The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, honored through the years for innovative programming, is striking another new — and trendy — note.

And the organization hopes it eventually will be music to the ears of millennials, one of the orchestra’s target audiences the past few years.

Therein lies the impetus of the inaugural Bourbonfest slated Feb. 18 at The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus. Its marketers already have unbottled a catchy slogan of sorts: “Come get your Phil,” employing the symphony’s nickname.

The fundraising event, first proposed in late October, aims to capitalize on the craft beer and bourbon interest especially among those in their 20s and 30s, according to organizers. Throw in young, popular, pop-rock cover band The Tiptonians and you have an event mixed like a good drink for an audience especially of younger professionals.

Story continues below gallery

Makes sense since the gathering has been planned exclusively by an eight-member millennial group, according to Katelyn Ice, the Philharmonic’s marketing director.

“We’re wanting to attract like-minded individuals who haven’t yet been to our orchestra concerts, cabarets, Lobsterfest, SALUTE! or other events,” Ice said.

They’re off to a good start.

They had sold more than 200 tickets by Friday in a community where the bulk of entertainment and event tickets often are sold in the week before a function, according to a variety of arts organizers. It’s also significant since planners aim to limit the fest to about 400 people.

“Based on our research, the artisan distillery industry is really picking up now, and seems to be a popular theme even for smaller get-togethers,” Ice said. “So we figured, ‘Why not take that idea and make it bigger?’”

The theory is simple: Attract younger people to a social outing or two and then get them to a concert.

A younger audience is important to the Philharmonic because much of its base during its 30-year existence, like many orchestras nationwide, has been comprised of older people. The subject of attracting younger audiences has arisen regularly locally at least for the past decade or more, particularly when younger artists have been featured.

For the varying price of admission (except for tickets for non-drinking designated drivers), Bourbonfest attendees get either 10 or 12 sips of their favorite bourbon or craft beer, plus food ranging from pizza to other items from local eateries.

Event planning committee member Eric Robbins, who proposed the whole idea, believes it will be a success — and one that can grow. His inspiration grew out of social weekends in Kentucky with friends among distilleries in the Lexington and Bardstown areas. He already has heard that the big-name distilleries, from Woodford Reserve to Maker’s Mark, have stirred interest in the event.

“I think there’s a good chance that we could have a pretty amazing regional audience,” Robbins said.

An indoor gathering in February seems like a perfect fit, he said — especially if cold weather limits other activity. He also mentioned that a shot or two of bourbon can bring its share of warmth.

“This can be your jacket for the day,” he said.

And Robbins likes the idea of gradually introducing his peers to live classical music.

“I think the key is just properly exposing them to it,” Robbins said. “I don’t think they’re exactly getting that on iTunes.”

Allison Kunkler, another member of the planning committee who once was known locally as the Singing Bartender at The Garage Pub & Grill, never liked bourbon until a few years ago.

“Now, I have become very knowledgeable,” Kunkler said.

Long known locally for her vocal skills, she’s happy to help the local professional orchestra.

“I’ve always wanted to be some part of the Philharmonic,” she said, “because of my interest in music.”

Will you drink to this?

What: The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s inaugural Bourbonfest fundraiser, featuring a broad mix of national distilleries, craft breweries and a few restaurants.

When: 3 to 6 p.m. Feb. 18 (VIP ticket holders will be admitted at 2 p.m.)

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.

Tickets: VIP is $50, allowing entrance one hour early and 12 sips of your favorite bourbons; $30 (or $40 at the door), allowing 10 sips of your favorite bourbons; and $15 for safe drivers, allowing food and non-alcoholic drinks.

An after-party: An informal gathering across the street at The Garage Pub & Grill, 308 Fourth St. in Columbus.

Safety: Excise officers will be attendance. Plus volunteers at the exits will check with attendees to see if they need a cab or other ways to get home.

Information: 812-376-2638 or thecip.org/bourbonfest

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.