I heart Louisville’s Greek Festival.
When Mr. Tisdale and I moved to Louisville in 2002, the fest was still located at their church in Old Louisville. It was definitely a neighborhoody, Greeky event with rather terrible music, sulky teenage dancers, and welcoming Greek grandmas dishing out plates of dolmathes and spanakopita.
The first year we went, we closed the place down. By the end of the night, we were sharing a table with a senior member of the church who went on and on about how wonderful the Greek Orthodox community in Louisville was.
She ended up suggesting, “You two should think about joining! We need new members, and you would love it!”
To which I asked, “Do you need to be Greek?”
“No, no,” she replied. “We welcome everyone.”
“Do you need to believe in God?”
She paused, then said slowly. “Well, you do have to do that one.”
After that brush with almost becoming Greek Orthodox, Mr. Tisdale and I have become regulars not to the church pews, but at least to their annual festival.
When my sister moved to Louisville about eight years ago, we introduced her to our favorite fest. By then, the church had (sadly) moved to the East End, leaving their beautiful church in Old Louisville vacant. They moved the festival to the Belvedere on Louisville’s waterfront, a smart move that greatly increased the fest’s exposure.
My sister, Mr. Tisdale and I rode our bicycles down that year and had a great time drinking terrible Greek wine and watching the musicians and dancers. Before we knew it, it was 11:30 p.m., and all the non-Greeks (besides us) had all left. A nice woman came over to our table under the big tent and said, “I’m sorry, but this is now a private party. If you want to stay, you have to sing karaoke. And you must have cake. It’s Nick’s birthday.”
We were charmed. Unfortunately, Mr. Tisdale and I are not very musical. Thankfully my sister is. I pulled up the lyrics to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on my phone, and my sister bravely sang it with the Greek band enthusiastically playing along. After that, we were rewarded with slices of birthday cake. Then the birthday boy himself stopped by insisting on giving me and my sister very wet kisses on the cheeks. OPA!
Unfortunately, no Greek Fest since then has topped that night. But it doesn’t stop us from going every June and hoping that we catch a glimmer of that camaraderie that almost convinced me to swear off atheism so I could become Greek Orthodox.
Over the years, Greek Fest kept getting bigger and bigger. At the waterfront, it started to lose its charm. It lost that feeling that you wanted to be adopted by a big fat Greek family.
But this year, that warm baklava embrace returned.
Greek Fest moved to their new church on Ormsby Lane in the East End. It was much smaller than previous years, and it was over two days instead of three. (Which, considering their dwindling congregation numbers, seems much more sane.)
While we didn’t close down the place like we did in years past, we did stay until most of the non-Greeks had left and the band was taking requests by the dancers. The pouty, somewhat embarrassed teen dancers wearing traditional clothing were nowhere to be found. Instead, an energetic, athletic and enthusiastic group of dance alumnae had returned to dance the steps they learned when they, too, were sulky teens. They hypnotically whirl-a-gig’ed around the dance floor to the cheers of the crowd and the irresistible opa of the band. After a few years’ hiatus, we had finally rediscovered the heart of Greek Fest.
Not wanting the spell to end, we left when the dancers were still whirling, the sweet taste of Ouzo clinging to our lips.