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Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013 Festival Recap

I'm a festival-goer. There have been years when every summer weekend is packed with three or more fests. Fests are a good way to get out and explore the place where you live and discover foods, crafts, and artisans you never would have known about. This year was a busy one. I didn't get to go to all of the fests I wanted to. I had to pass over some of the good ones from 2012, but went to several new ones.
The best way to capture my hectic 2013 weekends is a list of the fests. I tried to keep a running list throughout the year. I wrote some posts (linked to in the list). Not all of them were big, not all of them were great, but here is my year in fests…

[See a full set of photos here.]
  1. Dyer Summer Fest
    First Weekend in June | Pheasant Hills Park | Dyer, IN
    This was a standard city fair. It had fair food, carnival rides, and music. They had a beer/wine tent. The night I went was a little more laid back, but I can imagine there would be big crowds in the daytime.
    Tip: Go in the evening and be patient finding street parking.
  2. Hammond Art Walk
    Mid-June | Various Area Galleries | Hammond, IN
    This was a surprising find. It was a good way to get out and about in Hammond, which I'd never really done before. I discovered a large and varied art community mixed with specialized galleries, art centers, and community centers. Ten sites participated in 2013. The work ranged from illustrations to mixed media sculptures. Every time I think of the event, I remember something new and interesting I saw. 
    Tip: Get there early and get an event map at Paul Henry's.
  3. Highland 4th of July
    4th of July Weekend | Main Square Park | Highland, IN
    This was a very low key affair in a small park in Indiana. They had standard fair food, a few craft booths, and a few rides. It was a nice spot to grab a quick lunch, and ice cream, and walk around a bit.
    Tip: Plan on going for lunch or a late-afternoon snack. If you want to go for the rides and the full carnival feel, get there after sunset.
  4. The Grape Escape
    Late-July | Centennial Park | Munster, IN
    The first year this event was held (2010) they had some start up issues. They didn't have many wineries participate, so they didn't charge to get in. They had some great fine art; I found some great mosaic work and art deco painted tables. 
    The next year, they weren't able to expand the wine selection, but they charged to get in that area. The art was not as unique. The band was non-existent (and I even went back later to see if the band was playing). I didn't go back 2012.

    This past year, I returned to stop by the booth of my favorite local dance studio. The band was playing, which was an improvement. The wine selection had not expanded. They were actually pushing the one Three Floyds tap in the marketing material more than the wine! The
    fine art was custom corn hole, Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Avon, and other not-so-artsy products. I walked around, chatted with my friends, listened to a song or two, and left. I didn't spent the $5 to go in and try the limited wine selection (and one Three Floyds tap). The event was too long (8 hours) to attract serious vendors.

    Maybe having the event at the end of July competes with other, more established, events. Maybe they need to stick with the wine and fine art, make it in the fall (around harvest time)...or maybe they should re-brand it as a summer fest. 
  5. Pierogi Fest
    Late-July  | Whiting, IN |  Event Site
    Friday is the only time to go. The crowds are small and the pierogi is fully stocked. This was my fourth year going and it's become a bit of a tradition for my friend and I. I got pierogi from my favorite (Gosia Pierogi), gigantic chicken fingers on a stick, and a couple of strudels from the Original Strudel Factory. I picked up a couple of crafts for myself and my nieces. It was a fun day out and the weather couldn't have been better.
    Tip: Go on Friday afternoon if you can. Bring cash and a water bottle. I haven't found a parking sweet spot yet, but street parking is free and easy enough to find on a Friday afternoon. Other days/times, pay for parking.
  6. Valpo Summer Jam Music & Food Festival
    Late-July | Central Park Plaza | Valparaiso, IN
    This was a fun day out. The band played upbeat songs and the weather was nice and chilly. (In Aug!) The location had a big stage with a nice field, a few benches, and some VIP seating up front. The pull to this event was the Pork on a Fork contest. My favorite farm provided the pork to the winning contestant.

