“They didn’t have the festival until the horse was dead,” said Doug Weisheit, coordinator of the Indiana State Festivals Association’s annual Indiana Festival Guide.
He was referring to Dan Patch Days, one of Indiana’s 465 festivals (Dan Patch was a harness-racing horse from Indiana that set the world record for the fastest mile in 1906). Now in its 45th year, Dan Patch Days don’t celebrate all things equine as you might think. Dodge ball tournaments, baby contests, and a car show are on the event listing. And there’s always plenty to eat.
“They’re fun, they’re free, and there’s a lot of food,” says Weisheit when asked why he thought they were so popular. It’s that combination that lends to their attraction, and why there are so darn many of them in the Hoosier State.
INDIANA’S FESTIVAL TRADITION
Indiana has a unique place in festival cultivation. It was the first in the country to have a festival association, which began in 1969. Growth in the number of festivals was seen in the state’s sesquicentennial that same year, and during America’s bicentennial in 1976. The Indiana State Festivals Association publishes Indiana Festival Guide annually, and partners with the Indiana Department of Tourism to promote the publication. It’s so popular many distribution locations run out in no time.
Some festivals are pretty unique. “They celebrate history, a structure, or food,” said Weisheit. Examples include, of course, the Dan Patch Days (Oxford, IN), the Round Barn Festival (Rochester, IN) and the Pierogi Festival (Whiting, IN).
As well, I’d add cultural pride to that list when you see events like Indy Irish Fest and the Little Italy Festival in Clinton, IN. “We are always looking for new ways to expand our audience, via programming, new bands, and different exhibitors. We work hard to get a good group of vendors, food, etc., to reach lots of different people’s interest — so Celtic rock, traditional, and all the rest are covered for everyone’s interest!,” says Erin O’Rourke, Marketing and Social Media Manager of the Indy Irish Fest.
INDIANAPOLIS AREA FESTIVALS
Looking more closely at central Indiana, Hamilton County has grown its presence in the festival arena. “Under the strong leadership of Brenda Myers, Executive Director of Hamilton County Tourism, events like CarmelFest have grown at an incredible rate,” said Weisheit.
Marion County has 44 festivals — the most number of any Indiana county. There’s a festival listed in the festival guide during every month of the year. The 500 Festival and Indiana Black Expo are two of the biggest, and the Marion County list also includes the Indiana State Fair. In terms of attendance, the Indiana State Fair isn’t even the largest. That distinction goes to the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. The 10-day event reported 1.5 million attendees last year (the Indiana State Fair had 850,000). See a list of reported attendance for all festivals here.
Newest festival on the Indy scene? A World Cup Block Party – of course! This takes place July 1. Join host Indy Eleven, Indiana’s own professional soccer team. The party starts 4pm, July 1st.
IMPACT ON REAL ESTATE MARKETS
The popularity of an attraction like the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival can impact the real estate market. “The real estate values in some of the surrounding communities I know are only as high as they are because of the Covered Bridge Festival,” says Weisheit. Even in Indianapolis, home to the Irvington Halloween Festival, this effect is seen. An event with a history spanning 65 years cannot help but impact the community. “When the house next to us sold, the real estate site listed the Irvington strip and the festival. So I think, yes, it’s a big selling point,” says Aaron Hurt, Irvington resident.
Festivals are also a popular stop on the campaign trail. During the last election cycle, there wasn’t one elected member of the Indiana legislature who didn’t campaign at one of these events. “If you’re on a campaign trail, you’ll be at a festival,” says Weisheit.
Access to the arts, culture and family-friendly activities is indeed important to many people when looking for a home. Having some of the safest suburbs in the U.S., along with the low cost of living, Indiana’s rich tradition of festivals is just another feather in the state’s cap.
Tell us: What’s your favorite festival?