Free hugs in many languages in downtown Lexington

Jordan Jones got up Saturday morning, put on a court jester costume, painted a sign that said "Free Hugs" on one side and "Abrazos Gratis" on the other, and headed to downtown Lexington.

She's an engineer during the week, but for the Spotlight Lexington festival events Saturday, she and several friends were unofficial multi-lingual goodwill ambassadors.

Besides her English/Spanish sign, there were strangely dressed people offering hugs in English and German, Portuguese, Italian, Gaelic and French.

"We made signs in different languages because we knew a lot of different people would be here," Jones said.

Spotlight Lexington is free music, food vendors and Kentucky crafts spread over downtown for 17 days during the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The downtown events are at Cheapside, the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza, Triangle Park and the grassy field known as the CentrePointe block.

The music drew a few thousand people Friday night, and another crowd was expected Saturday night for the group Here Come the Mummies.

During the day Saturday, there were a lot of people everywhere, but no large crowds anywhere. Because the events were spread out, the busiest places often were the recently redone sidewalks, which were packed with people going from one event to another.

The music at the courthouse plaza attracted jazz lovers. At Cheapside, it was bluegrass, country and folk.

In Triangle Park, one could taste a bourbon chocolate sauce or browse locally made pottery and jewelry, much of it with horse themes.

The grassy block offerings included a lot of the sausage-and-onions kind of food one finds at state fairs, as well as crepes and booths that served up 11/2 ounces of Woodford Reserve bourbon for $7.

"I think this is kind of interesting; it gets a lot of people downtown who probably wouldn't be," said Steve Gallup, who was walking through Phoenix Park hand-in-hand with Karen Sturgeon.

"It's a nice offering to welcome visitors from all the different countries," Sturgeon said.

Jones said her group had given hugs to some people from other countries, but the vast majority of people downtown seemed to be from Lexington. The most frequently heard foreign accent was Spanish.

One busy place was the LexTran transit center on Vine Street, where a lot of people were catching buses for the eight-mile ride to the Kentucky Horse Park.

Also going on downtown Saturday was the International Equestrian Festival — not affiliated with the Games — which continues at the Lexington Convention Center through Oct. 10. Among Saturday's offerings: Monty Roberts, also known as "The Man Who Listens to Horses" and horse-shoeing lessons.

Not everyone was pleased with the downtown scene.

Grover Carlisle was there with his wife Bit and daughters Jasmine, 7; and Miaya, 2.

"I expected a little more festive atmosphere, but it's a little too spread out," he said. "You've got to park on one end and then walk all the way to the other and back."

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