Watch Woodford Reserve’s socially distant ode to ‘Old Kentucky Home’ from an empty Churchill Downs
Churchill Downs will be a lot quieter than normal on Saturday, with the Kentucky Derby pushed from May 2 to Sept. 5 in response to the coronavirus outbreak. But Woodford Reserve is making use of the unusual solitude in a new ad that includes a stirring rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home” played at the empty racetrack.
The ad from Energy BBDO will run on Saturday during NBC’s re-airing of the 2015 Derby, which marked the start of American Pharoah’s run to the Triple Crown. The network will run three hours of programming, starting at 3 p.m. EDT, that will include what it is billing as “a socially distant, computer-simulated edition of the Run for the Roses that pits all 13 Triple Crown winners against each other,” according to NBCSports.com.
The Woodford Reserve ad features Kentucky cellist Ben Sollee playing a solo of “My Old Kentucky Home” in the Derby winner’s circle against scenes of an empty Churchill Downs. The song, written by Stephen Collins Foster and originally published in 1853, has been performed at the Derby since the early 20th Century, according to kentuckyderby.com. Normally the song is performed by The University of Louisville marching band, which this year created its own virtual version that it plans to post on the band’s official Facebook page, according to local media reports.
Woodford’s ad rearranged some of the song’s lyrics, moving the line “by and by hard times come a-knocking at my door” near the beginning. The verse seems to speak to the current period of hardship brought on by the pandemic. But the ad ends on a hopeful note, with the copy “here’s to running again in September.”
“It’s amazing that a song from 1850 speaks so perfectly to this moment in time,” Energy BBDO co-chief creative officers Josh Gross and Pedro Perez said in a joint statement, noting that the tune has been played at the Derby in May for decades and “we didn’t want to break that tradition.”
The agency used its internal studio, Flare, for post-production. The ad was shot using no more than four people on location at a time in order to respect social distancing rules. Two drones were used to capture aerial shots. The agency, whose employees remain homebound, finished the ad in two weeks, from conception to final approvals.
“When we started to work from home, two months ago, the thought of doing remote edit sessions seemed really time-consuming” Casey Cobler, managing editor at Flare, said in a statement. “The reality has been that we are just as fast, if not faster, than when everyone was at the agency. Technology allows us to involve everyone in the process from creative to account to strategy without having to send cuts around the office awaiting a response.”
Woodford Reserve, which is a presenting sponsor of the Derby, is participating in what Churchill Downs is billing as a virtual “at-home celebration” on Saturday. Events including virtual tours of the Derby Museum will be streamed on the Derby’s social media channels. The agenda includes a Mint Julep-making demonstration from the bourbon’s master distiller, Chris Morris. At 3 p.m. EDT, Morris will participate in a “global live toast to the Derby” that will be streamed on the brand’s YouTube channel.