During the summer months in cities and towns along the Ohio River and throughout the area, not a week goes by without scores of amazing festivals taking place.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the weekends are filled with arts, entertainment, history, food, and more. If you feel like having fun at lively, quirky, and even wacky summer festivals, here are our picks to include on your calendar.
31st Annual National Corvette Homecoming
Bowling Green, Ky., revs its engines as the Sloan Convention Center hosts more than 500 antique and new Corvettes. This year, special guest Captain Joe “Spirit” Jakub arrives in the American flag-decorated D.A.R.E. Corvette convertible. Factory tours and seminars are featured as well as the Road Tour, an hour-long Corvette parade that winds around the county. www.corvettehomecoming.com
It’s easy to agree with Rob Hill of Evansville Iron Street Rods when he says Frog Follies “brings out the crowds to see the cars from yesteryear.” The largest pre-1949 street rod event in the country, Frog Follies draws more than 4,000 cars to the Vanderburgh 4-H Center, where “rodders” from all over the country “get together, swap stories, and visit with other like-minded individuals,” Hill says. www.frogfollies.org
Hadi ShrinersFest Freedom Festival
From L-39 Albatross jets to a Twin Beech C-45, loud airplanes fill the Evansville sky on June 9 and 10, with acts by Texas-based Red Steel Jet Team, flying a Russian-made MiG-23, the world’s fastest privately owned jet; performances by Team RV as they maneuver 12 planes in precision formations; and single stunts by pilots Tim Weber, Gary Ward, and Matt Younkin. These are among the larger-than-ever-before attractions at this year’s ShrinersFest Freedom Festival, June 6-10.
Notable improvements in this year’s festival include the replacement of inflatable bouncers with carnival-style child and adult rides and of course, the air show that’s bringing more acts than any previous festival. A VIP area at the Pagoda with access to air-conditioning and endless food and drinks throughout the three-day event are offered for an additional price. Instead of tickets, admission buttons are sold for a $5 entrance fee, and a free kids day kicks off the festival on Wednesday, with demonstrations from the local fire and police departments and the SWAT team, and a visit from the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library’s book mobile.
$5 general admission (kids 12 and under are free). Nightly music performances by the Bobby Clark Band, McFly, Mike Harvey SuperGold Sock Hop, Pfreak Show, Scott Sublet and Tim Simpson, Lindsey Williams, and Jason Clutter. www.shrinersfest.org
Known as Southern Indiana’s finest bierstube, the Haubstadt Sommerfest has been a festival favorite for nearly 50 years. A short 19 miles north of Evansville in Haubstadt, Ind., the annually anticipated three-day event promises live music from three regional acts — Stompbox 40, Bobby Brown, and McFly — and timeless festival staples including talent shows, burgers and stroms, and of course, the requisite beer. www.haubstadt.org
Harrison County Summerfest
This year’s Harrison County Summerfest in Corydon, Ind., which brings thousands of people out each year, comes to little Braeley England’s rescue. Born with spina bifida and associated Chiari malformation, 4-year-old Braeley has endured more than 15 surgeries. Hospital bills are adding up, and proceeds from the 5K run, silent auction, and bike show go directly to her medical expenses. www.harrisoncountysummerfest.com
Arts and Crafts
SculptEVV Art and Musical Festival
In its inaugural year, this festival offers guests an aesthetic experience on Haynie’s Corner (in the Evansville Arts District), with 12 sculptures installed at the new outdoor gallery and sculpture park, where they will stay until April 2013. The exhibition — a partnership between the City of Evansville, the University of Southern Indiana, the Arts Council, and the Evansville Bicentennial Committee — brings sculptors from as far as California, says project director Hilary Braysmith, and is accompanied by the Art Council’s ArtEVV fair, entertainment by the Evansville Fire Family, and musical performances by Blind Dog Gatewood and the Smoke Rings, among others. www.sculptevv.org
Wine and Spirits
Historic Newburgh Wine, Art and Jazz Festival
Carol Schaefer, executive director of Historic Newburgh, knows what sets the Newburgh, Ind., Wine, Art and Jazz Festival apart from other such events: the view. “A day of wine, art, and jazz coupled with a stellar view of the river — it just doesn’t get much better than that,” she says of the event hosted by Historic Newburgh and Evansville Living.
