NOTHING GOES DOWN SMOOTH QUITE LIKE BOURBON AND PADDLIN’ PORN IN LEXINGTON, KY – a NPFF review by “Chicago” Mike Toughill

For half a second, we thought about not going at all… For HALF a second.
The alarmists on The Weather Channel were attempting to convince us a drive from Chicago to Frankfort would be damn near impossible. We had already scrapped the plans to bring boats for the race. Dale Guarniere, another top DBP Admin and my longtime boating buddy and coworker at Kosir’s Rapid Rafts in upper Wisconsin, has paddled MANY ice cold days on the river. So we were ok with passing on a Class II stretch and getting right to the partying… IF we could make it!
We pulled out of Chicago along with a small snow squall a bit after 4pm, conceding the first night of the Film Festival. I’m fairly convinced these two inches of snow would have dropped poor Kentucky to it’s knees… The ride was fairly uneventful, but I was a bit surly that we’d missed the viewing of DamNation and the opportunity to listen to Kirk Eddlemon’s (author of Whitewater of the Southern Appalachians) presentation. Especially considering that the roads were totally clear and we zipped the entire way to Kentucky in six hours flat, after expecting by all reports to be forced off the road by Old Man Winter somewhere just south of Indy.
Oh well! We awoke to a changed environment of ice and slushy snow covering EVERYTHING. It seems we arrived at 12:30 am, and the ice arrived at 12:35. It’s a shame that more dirtbags didn’t come, but the way they were talking in the lobby of the Fairfield Inn you’d think it was REALLY nasty out! “This is the worst storm since 2009!” and “The roads ain’t never been this bad!” We found out the race was officially cancelled, as we had planned on going over to Elkhorn Creek to fire up a few photos. Nothing doing. In fact, they don’t seem to plow or do much of ANYTHING to the roads when it snows two inches in Kentucky, so we just skipped that plan entirely, and got to drinking Bourbon. 
Bourbon. It is one thing that is inescapable when you go to Frankfort. We had arraigned to meet up with many Admins originally to cover the event, but in the end the only other one to show was Dave from Indiana, who along with a bunch of his pals had come to crash the party yet again. Dave has attended the NPFF for many years, and in fact his photos with keynote speakers past perched upon his shoulders at the Brick Yard are what first drew my attention to him way back when he first joined up with DBP. Most of his friends weren’t really paddlers, but they were super friendly, had a bunch of bourbon, and invited us along for the ride. WINNING!
We spent the afternoon touring the Woodford Reserve Distiller on the Bourbon Trail in nearby Versailles, and the roads WERE shitty! We saw how the barrels were made, and peered into huge vats of fermenting corn mash (which Dave dipped a finger in to taste to his regret and Dale’s immense amusement). We sipped a few glasses of their finest at tour’s end; I popped my ice in straight away – WALLACE! There’s only so much Bourbon a man can day drink when he doesn’t drink Bourbon… And after the tour was complete both Dale and I could taste it when we breathed. Anne Webber was a very nice hostess to us dirtbags, and saw us both off with motherly hugs and well wishes. 

We then returned to the Fairfield Inn to plot our next move. Just then, I got a message on the DBP page about a ride over from an anonymous local friend. Our homie pulls up about fifteen minutes later with two bottles of the finest unfiltered Kentucky Bourbon I ever laid lips on! Thankfully we stashed it in the car, as we didn’t really know what we had just received and would have certainly ended up in jail running loose around town with that stuff. I gave one of the bottles to Dave and the boys the next morning, which is when they explained what 132 meant, and how rare and exquisite our gift had been! 
So our guy took us over to the Buffalo Trace Distillery, dropping us off at this giant cabin, where we poked around and gave ourselves a tour, dirtbag style. Everyone we had met so far in Kentucky was so nice to us, and it didn’t stop. Even if we were giving ourselves a tour! We eventually made our way out and around the corner, wondering where exactly was this movie festival? The sign would’ve bit us if it was a snake….

We were some of the first people to arrive, paying our $25 a piece because we believe strongly in supporting AW and the other causes that benefit from the proceeds. We didn’t specifically decide on playing it low key, but that’s basically how we rolled, meeting and talking with regular people as opposed to some of the famous people in attendance. The atmosphere was so relaxed, and everyone in such a mellow friendly mood, that it just felt right to let the mingle happen naturally. Only after the fact did I even consider my plans to meet up with some of the more famous attendees. 
The Bluegrass Wildwater Association does it right! The films were top notch, shown in the main room upstairs with plenty of chairs, and a main stage where the speakers could do their thing. The films also played downstairs where the tables were set up for the vendors, pizza and chili served, and the silent auction held. There was also a bar serving free beer all night long, located just off the viewing room, with a large covered porch for enjoying the night air. Perfect set up!

We grabbed an open table, funny enough where Mr Eddlemon’s set up had been, and dirtbagged it a bit, handing out some of the free decals we’d made for the event, but we didn’t go overboard, preferring to just chat and take in the scene. Our next door neighbor Ben from Alpaca rafts was a good guy. He explained the newest generation of the boat after I told him about our one experience with a guy bringing one up to our river and getting Wallaced in every major rapid because the boat was too light. Now there is a packable waterproof bag that goes inside the tubes to add weight when you are missioning that I believe has solved that problem. The pump system, a bag that you fill and squeeze, is pretty genius too. 

