There were challenges, sure, but there was also plenty to celebrate in 2016, especially in the Bluegrass state. Here's a look back at the events and people who helped Kentucky kick ass this year.
It's that time again, y'all. Time to count our blessings and take stock of all the awesome things that happened this year while looking towards the new. Across Kentucky there were plenty of people and events that made a positive impact and helped make the Bluegrass state shine a little brighter. We've no doubt left a lot of notable Kentucky kick-assery off of the list, so shoot us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know the positive contributions you'd add!
You can now study tacos at the University of Kentucky
The University of Kentucky began offering an undergraduate course last January called "Taco Literacy: Public Advocacy and Mexican Food in the U.S. South." The course aims to teach students about Mexican culinary traditions and influence in Kentucky, which has one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country, and throughout the South.
Photographer: Sam Owens/Bloomberg
Miners find new careers in coding
Bit Source, a software development company headquartered in a former Coca-Cola bottling plant in Pikeville, began recruiting former coal miners and teaching them to code. The company received 1,000 applicants in response to its initial ad to fill just 10 positions. "We've got a lot of high-skilled hillbillies here," says Bit Source co-founder Rusty Justice.
Photographer: Ken Scmidheiser
81-year-old man adorns car with toys to woo women
81-year-old Bill Grider, of Somerset, adorned his 1995 Toyota Tercel with a variety of plastic animals, toys and other knick-knacks, partly as a unique form of expression and partly to attract interest from women. "I'm hoping to attract me a vegetarian woman," he says. "With the price of beef today, that's all I can afford."
The Wooks win RockyGrass Band Competition
Kentucky-based bluegrass band The Wooks took a chance when they headed west for Colorado and the 44th annual RockyGrass Festival. They were looking to score a last-minute entry into the festival's prestigious band competition — and ended up winning the whole thing. They're heading back to RockyGrass again this year, July 28–30, for a main stage performance. Check out this video of The Wooks making the most of a traffic jam.
Kentucky shaped ice cubes became a thing
Kentucky bourbon on the rocks got even cooler this year with the introduction of Kentucky Rocks! Ice Cube Trays. These beauties, made from food-grade silicon, create flawless Kentucky shaped ice cubes to take your bourbon and sweet tea sippin' experience to the next level. Buy them here!
Bill Murray joins George Clooney appreciation society
Bill Murray was spotted wearing a KYforKY "George Clooney is a Beautiful Man" tee shirt over the Fourth of July weekend — while on a boat in Italy with George and Amal Clooney! The world went nuts and the story garnered tons of press. We even made the front page of Reddit! Buy your shirt here.
Cocaine Bear blows up
Cocaine Bear, our Kentucky Fun Mall mascot, had a big year, y'all. Tons of local and national press picked up on the story of Cocaine Bear, a.k.a. Pablo Eskobear, helping him became one of Kentucky's top tourist destinations! If you haven't read the story of how we came into possession of the bear from "The Bluegrass Conspiracy" fame, you can read all about it here. You can also find some awesome Cocaine Bear gear here.
We made an epic commercial
Speaking of the Fun Mall, we also made and launched the most kick-ass television commercial the world has ever seen! The spot aired throughout July during The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live, and has racked up more than 300,000 views online. We even earned some great recognition from the likes of AdWeek, NPR, Mashable and locally from the Herald-Leader. You can check out the spot here.
KFC's secret recipe revealed
The Chicago Tribune published an article about a nephew of Col. Harland Sanders that included what may well be be KFC's top secret and highly guarded recipe of 11 herbs and spices. The company denied that it's the actual recipe, but now folks can at least attempt to make fried chicken that tastes like the Colonel's.
We launched Southern Socks
We love Kentucky, but we also dipped a toe into other states this summer with the launch of Southern Socks, an awesome new brand from KYforKY. Southern Socks features state-pride designs for folks throughout the South. Shop Southern Socks here!