The festival, an open-air, two-day event overlooking the Ohio River, offers more than a nice view. Friday’s event, the Grapes on the Grass Soiree, takes guests on a tour of 17 Indiana wineries without the road trip; better yet, not only do guests swirl, smell, and sip all night long, they act as judges, casting their valued votes for their favorite flavors.
Saturday’s activities continue wine sampling (with the soiree’s winners announced), jazz music, and the added pleasure of more than a dozen artists displaying their work for sale on the east lawn of the Old Lock and Dam park, and plenty of food offered throughout the day. For the dedicated guest, three wine education classes led by Bill Woerz can turn anyone into a true connoisseur. And the homemade ice cream from the Kiwanis of Newburgh is an added treat. Tickets are available by calling 812-853-2815. Visit www.historicnewburgh.org for more information.
[pagebreak]Owensboro Bourbon and Jazz Festival
Thanks to this brand new festival, you don’t have to drive far to “celebrate two American pastimes: bourbon and jazz,” says Vince Carida, founder and president of the Owensboro Bourbon Society. Owensboro, Ky., adding to its already impressive lineup of summer festivals, introduces its Bourbon and Jazz Festival. Bourbon samplings and theatrical jazz from Newburgh, Ind., performer Barbara Santora and Jazzin’ are among the featured events. Offered all three festival days by the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art is the Bourbon and Jazz Paintout where artists showcase their talents en plein air. www.owensborobourbonfest.com
10th Annual Southern Indiana Brewery, Winery, and Spirit Fest
There’s no arguing that Southwestern Indiana Hoosiers know beer festivals. SWIRCA, responsible for planning and coordinating a system of services for older residents in six counties, complements the beer in their annual “Suds, Wine, and Spirits Fest” with margaritas, bourbons, vodkas, and other spirits. “It’s the spirits,” says SWIRCA administrative assistant Teresa Huff, “that make us unique.” www.swirca.org
Wine, Cheese, and Art Festival
Washington, Ind., shuts down for this adults-only getaway festival held around the town’s downtown grandstand. Live light rock music entertains as guests meander through closed-off streets, taking in an antique car show, sampling from four area wineries, and shopping at booths of locally-created artwork, crafts, and accessories. The cheese table, though a small part of the festivities, is popular enough to secure a spot in the festival’s title. www.daviesscounty.net
Sick O Fests
June 1-3 and Aug. 3-5
The Pike County town of Winslow, Ind., is home to the decade-old Sick O Fests. A post on the festival Facebook page describes it as the “weirdest festival you’ll ever see.” For music enthusiasts who refuse to be defined, the spring event presents Namaste, Tommy Sillwell, the Smoke Rings, and Dirty River Ramblers, among others. Organizers say the Sick O Fests offer weird (free) camping and the Saturday Sick O Streakers. www.sickofest.com
ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival
What began nearly a decade ago along the Ohio River as a fundraising effort for the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Ky., now attracts thousands of bluegrass enthusiasts for the largest outdoor festival of the year. For three days, ROMP: Bluegrass Roots & Branches Festival, formerly known as River of Music Party, boasts non-stop live entertainment, storytelling by the International Bluegrass Music Museum, and camping throughout Yellow Creek Park.
More than 25 bluegrass and country performers take the stage at this year’s event, June 28-30: Vince Gill, Nashville-based Old Crow Medicine Show, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bawn in the Mash, NewFound Road, The 23 String Band, and more. “Bluegrass fans love to gather in outdoor settings and express their love for the music,” says Danny Clark, marketing director for the International Bluegrass Museum. He adds that bluegrass festivals are “notorious for their eclectic camping culture.”
