story by JULIE CAMPBELL
Sunlight streams between puffy white clouds as a visitor searches rows of vendors, trying to find the perfect sweet treat to satisfy her cravings. Even before the stand comes into view, she catches the aroma of sugary cinnamon mixed with the irresistible scent of freshly fried, yeasty dough wafting through the air. A brightly colored sign confirms her sense of smell is correct and her search for Elephant Ears—one of Indiana’s most popular festival foods—is complete!
This scene plays out every weekend during festival season in the Hoosier state. And while there’s more to Indiana festivals than just the good eats, food is definitely one of the main attractions of the state’s festivals.
“Lots [of people] go for the food,” says Doug Weisheit, Indiana State Festivals Association Coordinator.
In fact, several of the state’s most popular festivals are based around—and named after—food.
Located on the southern shores of Lake Michigan, the city of Whiting celebrates its Eastern European heritage July 29-31 with Pierogi Fest, which Oprah Winfrey named on her list of “Top 5 Things to Do” for five years in a row. Pierogi are dumplings of unleavened dough wrapped around sweet or savory fillings, and you’ll find them, as well as many other foods, in abundance at this festival.
Hankering for a hot dog? The Frankfort Hot Dog Festival has you covered! The festival runs from July 29-31 and includes, of course, a hot dog eating contest, doxie (dachshund) racing and diving as well as live entertainment and a family fun zone.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Kiwanis Indiana Balloon Fest. Held September 8-10 at the Monroe County Fairgrounds in Bloomington, the event features hot air balloon launches; a “night glow” where multiple balloons are tethered to the ground and illuminated with propane heaters; helicopter rides; pyrotechnic skydivers; and more.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Madison Ribberfest BBQ & Blues brings together great food and great music in one event on the banks of the Ohio River. Nationally known headliners belt out the blues while festivalgoers enjoy ribs and more from Aug. 19-20.
Wine lovers will enjoy Hopwood Cellars’ Big Grape Stomp Festival, held each year in downtown Zionsville. There’s food, games, prizes, wine discounts, and live music.
Bacon lovers will want to mark their calendars for Aug. 27, when the Indiana Bacon Festival comes to the town of Delphi. In addition to the Hog Calling Contest and the Bacon Eating Contest, one of the main attractions of the festival is the Backyard BBQ Cook-Off. And of course, there’s plenty of bacon inspired food to choose from!
The Valparaiso Popcorn Festival, named for the city’s “popcorn king” Orville Redenbacher, will be held on Sept. 10 this year. Orville Redenbacher himself attended the festival nearly every year prior to his death in 1995, and you can be sure there will be all kinds of popcorn to eat— buttered, caramel, kettle, and more.
Another popular food festival is the Marshall County Blueberry Festival, held every year on Labor Day weekend. This year the festival runs from Sept. 2-5 and includes kids’ activities, food, crafts, car shows, a parade, fireworks, free entertainment and more.
Celebrating its 75th year in 2022, the Mitchell Persimmon Festival will run from Sept. 17-24. The festival incorporates a persimmon recipe contest for best pudding and best novelty desserts made from this interesting fruit from a native Indiana tree.
Hoosier festivals are also famous for highlighting the state’s history and cultural heritage, like the Andersontown Powwow and Indian Market in Anderson on Sept. 10-11. The festival showcases the Native American culture of the area through dance, music, storytelling and authentic crafts. Demonstrations and exhibits give festivalgoers an interactive look into the lives of the Native Americans who inhabited Indiana hundreds of years ago.
Located on the historic Paoli Square, Paoli’s Fall Festival will feature food arts, crafts and music from Sept. 9-11. A car show will highlight vintage cars on Sunday, Sept. 11.
Fort Wayne celebrates hispanic heritage August 13 with the annual Fiesta Fort Wayne where you’ll enjoy live latino music performances all day. The event takes place at Headwaters Park.
The Johnny Appleseed Festival, held in Fort Wayne on Sept. 17-18, honors the life of John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, a horticulture pioneer who introduced apple trees to a large part of the country in the 19th century. Visitors can step back in time and experience a pioneer encampment as well as traditional mid-1800s demonstrations, crafts and food.
Indiana’s largest festival, the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival, draws more than 1.2 million people to the area during its 10-day time frame, says Weisheit. This year, the festival will be held from Oct. 14-23 and includes 31 covered bridges within the county, which is known as “The Covered Bridge Capital of the World.”
“I’ve been going to the Covered Bridge Festival since I was a kid,” says Alexandria resident Alyssa Huff. “Browsing through the vendors and quaint antique stores for treasure is a must! The drive
to each covered bridge is so beautiful! It’s easy to imagine what it must have been like during the time when they were built.”
Bluegrass, country and gospel fans will love the Leota Country Frolic Aug. 26-27 in Scott Coun- ty. Enjoy the music in downtown Leota, plus great food, flea mar- ket, arts and crafts fair, and more.
Catch more great live music at Carmel PorchFest on Sept. 18. This free, family-friendly event features a variety of live music on the porches of neighborhood homes in the Carmel Arts & Design District.
Also in Carmel, the International Arts Festival, September 24 and 25, features live international music, artist exhibits, and more. The city’s Carmel on Can- vas takes place September 16-17.
Indiana Beach is also offering a Summer Concert Series, which includes Bobby McClendon (rock) on July 23; Simply Elton, an Elton John Tribute Band on Aug. 6, and Sounds of Summer, a Beach Boys Tribute Band, on Aug. 20. All shows are located in the historic Indiana Beach Ballroom.
Some of the state’s largest festivals are built around an event or a landmark, such as the La Porte LakeFest, coming up July 29-31. The festival boasts three days of music, art, food and fun for the whole family on La Porte’s Pine, Stone and Clear lakes. This event is the perfect occasion to showcase the city’s lakes and natural resources, as well as show neighboring communities what it means to be “Livin’ the Lake Life” in the City of La Porte.
Also in LaPorte County, the Great Lakes Grand Prix (Aug. 3-7) takes center stage during the first week of August. On Aug. 6-7, visitors will see the world’s fastest and most powerful offshore boats race along the southern shores of Lake Michigan.
“We offer a large variety of accommodations such as hotels large and small, campgrounds, house rentals through websites such as Airbnb and VRBO not to mention our amazing and unique Beachwalk Vacation Rentals which includes local Lake Michigan beach access for anyone that stays,” says Chelsea Miller, social media manager of Visit Michigan City/LaPorte.
In Pulaski County, the Northern Indiana Power from the Past power show is held over the third weekend in July celebrating the history of farming and power equip- ment. This year, they’ll highlight John Deere and host a cruise-in for pre-1972 cars as well as live music, a flea market, food vendors, and so much more.
The James Dean Festival draws tens of thousands of visitors to the tiny town of Fairmount each year to commemorate the life of actor James Dean. This year’s festival will be held on Sept. 23-25 and will feature a custom car show, James Dean look-alike contest, entertainment and more.
No article on Indiana festivals would be complete without the mention of the Indiana State Fair, which is one of the largest events in the state. Close to 900,000 visitors flock to the fairgrounds each year for a showcase of educational and agricultural exhibits, entertainment and food. This year’s fair will be held July 29-Aug. 21 (closed Mondays and Tuesdays).