    Here is a quick wrap up of my pork samples:
    • Bistro 157 - Vietnamese Po Boy and Pork Pop
    • Le Bon Femme - Pork Egg Roll
    • Silver Spoon - Pulled Pork
    • Margarita's - Pork Tamale
    • Don Quixote - Roasted Pork and Peppers
    • Pikk's - Pork Tacos
    • Tommy B's - Ribs
    The prices were good and the portions were shareable. The Blue Öyster Cult was last on stage that night. The music all day was good enough to keep Mr. K and I there and happy. We sat on our blanket and rested after all of the food. I really enjoyed myself. 

    Tip: Bring a blanket or chair and be ready to eat.
  7. Chesterton Art Fair
    Early-August | Hawthorne Park | Chesterton, IN |  Event Site
    On a hot summer day, it was still worth going for a quick walk through. It’s a couple of bucks to get in, but it supports Association of Artists & Craftsmen of Porter County. It has a good range of jewelry, metal work, paintings, ceramics, and wood work. I walked out with a small wooden pumpkin from WhyKnotWood from a woodworker with a strong creative streak. This year's performers included a group of young adults expertly playing their stringed instruments despite the wind carrying away their sheet music. They played and interesting mix of pop music. It was fun sitting on a hay bale, getting a little sun, and enjoying the stringed ensemble.
    Tip: Walk through the aisles two or three times, you'll see something you missed.
  8. Lake County Fair
    Early/Mid-August | Lake County Fairground | Crown Point, IN |  Event Site
    I fought through a summer cold for a cheese curd brunch and a mouth-watering lunch of rellenos de papas and lechón with arroz con gandules. This was another, cooler year. We sat and watched the horse contests, were able to catch the food stuff contest entries before they were melted and saw vibrant fruit and vegetable entries. The animals looked happier and so was I.
    Tip: Check the weather before you go and be ready to fan yourself off if needed. Get there early in the season to see the entries at their prime. Find Da Portable Rican by the Midway for a departure from standard fair food.
  9. Munster Arts & Craft Fair
    Mid-August | Centennial Park | Munster, IN
    This was what The Grape Escape should have been. Artisans sold unique jewelry, handcrafted purses, and wood carved signs. The quality was better and their were more booths. I walked away with a small Star Trek The Animated Series purse and a larger handbag.
    Tip: After you walk through, take a stroll around the lake and gardens. 
  10. Glow: Art After Dark
    Mid-August | Taltree Arboretum | Valparaiso, IN
    The admission fee was $10 for adults. It is a donation to preserve the native landscape and support educational programs. It was fun to get out at night in an arboretum. They had the model train display running, music, and a couple of food booths with snacks. It had four main attractions: Stargazing, Guided Hikes, Moth Exhibit, and Art Exhibits. It was a quick event for me; we listed to a couple of songs an didn't go on the guided hikes (too crowded). It was still a fun night out.
    Tip: Take your time. Take a peek through each of the telescopes for a different view. 
  11. Bacon Fest Portage
    Late-August | Founders Square Park | Portage, IN | Event Site
    This first year of the event was definitely a learning experience for the organizers. The event was 10 hours long! When I got there half way through, most vendors were already sold out of their bacon dishes. Admittance was free, and I'm not sure they had a good gauge on how many people would show up. This event had more product vendors than food vendors. The products had little to do with bacon. While it was a good community gathering, it was not a fest of bacon. I think that they did learn from the 2013 experience, and I'll be back in 2014 to see what improvements they made. Hopefully, they get the music stage out of the direct sun, reduce the hours, and maybe change the weekend so they aren't competing with the long-running Kouts Pork Fest.
    Tip: Get their early before the food runs out.
  12. Bristol Renaissance Faire
    Memorial Day-Labor Day Weekend | Village of Bristol | Kenosha, WI  |  Event Site
    I picked this faire over the Chicago Remix in 2013. It was the last weekend they were operating, and I had to catch it before it closed down. Mr. K and I took the in-laws out there and really enjoyed ourselves. The weather was perfect, the performances were entertaining, the food was plentiful, and the attendees were amusing. This event appeals to such a wide range of people. Children would enjoy the animal rides. Adults would be entertained by some of the more rude shows and pub crawls. Everyone would enjoy the archery and other games, stage shows, and jousting tournament.