Aside from on-stage acts, attendees can take yoga classes, dine on festival eats, and browse vendors selling an assortment of hand-crafted instruments, pottery, clothing, and artwork. Clark says this year’s “roots and branches” of the festival includes more instrument workshops and a shuttle service to and from the festival and museum. To purchase tickets, see the schedule of events, and view the full band lineup, visit www.rompfest.com.
Big O Music Fest
Big names in country music headline the Big O Music Fest in Owensboro, Ky. Blake Shelton, LoCash Cowboys, and Jo Dee Messina are among the musical acts performing under the stars at Reid’s Orchard. Plenty of beer and food vendors ensure a festive evening. www.bigomusicfest.com
Rock the World Christian Music Festival
The energy of Christian rock reverberates around Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari as guests who purchase tickets for this festival cast their blankets and chairs on a lawn near the Thanksgiving area, which lights up after the park closes with some of the biggest names in the genre, including Dove Award-winning artists Jeremy Camp, Barlow Girl, and Tenth Avenue North. www.holidayworld.com
W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival
June 9; June 13-16
Former Henderson, Ky., resident William Christopher Handy earned the title “Father of Blues” for his remarkable and noteworthy blues and spiritual compositions. He was so influential that for 22 years, the Henderson Music Preservation Society, Inc. has staged a W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival in his honor by showcasing local blues musicians among locally-inspired barbecue vendors.
On the Saturday before the blues montage, enjoy the annual Taste of Henderson Barbecue in Central Park, located in downtown Henderson. Here, nearly a dozen barbecue vendors serve up chicken, mutton, and pork platters. The festival resumes on June 13 in Audubon Mill Park. Blues headliners this year include Sonny Landreth, Walter Trout, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Dana Fuchs, Ruthie Foster, Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band, Jim Hall Trio, and the Cash Box Kings. Plenty of Handy activities throughout the week — a Mardi Gras-style parade, an evening of children’s hands-on art activities, and Handy lunch breaks —round out the festival.
“We strive to bring the finest blues musicians around,” says event chairwoman Christi Dixon. The event is free admission to “anyone who can pull up a chair or blanket and simply enjoy the day.” For more information about ticket pricing and schedule of events, visit www.handyblues.org.
[pagebreak]Oakland City Sweet Corn Festival
July 31-Aug. 4
Each summer, the Oakland City Lions Club stages carnival rides, a car show and parade, and live entertainment around one of the sweetest crops of the season. Nearly 3,000 ears of corn are devoured in five days — from dinners, purchases by the dozen, and eating contests. This year, plan on consuming your crispy fried chicken or smoked pork chop dinner in the newly constructed (and air conditioned) community center. www.gibsoncountyin.org
Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival
The Angel Mounds State Historic Site, Aug. 4 showcases local bluegrass musicians on banjos, fiddles, acoustic guitars, and harmonicas. In between acts, devour barbecue platters, and explore prehistoric grounds of the Mississippian Indians who occupied this site as early as 1100 A.D. www.angelmounds.org
7th Annual Midwest Dragon Boat Racing Festival
In the dark waters of the Miluo River in China, circa 278 B.C., the tradition of dragon boat racing was born. After being exiled from his homeland, Chinese poet Qu Yuan jumped into the river. In a failed attempt to save him, local fishermen rushed to the waters in their dragon boats. Their valiant effort is commemorated annually across the world, including at Evansville’s annual dragon boat racing festival, where teams of 25-plus race across Eagle Crest Lake. www.dragonsontheohio.com
Owensboro’s Dragon Boat Festival
Modeled after Evansville’s dragon boat racing festival, Chinese-influenced boats fill the waters of the Ohio River in Owensboro, Ky. Last year’s daylong event brought out 14 teams and countless spectators to English Park, which again becomes occupied by themed tents, crafts and games to satisfy the kids, and plenty of shade for relaxing picnics on the riverfront. www.owensborodragonboat.com
Abraham Lincoln Freedom Festival
