Alliance presents its annual season of touring artists at Preston Arts Center, showcasing music, theater, dance, comedy, and more. Over the years, performers have included Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Monroe, Vienna Boys Choir, Burt Bacharach, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell, Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, Russian National Ballet, and dozens of other shows.


Did You Know?

>> Country legend Louis Marshall Jones, aka “Grandpa Jones,” was born in Henderson County in the Niagara community. His character was a feature of the TV country variety show “Hee Haw.”

>> “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy was a Henderson resident for about 10 years starting in the 1890s and met his first wife here at a summer barbecue.

>> One-time resident John James Audubon’s “The Birds of America” double-elephant folio, which documents 435 species of birds, is considered one of the world’s most expensive books.

>> Women’s Honor Court Park on the riverfront showcases local women whose accomplishments have enriched the community’s story. It’s the only park dedicated to women in Kentucky and one of only a handful in the U.S.

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Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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