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Lebowski Fest co-founder Will Russell, who has staged more than 60 festivals in more than 30 cities. / Frankie Steele for Lebowski Fest

Will Russell is consistently amazed by things that happen at one of his Lebowski Fests, fan-driven festivals that celebrate the culture surrounding the 1998 cult film The Big Lebowski. But what happened a few months ago in Los Angeles? That was some unchecked amazement, a night that Russell will never forget.

Lebowski Fest, which began 13 years ago in Louisville, was having its annual L.A. event with Jeff Bridges as special guest. Bridges, who plays the film's glorious lead character, The Dude, was there to sing with his band, The Abiders, and introduce a screening of the movie at the Wiltern Theatre.

After his intro, which he did in character, Bridges walked over to Russell.

"He said, 'Man, I wanna go out and watch the movie,' so we made arrangements to sneak him out to where he and his people could watch," Russell said. "At the very end I went over to thank him for coming ... and he just kind of pulled me in and said, 'Man, this movie is really deep.'

"I was like, 'I know, man, I know. He said, 'Let's watch the last scene together, Will,' and I was, like, 'Wow.' So we were there, hand in hand, and when The Dude says, 'The Dude abides' at the end of the movie, I looked at Jeff and thought, Jeff Bridges really is The Dude, and he truly does abide. It was a really cool experience."

Louisville's Lebowski Fest is Friday through Sunday, with most of the action at the Executive Strike & Spare bowling alley. Bowling is a crucial component of the movie, and the high point of the festival is Saturday night's party of bowling, trivia games, costume contests and hundreds of gallons of White Russians, The Dude's favorite cocktail.

What began as a lark that somehow attracted 150 fellow fans has grown into an industry. Russell, who co-founded the fest with now-retired Scott Shuffitt, has staged more than 60 fests in more than 30 cities around the world. His two Louisville retail stores sell festival merchandise worldwide.

"Who knew, man?" Russell said. "When we first started doing this thing, we had no idea it would ever happen again, and here we are 13 years later and still rolling."

The Big Lebowski inspires devotion at a high level, including the founding of a religion, Dudeism. You sense that someone else would have invented Lebowski Fest if Russell and Shuffitt hadn't, because the movement had already begun: the first Lebowski Fest, staged with an advertising budget of $42 and no such thing as social media, somehow drew attendees from New York and Arizona.

So people were ready for it. The film, a stoner homage to Raymond Chandler's detective fiction written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, offers a way of life via The Dude. Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski doesn't judge, except when The Eagles are involved, and tries to live an uncomplicated, harmonious life. It is, as Bridges said, a deep movie in its way, and also a very funny one.

Bridges has been dropping by the Los Angeles fest for four years, although his enthusiasm has yet to inspire co-stars Julianne Moore, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi to join him.

"It's amazing that an actor like Jeff Bridges is willing to do something like that, to revisit an old character," Russell said. "He just really loves The Big Lebowski, he loves Lebowski Fest, he loves the fans."

Louisville won't have Bridges, but James G. Hoosier, who plays a rival bowler named Liam O'Brien, will return for his annual visit.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Lebowski Fest abides in Louisville

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