Creating a One-of-a-Kind Festival Identity
How we branded a signature music festival for our city and had a damn good time doing it.
What we did
A study commissioned by the city of Lexington uncovered a number of major opportunities for our city, but one major takeaway stood out in the tourism space. Our city had yet to own a major annual cultural arts event with the gravity to attract tens of thousands of visitors.
We were approached by our partners VisitLex and Keeneland, as well as AC Entertainment—one of the preeminent names in live music events and organizers of Bonnaroo, Forecastle, Big Ears, High Water Festivals and more—to create an identity for a new signature music festival in Lexington that would introduce the arts and culture of our city to a new world of travelers, showcase the Thoroughbred industry to new fans, and drive revenues for the city through hotel occupancy and development of local commerce.
While the climate was right for a signature music festival to succeed in Lexington, breaking through the clutter of the music festival bubble in the U.S. has become increasingly more difficult. So it was crucial to define a distinct identity that could not only stand out, but help define a truly unique and memorable festival experience.
We set out to build a badass, best-in-class music festival identity that was true to our city, true to our host site Keeneland and its Thoroughbred heritage, and true to the artists we would welcome and celebrate in our city.
It started with a name. With so many competing festivals and events, finding a name that’s catchy, intriguing, ownable and exciting is tough, especially one concise enough to have the versatility, brand responsiveness and conceptual legs to adapt to many promotional needs.
We tapped into the lexicon of equine culture to find a meaningful and memorable name that would capture the spirit of Keeneland while inspiring the overall festival experience. Traditionally, a railbird is a horse racing enthusiast known for sticking close to the action, hanging on the rail as each contender comes barreling down the track. To “ride the rail” is to do the same at a concert. We would welcome attendees from near and far to get in the action in the same way for an unforgettable weekend of music, art and bourbon in a one-of-a-kind setting. And Railbird Festival was born.
In aesthetic, it all came to life in a mix of gritty and refined vintage design elements, bringing in a personal and authentic feel. Iconography created ownable interpretations of Keeneland’s and horse racing’s prestigious culture, reimagined with a vibe and energy for the festival setting. Our brand voice and a series of messages were grounded in the urgency, excitement and thrill of Thoroughbred racing.
Inspired by the iconic Keeneland brand, Railbird’s color palette was rooted in green and gold. As an homage to the classic Keeneland green, our particular shade brought in a hint of blue as a nod to the Bluegrass region. The gold provided an elevated, refined feel while red injected radiance and energy.
Two days in August. Three stages. Dozens of world class artists including Brandi Carlile, The Raconteurs, Tyler Childers, Hozier, Gary Clarke Jr., St. Paul and the Broke Bones, Old Crow Medicine Show and many more.
Visitors descended on Lexington from across 48 states and 11 countries. Attendance was over 30,000 across the two days. City tax revenue went up 7.5% based on hotel occupancy (compared to 0.4% the previous year), moving the needle significantly in tourism for what is typically considered a “shoulder” month.
Ultimately, Railbird came together with a unified identity rooted in our local culture and people, which was executed in web design, social media, festival signage, and environment design. That identity also inspired how festival experiences came to life including the Rickhouse curated bourbon experience and Lucky Day Plaza where attendees could wager on off-track betting.
“While Lexington is well-known and regarded for its bourbon, fast-racing thoroughbreds, the city has a music scene that has always percolated just beneath the surface. This past weekend, Railbird helped bring that to the fore.” – Rolling Stone
“Branding a signature hometown music festival is really a dream job, but also a huge responsibility when you’re talking about creating something that will represent your community to visitors, many for the first time. So we took that responsibility as seriously as we could while having a hell of a time bringing it all together.
The name Railbird just rolled off the tongue and had a sense of inherent intrigue to it, but the meaning behind it and the way it was able to quickly inspire so many brand elements really confirmed we were on to something—that ideal mix of feeling right at the gut level, but then revealing itself to have so much excitement and potential. The aesthetic and brand elements it led to really confirmed that. And the entire team did an incredible job creating an identity and vibe that brought a unique mix of rowdy, refined, thrilling, gritty and authentic.”
– Jason Majewski, Associate Creative Director