No party is complete without an appropriate soundtrack. These are the songs that get us in the mood all Derby season long. From bluegrass and country classics to tunes with a modern twist (Didn’t know there were rap songs about Kentucky? You are welcome.). Whether they’re Kentucky specific or just oozing Southern charm, each track on this list pairs perfectly with sunshine, horses, and an ice cold mint julep.
Louisville, K-Y: Ella Fitzgerald – We’ll forgive Ella the mispronunciation of our fair city’s name because we love this one so much. When our seat backs and tray tables are in the upright and locked position, and the plane is pointed south, this is the song that accompanies us home.
Rye Whiskey: Punch Brothers – Every word in this song is true, and every word in this song could be applied to the official liquor of the Derby (and of our lives): bourbon.
Long Time Gone: Dixie Chicks – No Derby playlist would be complete without a song from these gals, who provided the soundtrack to our childhoods and embody all of our favorite things about the South. This one is down home and sassy, unafraid to put its money where its mouth is. (Bonus factoid: This was the first song we ever sang together at Nerdeoke. Truth.)
Cumberland Gap: Old Crow Medicine Show – Nothing like a little O.C.M.S. to get us in the Kentucky mood. This one’s got that true bluegrass fiddle sound, sure to have you bouncing along (better watch that julep for spillage…).
Goin’ To The Party: Alabama Shakes – There are some who call Derby a horse race. There are some who call it a festival. There are some who call it a traffic jam and a nuisance. The truth? It is a party, and a damn fine one, as decadent and depraved as it gets.
Big Chance: Patty Loveless – Pikeville, KY, native and distant relative of one of our favorite GRITS, Loretta Lynn, Patty knows her way around a honky tonk (and, we’d be willing to bet, a racetrack). Three juleps in, and we’re starting to reminisce about old loves gone by — human, equine, or otherwise.
Prettiest Tree On the Mountain: Ben Sollee – Slow and sweet, this song takes us back to sun-dappled walks (or drives) through the rolling hills of the Bluegrass State, or at least through Cherokee Park. Home sweet home.
I Still Want A Little More: The Milk Carton Kids – More bourbon. More pie. More hours of sunshine. More horses galloping around the track. We want it all.
That’s How I Got to Memphis: The Avett Brothers – An ode to the town Zelda called home before decamping to the Ville. An oldie and goodie from 1970, covered here by our perpetual favorites, those North Carolina brothers called Avett.
New Slang: Pickin’ On Series – Discovered in one of our favorite Bushwick coffee shops, after which Zelda immediately went home and downloaded the whole album. Goddamn delightful.
My Kentucky Home (feat. Demi & Goodfella Child): KD – Kentucky is not always bluegrass and banjos. Sometimes, Kentucky is roll down your windows, turn the bass up, blast the neighborhood rap songs. Like this one.
I Won’t Grow Up: Audra Mae & The Almighty Sound – This one’s for the girls with the ziploc bags of vodka duct taped to their thighs and the pocket shots in their bras. We feel you. We’ve been you (although we were always more bourbon gals ourselves). Carry on.
Got A Lotta Rhythm In My Soul: Patsy Cline – Patsy is brimming with Derby spirit in this song, telling us to “live it up and paint the town.” We don’t intend to disobey her.
Catfish Blues: B.B. King – While B.B. King is more associated with the slightly deeper South (think banks of the Mississippi, not Ohio), the rhythm of this bluesy take fits right in with our bluegrass party.
Say It: Houndmouth – We spent a good hour dithering over which song from our favorite hometown quartet to include on this playlist. This track off their newest album won for its gambling references (a staple of Derby day), and its gung-ho enthusiasm. Because anything worth doing is worth doing with gusto, Derby included.
Sawing On The Strings: Alison Krauss – Alison was one of Scout’s first introductions to bluegrass, and her tale of a little fiddle player that could is sure to make you smile.
The Bluegrass Country: The Del McCoury Band – The banjo pickin’ and fiddle sawin’ in this one have us lonesome for the bluegrass country too. Who are we kidding — we’re always nostalgic for that bluegrass home of ours, most especially during Derby time.
My Old Kentucky Home: Raison D’Etre – No Derby celebration is complete without a ceremonial singing of this tune, the official song of the state of Kentucky. So raise your julep glass high, put your hand over your heart, and sing this one for our old Kentucky home far away. Happy Derby to all, and may the odds be ever in your favor.