What's the Big Deal about Derby Festival?

Image via Kentucky Derby Festival.
I'd been living in Louisville for a couple of months when April rolled around. Suddenly, the questions started coming from colleagues and clients:

"What are you doing for Thunder?"
"Have you eaten at the Chow Wagon yet?"
"Have you bought your Pegasus pin?"

Now, before I moved to Louisville, I thought I knew Derby.  I'd been to the race itself, of course.  I even knew that Louisvillians considered Oaks to be THE must-see race rather than its next day Big Brother.  But the Derby Festival events left me perplexed.  I knew I'd seen framed posters for Festivals past; they're inescapable in offices and family rooms in the Louisville Metro area.  Still, I had no idea what the events entailed.  Why would I wear a $3 lapel pin from Kroger? Is a Chow Wagon more appetizing than it sounds? And Thunder is just a bunch of fireworks, right?

After living through that Derby season, I learned that Derby Festival is one of those events that separates true Louisvillians from visitors.  The Pegasus pin is not only a key to admission at the Festival's events; it's symbolic of  a fourteen-day celebration of the Derby City itself.   Before Louisville becomes overrun with celebs and race enthusiasts, it fetes its own natives with steamboat races, parades, concerts, and fireworks.  It's a two-week party that unites Louisvillians from a variety of backgrounds and interests.
Image via Thunder Over Louisville
By the following April, I was far better-versed in Derby Festival events.  When Thunder Over Louisville kicked off the season, I knew that the private parties in downtown office buildings were a more comfortable and enjoyable alternative to mingling with the massive crowds that congregate for the fireworks show.   Since my beau and I aren't much for big, rowdy crowds or fireworks, we learned to time our dinner reservations to avoid the Thunder madness.  We even found that we could watch a good bit of the fireworks display from our Highlands condo.  As we fell into a few Derby Festival routines of our own -- Oaks brunches, the Chow Wagon, cocktails at the Seelbach -- we found that we weren't just celebrating the Greatest of all Horse Races.  We were celebrating the fact that Louisville is a great place to live.

Have y'all attended any Derby Festival events?