A feast of fairs
Our guide to summer fun and (especially) food
The arrival of summer is greeted by many as a chance to get outdoors, feel the warm sun on their faces and play around outside. For many others, the summer doesn’t really start until Fort Wayne’s summer festival season kicks off in earnest this month.
We Fort Wayners love our festivals, as evidenced by the crowds of people who turn out the day before July’s Three Rivers Festival parade to claim their spots along the parade route and the thousands who climb the hills at Johnny Appleseed park during the September festival that bears the apple-planter’s name. We consume tons of elephant ears, apple fritters and deep-fried Snickers bars, and we guzzle lemon shake-ups to cool us off in the heat of summer. Hey, we don’t call it Junk Food Alley for nothing!
1. Canal Days
We begin our festival preview with a nod to our neighbor to the east: New Haven’s Canal Days. From June 3 to 7, New Haven will be celebrating its past as a stop on the Wabash and Erie Canal and its present as home to nearly 15,000 people who’ll enjoy a blocks-long midway, a parade, games for the kiddos and “a huge amount of food,” said the festival’s Jon Stauffer. New Haven’s Canal Days will be the first of the summer festivals in Allen County to offer those quintessential festival foodstuffs so prized by Hoosiers: deep-fried cheese curds and elephant ears. On June 7, bring the family down to the Faith and Family concert by the Rhett Walker Band. Most events are free. (A caveat: the town bans alcohol at all festival events, according to Stauffer.)
Just a day after Canal Days ends, that keg-tapping onslaught of wiener dogs and wursts, Germanfest, begins. This year’s event will begin June 8 at Headwaters Park. This year marks the 33rd annual Germanfest, sponsored by four Fort Wayne-area German societies. Its motto is “essen, trinken und gemütlichkeit,” or “eating, drinking and (having a) warm, wonderful time.” And how can you not enjoy a festival that involves racing dachshunds, stomping grapes and a “legs ‘n’ lederhosen” contest? The beer stein relay race has to be seen (hint: it involves balloons)! And don’t blame us if “The Chicken Dance” ditty gets stuck in your head during the polka lessons. Find the fun at Headwaters Park in downtown Fort Wayne. Admission is free until 2 p.m. each day, $2 from 2 to 5 p.m., and $5 from 5 p.m. on. No one under 21 will be admitted after 9:30 p.m., according to organizer Bob Anweiler.
Up next is a celebration of the best thing about summer: barbecue. That’s right, Ribfest returns June 19-22, also at Headwaters Park. This year marks the 17th anniversary of Ribfest, and eight master pit crews will be on hand serving up slabs of mouth-watering meat slathered in sauces that range from mild to hoo-boy! Make sure you taste all varieties and then cast your vote for people’s choice. Admission is free until 5:30 p.m. and all day Sunday. After that, it’s $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for students. Children 13 and under are free. There’s live music all day and a 5k walk/run on June 21. Learn more at bbqribfest.com.
4. Covington Art Fair
Those seeking a more refined festival the weekend of June 21-22 should head over to Covington Plaza for the 22nd annual Covington Art Fair. Bringing together more than 85 artists from across the country, the Covington Art Fair is a delight for the senses. From photography and oil painting to jewelry and ceramics, this juried show has something for everyone, according to Larry Wardlaw, who helps oversee the event. The event began as a way to increase traffic at Covington Plaza, the upscale shopping destination on West Jefferson Boulevard, and has quickly grown into one of the area’s finest events. “Covington Art Fair is one (festival) people really look forward to,” Wardlaw noted, adding that each year, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art purchases at least one piece of artwork to add to its growing collection of American art. Live jazz will serenade shoppers, who will find delightful and unique gifts for family, friends – and themselves. Just make sure you get there before the Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s Charles Shepard buys your favorite piece out from under you!
The following week brings cries of “Opa!” as Greekfest kicks off on June 26 at Headwaters Park. This year marks the 34th annual event. We love the lilting strains of Greek music and the laughter of dancers, but who are we kidding? Greekfest is all about the food, baby! From mouth-watering spanakopita and pastichio to honey-drenched baklava sundaes, Greekfest is a delicious way to sample the best Greek cuisine on this side of the Atlantic. Make sure you join in the wonderful dancing (and if you get to hold hands with a handsome Greek man, more’s the better!) Hours are 11 a.m.-11 p.m. June 26-28 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. June 29. Admission is free until 4 p.m. June 26-28 and all day Sunday. From 4 to 10 p.m. June 26-28, admission is just $3, with children under 16 free.
June winds up with that celebration of street performers known as Buskerfest. The entertainment, sponsored by the Downtown Improvement District, kicks off at 4 p.m. on Wayne and Calhoun streets on June 28. Performers scheduled to attend include Pogo Fred, a multiple Guinness World Record holder who gets his acrobatics on with a pogo stick, local fire dancers Pyroscope and Tapman Productions, whose performers will astound with amazing feats of tapping. Performances are free, and tips are encouraged.