    Tip: Plan to stay all day. The cheaper parking isn't too far of a walk.  
  13. Marshall County Blueberry Festival
    Labor Day Weekend | Centennial Park | Plymouth, IN  |  Event Site
    This was an interesting event. I'm glad I went once, but would probably not go back. It was like the Covered  Bridge Festival in Rockport in some ways. It was like a large swap meet. There were purses with bedazzled guns, bullets, and camo trim. There were red plastic cups on stems like wine glasses. There were random booths of dollar store finds. The food was never-ending with blueberry donuts, slushes, ciders, and chocolate-covered blueberries on a stick. The dense smoke of grills and stench of fryers filled the air. One funnel cake and elephant ear truck had the Diabetic's Delight fried dough sans sugar. (It must be healthy, right?) It was crowded. It was dirty. Despite all of that, it was sort of fun. We found interesting little crafts made of gourds and glass. There was also a pretty neat pioneer town. It's one of those types of festivals that everyone should experience once. It's a slice of Midwest Americana.
    Tip: Wear closed-toed shoes. Bring money for the bathroom or walk to the end to find the port-o-potties. 
  14. Valparaiso International Festival
    Mid-September | Central Park Plaza | Valparaiso, IN  |  Event Site
    This was another surprise festival that is on my list for 2014. The food was a good mix from local restaurants, there were a few educational and craft booths, but the real pull was the entertainment. We stopped by with plans for later that evening and found ourselves unable to tear ourselves away from the stage. Dancers, singers, and musicians. Flamenco, cumbia, ballroom, and folk. We were counting down to the last possible minute we could leave to still make it to our other commitment. We left on time, but next year, the whole day will be dedicated to this event.
    Tip: Be sure to bring a blanket or chair to sit on, and plan to be there all day!
  15. Lake County Covered Bridge Festival
    Late-September  | Lake County Fairgrounds | Crown Point, IN
    It was interesting to see a covered bridge festival on the fair grounds, but we wanted to get out and our favorite Puerto Rican food truck was there. The food was great (standard fair, Puerto Rican, and Spanish food). The arts and crafts were fun to look through. The Civil War camps were interesting and the reenactors were informative. They had a car show and an intricate model train setup. We even found the covered bridge (moved there from Rush County in 1933).
    Tip: Walk around the whole area, you might miss some of the hidden exhibits.
  16. Fall Fair in the Dome
    Early-October  | The Dome and CP Family Fun Center | Crown Point, IN 
    This was the first of two fests at the Dome. I only had a chance to go to the first. The second had more vendors and a radio station there playing songs. This first one was a quick visit. There weren't many vendors or attendees. Candy, wood carvings, creative handmade pens, and knitted items were on display. There was a woman selling unique decor. I walked away with a bright-green painted mason jar dressed up like Frankenstein's monster, and I pre-ordered a pen made of part of a used Maker's Mark barrel. I wasn't in the mood for the chocolates and toffees, but they looked delicious. I think it was a good place to pick up a few things and get out if you don't have other plans. They promote this event mainly on Facebook, so it's hard to know when they'll have another. I'm not sure if they will update the page or start a new one for 2014.
    Tip: Dress in layers; it gets hot in that dome!
  17. Porter's Perfect Pint
    Early-October | Hawthorne Park | Porter, IN
    It had been a while since I attended a beer fest. This was a well-organized, low-key event with a decent selection, good music, and enough time to try the brews available. The selection was a mix of more widely distributed, nano breweries, and home brewers. I got the chance to sample brews from three up-and-coming breweries. It was a fun time. (Cost: $37.92 inc. fees)
    Tip: Get there a little early and bring a bottle of water.
  18. Farm-to-Table Festival
    Early-November  | County Line Orchard | Hobart, IN 
    This year's event had a number of food stations, two bars, and appetizer/dessert tables. There was plenty of seating. A band played on the top floor so you could hear it throughout the event space. The food was great. The ingredients were locally-sourced so attendees could get a good feel for what Indiana has to offer. The food stations were run by local restaurants, which introduced me to spots that I hadn't yet been. It was a good way to experience different restaurants and food options in a low-key set up with room to mingle.
