Second annual Bourbonfest ready to pour on the fundraising success

Let’s just say the glass of the inaugural Bourbonfest: Come Get Your Phil last year overflowed, even though it was planned at the last minute.

It more than briskly sold out its 425 tickets before the event at The Commons, and generated $11,500 for the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. It also generated new planning committee members such as Columbus resident Tom Lutes, who loved the event.

“It turned out even more fun than I originally expected,” said Columbus resident Lutes, a Bourbon collector especially interested in distillery histories and the like. “It was simply a wonderful experience to spend a great time with like-minded individuals.”

The second Bourbonfest will be Feb. 17, also at The Commons in downtown Columbus.

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This time, the capacity has been expanded to 600 people, which could raise as much as $20,000. So organizers already are toasting the distinct, eventual possibility of another sellout.

For the varying price of admission (except for tickets for non-drinking designated drivers), Bourbonfest attendees get 12 sips of their favorite bourbon, six tastes of craft beer, plus self-serve bar snacks. Live music will be part of the atmosphere again.

Why such popularity?

Lutes, 29, and the perfect age for the younger audience that the Philharmonic is purposely reaching out to, mentioned that it’s tough to pinpoint the growing success of bourbon gatherings in recent years.

“In popular culture and in society in general, it’s become more well known as more of a fun, sophisticated thing to do,” Lutes said. “Some of its resurgence is part of the idea of it being a classy thing to do during an evening with a close-knit group of friends.”

Katelyn Ice, the Philharmonic marketing director and one of the founding millennial organizers of the event, said the interest this time around was strong from the outset.

“We saw a huge response in ticket sales (in November),” Ice said. “I think there were a lot of people who thought, ‘I’ll get my ticket early and get that out of the way.’”

She added that the younger ticket buyers — those in their 20s and 30s — respond more to social media promotion than anything else. Philharmonic follow-up statistics show that about 10 percent came to a cabaret show or orchestra concert sometime after Bourbonfest.

“Of course, we always would like to see more of that younger crowd attend the cabaret or our Philharmonic concerts,” Ice said. “Our original goal has been to reel them into the cabaret shows first because The Commons is such a familiar venue, and then begin reeling them into concerts with some of our younger featured musicians.”

Some of the Bourbonfest patrons took advantage of bar drink specials at the Cabaret at The Commons shows.

“We wanted to do something to keep the idea of Bourbonfest fresh in their mind,” Ice said.

The push for younger ticket buyers, especially for concerts, is important since much of the Philharmonic’s support since it launched in 1987 has come mostly from an older audience. That fact matches the support for most orchestras nationally, according to assessments through the years from organizations such as the League of American Orchestras.

“Orchestral organizations all sometimes struggle a little to try to figure out what that younger demographic wants in entertainment options,” she said.

If you go

What: Bourbonfest: Come Get Your Phil, to raise money for the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, and to help the orchestra market its Cabaret at The Commons series and its orchestral concerts to new and younger audience members.

When: 3 to 6 p.m. Feb. 17 (and a special 2 p.m. entry time for VIP ticket holders).

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

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

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.

After Party: 6 p.m. across Fourth Street from The Commons at The Garage Pub & Grill.

Information: 812-376-2638 or

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.