Head to Spencer County, where Abraham Lincoln spent most of his childhood, and let freedom ring at the annual parade and freedom festival inside Rockport City Park’s Lincoln Pioneer Village. There’s plenty to do until dark — village tours, pioneer games, corn hole tournaments, lawn darts — and plenty of festival eats to nosh on. Live musical talent — country, classic rock, bluegrass, and a patriotic concert — followed by a vibrant fireworks display, concludes the evening. 812-649-9147
Be a bystander of the 35-acre battlefield while former military veterans re-enact two Civil War and World War II battles at Yellow Creek Park in Owensboro, Ky. “This event is special,” says event coordinator James Goodall. “It brings history alive to the public so they can see and feel it.” Aside from the mock-combats, early American living displays are ongoing inside Pioneer Village. 270-275-4487
Red Skelton Tribute Festival
June 1-2; June 6-10
Richard Bernard “Red” Skelton left his mark in his birthplace along the Wabash River in Vincennes, Ind., and the city’s weeklong, clown-inspired annual festival honors his entertainment successes. It’s less than an hour up U.S. Highway 41 and includes bathtub races, a film festival, clown pie-fights, donut-eating contests, and a parade with nearly 300 red-nosed characters. www.vincennescvb.org
International Mystery Writers’ Festival
From June 14-17, the crime rate soars in Owensboro, Ky., in celebration of suspense, intrigue, riddles, and the macabre. The fourth annual International Mystery Writers’ Festival, held at the RiverPark Center in Owensboro, features up-and-coming mystery writing talent, fitting with the festival’s title: “Discovering New Mysteries.”
Travis Estes, director of sales and marketing at the RiverPark Center, says this year’s festival emphasizes “new talent and new works” in the genre, while remaining true to the celebration of the genre in general. Familiar aspects of the festival from years past — such as the presentation of the coveted “Angie Awards” (named for actress Angela Lansbury) to deserving mystery authors and playwrights — remain staples of the event. New features include premieres of the theater adaptation of Encore for Murder, from the Mike Hammer series by the late noir novelist Mickey Spillane, as well as two plays presented in live-audio theater performance style (think dramatic radio theater on a stage), and a fully staged new mystery play. The live-audio and new mystery plays were selected from hundreds of worldwide submissions.
Nationally acclaimed mystery writer Lee Goldberg, co-writer of the USA Network TV series Monk, has worked with the Mystery Writers’ Festival in each of its previous three years, and this year he adds to the new discoveries with a premiere of his short mystery film, Bumsicle, filmed in Owensboro. The short film sequels a previous Goldberg mystery film, Remaindered, following a detective and a cop as they solve another murder. For ticket prices, schedule of events, and other information about the Mystery Writers’ Festival, visit www.newmysteries.org.
[pagebreak]Kentucky Bike Rally
There’s nothing like smelling burning rubber, hearing the roar of bike engines, and listening to thousands in a screaming crowd. At the Union County Fairgrounds in Sturgis, Ky., less than 50 miles from Evansville, bikers suggest a “go hard, or go home” attitude. Watch dirt-flying drag races and see tires burn off in the burnout cage competition. When the competition gets too rowdy, enjoy the live bands for musical relief. www.kybikerally.com
Head to the First Presbyterian Church lawn in Owensboro, Ky., just west of the main thoroughfare on Frederica Street, and honor the melting pot of the Tri-State. Nearly 20 cultures are represented in a day of scavenger hunts, dancing, demonstrations, and musical entertainment. Local vendor volunteers prepare a large menu of ethnic eats from China, Japan, Columbia, the Philippines, the Middle East, Greece, America, and beyond. Although the idea of the event is to inform, says festival coordinator Debbie McCoy, “We also strive to promote an understanding.” 270-684-1467
Lyles Station Juneteenth Celebration
A month before Americans gather to celebrate our country’s independence with fireworks and red, white, and blue parades, citizens also are celebrating another day when Americans were granted their independence. On this historical milestone’s 140th anniversary, Lyles Station Historic School & Museum, in Princeton, Ind., celebrates the day that President Abraham Lincoln granted black slaves their freedom. As the only remaining black settlement from the Civil War era in Indiana, Lyles Station honors this historical account with a day of barbecue dinners, live entertainment, and activities for kids. www.lylesstation.org