7. Three Rivers Festival
The behemoth of summer festivals kicks off July 12 with a parade that winds through downtown – a parade that attracts upwards of 60,000 people. That would be the Three Rivers Festival, now in its 46th year. Festival Executive Director Jack Hammer said this year’s event features some of the biggest names in music while also showcasing family-friendly events like the Raft Race and the Bed Race. “We’re supposed to reflect the best of Fort Wayne,” Hammer said. “We want to show people the very best we have to offer.” That includes Art in the Park, during which more than 100 artisans from across the country will showcase (and sell) their best work in Freimann Square and on the blocked-off East Main Street. Then there are those intrepid chalk artists who’ll use Main Street itself as a canvas for hand-drawn works of art. Servers from a dozen local eateries will navigate an obstacle course to win the Waiter/Waitress Race. An additional 10 rides in the midway this year will focus on entertaining little ones in Headwaters Park East. Oh, and there’s that little area known affectionately as “Junk Food Alley,” where you can get your fill of Deep-Fried Butter McCheese, (OK, we made that up. But there may well be deep-fried anything-you-can-put-on-a-stick.) New this year to Three Rivers Festival are a NASA display, “Journey to Tomorrow,” with a life-sized inflatable Mars rover; a cabaret show on July 19 by master puppeteer Ralph Kipniss at the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Kid Fest; and a performance by the Ugandan Orphans Children’s Choir at the International Village. National musical acts Cheap Trick, Blues Traveler, Smash Mouth, Uncle Kracker, for King & Country and more will be performing in the pavilion at Headwaters Park West. Whew! That just scratches the surface of all the events at this year’s festival. Learn more at threeriversfestival.org. Admission charges vary.
8. Allen County Fair
For entertainment of a more animal-based kind, head to the Allen County Fairgrounds July 22-27 for the Allen County Fair. Area 4-H’ers will compete with their prized cows, horses, sheep, pigs and even ducks to earn scholarship money. Here’s a place to see monster trucks, pig wrestling and a 4-by-4 truck pull. Miss Allen County Fair will be chosen, and she’ll reign over the fair events, which also include a midway and food trucks. The Allen County Fairgrounds are at 2726 Carroll Road. Fair admission is $5 for adults, with children 5 and under admitted free.
9. Pride Fest
Fort Wayne Pride Fest, which attracts some 6,000-8,000 people of all colors, stripes and sexualities to Headwaters Park, is set for July 25-26. There will be several Pride Fest-related events in the week before, according to Nikki Fultz, director of Fort Wayne Pride. The fun kicks off in earnest at 7 p.m. July 25, with live music, a beer tent, food and fun. On July 26, the third annual Pride March begins at Headwaters at 11:30 a.m. and will wind its way around downtown. Later that day, vendors, children’s events and a cornhole tournament will entertain attendees, and headliner Dario of the TV reality show “Dario Undiscovered” will perform. The annual drag show kicks up its very high heels at 10 p.m. on July 26. “Anybody is welcome,” Fultz said. “It doesn’t matter your sexual (orientation), age or race. We enjoy celebrating who you are.” Admission is $3 July 25 and $5 July 26. The parade is free, and so are children 12 and under.
10. Taste of the Arts
Combining food and art seems to be a theme of some of Fort Wayne’s festivals, and nowhere are they more in evidence than at the Aug. 23 Taste of the Arts. Sponsored by Arts United, this beautiful and tasty event runs from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. at the Arts United Center, 303 E. Main St. It features a juried art show, samples of food from dozens of area restaurants, live music and amazing street performances. Admission is free, and you can buy food and beverage tickets for $1 each.
11. Grabill Country Fair
We know you’ve been working hard all year, training your frog or spitting cherry pits, getting ready for the Grabill Country Fair Sept. 4-6, just up the road in the charming town of Grabill. Here’s a fair that features old-fashioned entertainment like baking contests, rug hooking, egg tossing, frog jumping and buggy rides. The cherry pit-spitting contest and the pie-eating contest are on Sept. 6. And if you’re feeling studly, there’s a nail-driving contest to cap off the fun. Admission is free, and the festival’s hours are 10 a.m.-9 p.m. each day.
12. Johnny Appleseed Festival
As the summer winds down and people shift into a more fall-like world comes the festival with arguably the best food to be found (and we know that’s saying a lot): Johnny Appleseed Festival, set for Sept. 20-21 this year. Since 1974, re-enactors have portrayed life in the 1800s at this event, held at the appropriately named Johnny Appleseed Park just south of the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum on Parnell Avenue. Every bit of food made on site is made without electricity or other modern conveniences, and, boy, is it good stuff. From caramel kettle corn to giant grilled turkey legs, there’s a delicious mouthful for everyone. Try the cornbread baked over an open fire with a mound of sweet butter on top or a creamy, cold sarsaparilla in a tin mug. Even better? Most food purveyors are raising funds for their respective organization. Make sure you trek up the hill and toss an apple on old Johnny’s grave marker. And be prepared for cannon fire and the musketed soldiers who march through the crowds. Admission is free, and the festival’s hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 20 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 21.
First appeared in the June 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.