The Walking Dead invaded Cynthiana
In June, we helped bring Portuguese street artist Sergio Odeith back to Kentucky to paint an epic Walking Dead mural in downtown Cynthiana, home of The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and original comic artist Tony Moore. The mural served as an awesome backdrop for the first ever The Walking Dead Day celebration, which brought more than 20,000 people to downtown Cynthiana.
We said goodbye to The Champ
We lost a lot of notable figures in 2016, but the death of Kentucky native Muhammad Ali was particularly notable. While it was sad to mourn the loss of the greatest of all time, the celebration of his life and the way he brought people together was a bright spot among the clouds.
We threw a Totally Tubular Tube-A-Thon
In the heat of the summer, we helped Kentucky cool off with the first Kentucky for Kentucky Totally Tubular Tube-A-Thon on the scenic Elkhorn Creek. The Tube-A-Thon was a seriously fun time that brought out more than 1,000 Kentuckians for a day of tubing, camping and camaraderie. The Herald-Leader even ran this fun-soaked report. We can't wait to do it again with y'all in 2017! Look for details here.
Bowling Green team makes run at Little League World Series title
The Bowling Green East Little League team won the Great Lakes Region championship in August and secured a berth in the Little League World Series, the team's second year in a row to make the tournament. Tennessee ultimately edged out Kentucky to reach the U.S. title game against Endwell, New York, which went on to win the Little League World Series Championship.
Buffalo Trace unearths 'bourbon Pompeii'
While renovating one of its oldest buildings along the Kentucky River, Buffalo Trace Distillery unearthed the remains of an 1873 distillery that was built by legendary distiller Col. E.H. Taylor. Buffalo Trace called in historian Carolyn Brooks and bourbon archaeologist Nicolas Laracuente to learn more about the historic find.
Bourbon cleans up
Speaking of bourbon, not only did the bourbon industry hit new heights in global popularity and sales, it may also help fight oil spills. The New York Times reported on a phenomenon where concentrated fire whirls, sometimes called firenadoes, can be concentrated into hot-burning blue whirls that can help consume oil spills in water. Science rocks, y'all.
Crystal Wilkinson one of Southern Living's Southerners of the Year
Kentucky artists promote love and unity
Artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova made a powerful statement with the installation of their "Unlearn Fear + Hate" sculpture on the side of the new 21C Museum Hotel in Lexington. The design, based on a phrase by poet Frank X Walker, soon found its way onto stencils, tee shirts, cross-stitch designs and other objects found around the world. And in August, Walker and his fellow Affrilachian Poets made news by becoming the first group ever to reject a Governor's Award for the Arts, saying in a statement the Govornor Bevin's "comments, positions, and actions regarding education in general, the Humanities specifically, universal healthcare, criminal justice reform, and the LGBTQ community, have been reprehensible and go against the core of who we are as writers and educators and as artists committed to resisting oppression."
Cats and Cards flip the script
In a thrilling reversal of what we've come to expect from previous seasons, the Kentucky Wildcats stunned the Louisville Cardinals football team by winning the Governor's Cup in Louisville. The Cards returned the favor when they beat Kentucky at basketball just a month later.
Rabbit Hash elects pit bull as mayor
Residents of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, overwhelming elected a pit bull named Brynneth Pawltro as mayor of the small town, beating out a cat, a chicken and a jackass. The election was held as a benefit for the Rabbit Hash General Store, which was destroyed by fire in February.
Sturgill Simpson nominated for a Grammy
Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson had a HUGE year — and it was capped this December by a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. We'll have to wait until the Grammy Awards ceremony on February 12 to see if he wins, but either way it's a huge recognition for a top talent. His drummer, Miles Miller, is from Kentucky, too.
Musicians from Berea College perform on national television
Students and music faculty members from Berea College performed a special musical celebration called "Listen! A Musical Celebration of Christmas at Berea College" that aired nationally on CBS Christmas Eve.
Head on over to the shop for fresh Kentucky gear! And come on down and see us at the Fun Mall, y'all! 720 Bryan Ave. in Lexington.
Need more Kentucky Kicks Ass? Check out Ways Kentucky Kicked Ass in 2018 + 2016 + 2015 + 2014 + 2013