Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman says, "I have a bizarre perspective on things because I spent the last 20 years in a rock band touring the world."
Gorman, who moved to Hopkinsville when he was 10 and stayed in the Bluegrass State through college, brought that bizarre perspective to Kentucky's signature event Saturday.
A few years ago, Gorman started showing up as a guest on a friend's show for Nashville sports radio outlet WGFX-104.5 FM. Eventually, he was offered his own show. For Gorman, it's a natural fit. With the Crowes, he is often the guy who does radio spots for the band. And he says ESPN Sports Center is regular viewing for the group, which rose to fame on hits such as Hard to Handle and is still a going concern with an upcoming album and tour.
That said, Gorman claims no sports expertise.
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"We start with sports and then we try to veer off track as quickly as possible," Gorman says. "I love being the dumbest guy in the room. If I'm the smartest guy in the room, we have a problem."
Among his favorite sports to discuss are European soccer and his Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers.
He is now happy to embrace Kentucky's longest-standing sporting tradition.
"I've actually talked to a lot of people in the last month getting ready for this and learned a lot," said Gorman, who sported a $7.99 thrift-store suit. "It's really a great sport."
Down the hatch
Brown Forman spokesman Tim Laird takes us back to whiskey's medicinal roots.
"In the early days of farming, you didn't have Tylenol and medicines like that, so people would have whiskey as a sort of a bracer to start the day," Laird said.
So people quaffing mint juleps at 11 a.m. could be viewed as continuing an agrarian tradition. On Derby morning, it was a tradition that Doug Allen of Baton Rouge, La., was paying $1,000 to continue — for the third year in a row. There were 99 $1,000 juleps available from Woodford Reserve on Saturday.
"It's a good way to start off a great day," Allen said, as friends passed around his cocktail in the golden cup.
Throughout Churchill Downs there is dissonance in the sounds rising from the crowd: a steady rumble punctuated by an improvisational "mint julep!," a drunken fan stumbling through, a request of "Take my picture."
But every 50 minutes or so, the crowd unites in harmony: "Go!" "Come on!"
"We're just trying to make some money out here," Ernesto Turner says a few minutes before the start of the ninth race. "So far, we haven't done so well."
He has No. 9 in the race. His wife, Brenda, has No. 8, following a system she has used since picking No. 8 in the 2006 Derby: Barbaro.
Alas, the system doesn't pay off this time.
The Turners' song turns to groans, while others sound dissonant cheers.
Maybe next race. Maybe Derby.