    If you hang back a little you can avoid the lines and try everything.
  19. Christkindlmarket Chicago
    November-December | Daley Plaza | Chicago, IL | Event Site
    This is my 3rd year attending this open-air German market. The first was the day after Christmas. The second was the day after Thanksgiving. After going on two of the busiest days, it was nice to go this year on a random Sunday not to close to the major holidays. It was snowing and it was perfect. This is a spot where you can visit with Santa and find just about any type of ornament you want (birds, pigs, dinosaurs, and even a devil). This market has stall after stall of German crafts, sweets, and clothing. There are vendors selling goods from other areas too, like baked Wisconsin cheeses and Peruvian woolen clothes. The main pull for me is the food. They have stalls with potato pancakes, goulash, and pretzels. Meatloaf and sausages in curry-ketchup. Of course there is the Glühwein (spiced wine) served in a commemorative mug.
    Tip: Take the train, go hungry, and bring a plastic bag to take your mug home. 
  20. VIC Holiday Bazaar 
    Mid-December  | Valparaiso International Center | Valparaiso, IN  | Event Site
    This is more of a shopping event than a festival, but it is a fun event to attend. They have great crafts and other products in the VIC year-round, but during the bazaar is a good time to pick up some unique holiday gifts.
    Tip: In addition to handmade crafts they carry coffee, chocolate, and other treats. It's a good time to stock up or get some for holiday gift baskets. 
  21. Munster Holiday Market
    Mid-December  | Centennial Park | Munster, IN
    I'm not even sure why they held this event. It was outside in the parking lot of the park. There were five food vendors, a woman selling cake, a stand with sweaters and blankets, a booth selling those melted wax products, a booth with jewelry and scarves, and a Tastefully Simple table. That was it. It was cold and was a long event. I felt bad for the people behind the tables. A radio station was supposed to attend, but they abandoned their area and just left a speaker with some songs running. Skip this one for another holiday market.
  22. Porter Holiday Market
    Mid-December | Porter County Fairgrounds | Porter, IN 
    Every year I'm surprised at how big this event is. It's a go-to spot for holiday items and hand-crafted gifts. It has its share of mass-produced items (Tupperware, Avon, etc.), but there are so many other crafts you can easily by-pass those. The vendors are friendly too. You can stock up on toffee and snag some well-crafted purses, wooden knick-knacks, or jewelry. It's a couple of bucks to get in, but most of the items are reasonably priced.
    Tip: Use a credit card when you can and save your cash for vendors that don't have credit card processing. 
  23. Miller Beach Holiday Bazaar
    Mid-December | Miller Beach Farmers Market | Gary, IN
    This was my first time in Miller Beach. We headed out there just to get a chance to see it. It was a snowy day and this was a great excuse to get out. This was a small fest with a mix of food, handmade soaps, art, and other unique crafts. Papier Mâché birds really caught my eye. They were mixed with other objects like coins and crafted with music sheets, maps, or pages from books. They seemed durable but delicately crafted. I wish I had money and space to display such unique work.
    Tip: Parking is limited, so expect to park on the street.
  24. Old Town Art & Craft Show
    New Year's Eve Weekend  | Francis Field | St. Augustine, FL 
    We stumbled upon this fair after parking in historic St. Augustine. We ran through it before it started raining again. While much of the art was standard for art fairs, some stood out. The photographs were interesting to look at. The brightly-painted wooden signs made me think of the Keys. What really caught my eye was the hand-crafted lizards and frogs by Penny Jackson. Each looked slightly different with swirls of bright colors of all shades. These clay creations are on bits of driftwood, rocks, and shells. The little lizards reminded me of home. I had to buy one. 
2013 was a busy year. The 24 fests and fairs I have listed are the ones I remembered to add to my list. This year I seemed to stay in Indiana for the most part. There are great fests all around, all year round in some places. I hope this will be good reference for you as you plan for 2014. I hope it encourages you to get out there and explore. You never know what you will find.

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