In nearby Jasper, Ind., a town that shares Evansville’s German heritage, the first weekend in August is dedicated to fun costumes, satisfying beverages, and bratwurst. Other notable festival pastimes include a parade along Main Street, carnival rides on the square, a beer garden, and a synchronized swimming and diving exhibition by the Jasper Aquatic Wildcats swim team. The fest’s tagline, “Celebrate German Heritage with American Pride,” couldn’t be more fitting. www.jasperstrassenfest.org
As one of Indiana’s longest-running community festivals, the Schweizer Fest in Tell City, Ind., comes prepared with an old-timers baseball game on Frank Clemens Baseball Field, a street car parade on Main and Franklin streets, and a local business competition for the best retail window display. As the celebration honors the city’s eldest founders, funds raised provide scholarships for the town’s young students. www.tellcityschweizerfest.com
Celebrate the Italian heritage of Herrin, Ill., (located in southern Illinois, just east of Carbondale) with Italian-themed challenges such as the Bigga Nose, Grape Stomp, and pasta eating contests. The Bocce tournament draws contestants from all over the Midwest and the world. www.herrinfesta.com
Certainly there is no other Louisville-area festival that opens with a Moon Pie Welcome Party and Hillbilly Bat Bonfire, yet closes with a wine and cheese social. In between, enjoy outdoor activities such as caving, canoeing, and geo-caching. The festival is held in Bonnieville, Ky., at the Lone Star Preserve, owned by the Louisville Grotto. www.louisville.caves.org/speleofest.html
Funfest for Air-Cooled Volkswagen
If you own an old VW or just have an affinity for them, celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Beetle in Effingham, Ill., about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Evansville in central Illinois. The fest features low-speed slaloms, and competitive VW camping. www.funfestacvw.com
[pagebreak]Bluegrass in the Park Folklife Festival
This is the only festival in Henderson, Ky., that gives visitors the opportunity to learn how to cure a country ham and watch Olympic-caliber athletes from around the U.S. compete in the Jammin’ & Jumpin’ street pole-vaulting event. www.bluegrassintheparkfestival.com
Lower Town Arts & Music Festival
Evansville has looked to Paducah, Ky., a small Western Kentucky city on the banks of the Ohio River, for inspiration in establishing an arts district. We’re inspired by the Lower Town Arts & Music Festival. Located in the historic Lower Town Arts District, the three-day festival event showcases exceptional artists within a 350-mile radius of Paducah. Also featured is musical entertainment on three stages; balcony and street theater will add to the fun. www.lowertownamf.com
Starlight Strawberry Festival
Head to the Knobs for the Starlight Strawberry Festival, less than a two-hour drive up I-64, located in Starlight, Ind. Presented by St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, the annual festival features a championship berry auction, Festival Queen and Little Miss Shortcake contests, and a strawberry pie eating contest. www.stjohnstarlight.org/strawberryfestival
Taste of Bloomington
The multicultural influence of Indiana University creates Bloomington’s diverse restaurant scene. Thai, Tibetan, Irish, Indian, Greek, Asian, American, and just about every cuisine in between can be enjoyed here. When more than 50 restaurants conspire to tempt us at the city’s favorite festival, Taste of Bloomington, we say a road trip is in order. www.visitbloomington.com/taste
June 29-July 1
More of a popular culture convention than a festival, what started out as one of the top horror film festivals in the nation has now grown into one of the biggest shows of its type: FandomFest. Fans of movies, comic books, gaming, horror, anime, monster classics, and more will turn out for the festival, held at Louisville’s historic Galt House. www.fandomfest.com
Jane Austen Festival
Historic Locust Grove, a circa-1790 Georgian home and farm just six miles from downtown Louisville, hosts the fifth annual Jane Austen Festival. Daily four-course afternoon tea, discussions on Jane Austen, side-saddle demonstrations, a gentlemen’s duel, and a fencing tutorial all are offered. Set aside any pride and prejudice you might have with Ms. Austen and visit the festival, presented by the 100-member Greater Louisville Jane Austen Society. www.jasnalouisville.com