Our location was perfect, being right beside the stairwell to the upper floor, and we ran into friends from Gauley Fest and friends we had never met before in real life. A Facebook community has real value for us boaters, and it was a cool experience to feel like you were meeting up with old friends. Wes Breitenbach I instantly recognized even though we had never met, and we palled around on and off throughout the evening. By the end of the weekend, he had submitted a report for this Magazine, and we had cemented things by making him an Admin (there are now 95 of us!) Our Kentucky friends Angela, Michelle, and her boyfriend showed up with another friend: Bourbon in a bottle! We met 14 year old Allan Friend, a local paddler who’s looking to GO BIG in this sport. Watch for more coming out of him in the future… And Dale hooked up with our homie Cory and some other friends from Gauley Fest for a good time that didn’t end till the after-after party finished. 

Dale and I took a look at the items up for grabs in the auction, and were mighty impressed. I saw some bidding on the DBP gear, which was nice. At last check I think we helped raise about $50. I put in a losing bid on Mr. Eddlemon’s two book set, and also sang the praises of the Stolquist life vest that I also happen to use. 

The Chili cook off was a perfect addition to a cold wintery night. I stuck to my usual strategy: wait for a bit for the crowd to get in there, and then sample from the pot that has the most gone from it! That would be a big old pot of steak chili! The winners haven’t been announced on the NPFF page yet, so I can’t report who won the divisions, but I can say the losers were the staff of the Fairfield Inn Sunday morning. 

Perhaps it’s because the crowd wasn’t as big as years past, most likely due to the foul weather, but have you ever been to a festival where the free beer poured till the very end?? Me neither! What a treat!  My favorite flavor was the Cooter Bait, but the joke I concocted, not so much. Dale and I tossed one back with event director John Mello. (Dale: “Like Carmelo Anthony!” John: “Yeah, but only one L.” We think he gets that A LOT.) Like the entire staff of volunteers, the distillery staff, and pretty much everyone we met in Frankfort, he was very nice, and it was evident at that late hour he was enjoying every moment of his success. 

The highlight of the evening was Guest Speaker Ben Marr. You always want your heroes to be as cool in person as they seem to be on your screen, take a moment to talk with you, right? Well that’s truly Ben. His speech was genuine, and he won the crowd over (who had slowly but surely gathered in the viewing room to pack it for his presentation) with a story of quitting a set because the producers had cut away branches off old growth trees that we’re blocking their view of the shot. Of course some of those branches were PROBABLY in the river too, which goes to show how ignorant these film were. But it was great for Ben along with the others in the film session including Rush Sturges, to walk away from their pay day because they would not be associated with such a vile deed. Kudos!!
Ben also played the waterfall clip from his movie DREAM, a beautiful imagery filled night run on the White Salmon. He told the crowd how the boat was awkwardly weighted with the lights, and that the night before he fired up the filmed run he’d had a massive WALLACE. This clip could have won the festival right there! We only wished he hadn’t fried his hard drive the day before so we could have seen some of his newest work. He also hung out with the people all night like he was one of us! I saw him sign a fan’s face, but only after he tried to talk her out of it… Dale slapped a DBP flatbrim on Ben’s head at the festival, and he was still wearing it at the after party at the famous bar Brick Yard. Dale also offered to share any of Ben’s edits on our page, because basically Dale has no clue of who’s famous in our sport. He goes on real feel alone. And Ben took it all in stride! Ben also climbed up on Dave’s shoulders at the Brick Yard, which is becoming a regular thing. Doug Ammons chose not to get up there. Ben went for it, but when he got down he turned to our buddy and thanked him for not getting him killed! That was Good Livin!

There was so much else that happened before, during , and after that I wish I could recall through the Bourbon, but alas… I wish I had gone up to Pat Keller, at one point he was seated a few spots away, but the time wasn’t right, and I’m not one to inject myself into situations like that. I prefer to let good times come naturally to me, which is exactly how things go down at the NPFF. Some of the friends I met eat Russell Forks for lunch. Some are just getting into paddling. Some keep to the rec boat or even the shuttle driver position, but they all love a good time!

Dirt Bag Paddlers are gonna get a film in there next year! (Hahah!) Suffice to say, we cordially invite you to attend next year’s Fest, you WILL NOT be disappointed! And don’t listen to the damned weathermen!!

I leave you with this quote from Dale, as we reentered Illinois: “Ben WHO?”
NPFF home page

2015 WINNERS
Best Professional Documentary (tie)
The Coast by Skip Armstrong
The Chelan Gorge – 2014 by Daniel Patrinellis
Best Professional Safety/Instruction (tie)
Top 10 Tips for Canoeing & Kayaking Safely by American Canoe Association
Top 10 Tips for Stand Up Paddleboarding Safely by American Canoe Association
Best Professional General Boating
DamNation by Ben Knight and Travis Rummel
Best Accomplished Documentary
Paddler’s Pilgrimage by James Roberts
Best Accomplished General Boating
Secesh/South Fork Salmon Idaho by Shawn Lono
Best Amateur General Boating
Wildcat Creek by Bradley E. Huie
Best Amateur General Boating
Paillalco: The Story of the Puesco River Valley by Kalob Grady
Best Still Image
Colorado Boof by Samantha Ruppelt
BOURBON TRAIL:
Woodford Reserve:
Buffalo Trace:
Kent Eddlemon’s book:
Ben Marr in DREAM:
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