Many festival boards in the region remain hopeful their annual festivities will happen without a hitch this summer, while even some that were planning events after the final phase of Governor Eric Holcomb’s Indiana reopening plan have opted to cancel and focus their efforts on next year.
Huntertown Heritage Days, one of the area’s final festivals before the beginning of the fall school semester each year, is one of several events that won’t happen this summer — despite its mid-August dates falling comfortably within the governor’s expected timeline of fully reopening the state.
As a nonprofit organization, the town’s festival board just didn’t feel comfortable asking local businesses to donate to an event that might not happen in the end.
“We’d rather take the chance and not have it this year rather than not have the money for next year,” festival board chairman Malari Russell said. “They still might not even allow gatherings that large anyway. I’m a small-business owner myself, and our town has already been hit pretty hard, so we didn’t think it was a good time to be asking for donations.”
Fort Wayne-area favorites that typically kick off the summer festival circuit had already called it quits in late April and early May, including Cherry Blossom Festival at the Allen County Public Library, Germanfest and Arab Fest at Headwaters Park, and Canal Days in downtown New Haven.
Like many area festivals, Canal Days is put on purely by volunteers. Despite their donated efforts, New Haven Festival Committee Board members made the tough decision to cancel the June 6-8 festivities on May 1, the same day the governor announced summer festivals couldn’t resume until the target date of July 4.
“We might try to do something, but at this time there isn’t anything planned or set up. Honestly, the governor kind of decided it for us,” Jon Stauffer, the New Haven board’s president, said.
Stauffer encouraged fans of Canal Days to check in on the festival’s Facebook page @NewHavenCanalDays with hopes of future updates.
The board responsible for organizing Hoagland Days was still holding onto hope for a successful event, posting to its Facebook page on April 21 that the June 18-20 celebration would continue as planned. The board has since canceled the event with plans to potentially organize other activities in the fall. Woodburn Summerfest, which was originally planned for June 26 and 27, has been canceled as well.
Other boards are adapting as best they can. On May 7, members of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church made the decision to cancel this year’s Fort Wayne Greek Festival at Headwaters Park. However, the church still plans to provide some of its local-favorite Greek food and entertainment on a smaller scale this summer. Instead of the usual four-day festivities at the Headwaters pavilions, guests are invited to a drive-through, “mini” version of the festival at Holy Trinity, 110 E. Wallen Road, Fort Wayne, June 26-27. “It will be a pared down menu from what we have at the festival,” Greek Festival Chairman Frank Makridakis said. “We’ll have music playing and we may have some dancers as you’re driving through. There will be some parking available too where you can park and eat in your car and enjoy some music and things like that.”
Waiter on the Way will also be available for delivery during the event.
Makridakis said the festival board still has lots of planning to do, and updates will be posted to the festival website, fortwaynegreekfestival.org. Oct. 1-3 are potential backup dates for a full festival in downtown Fort Wayne.
“We want to put on a show, showcase our food and everything, and enjoy ourselves with Fort Wayne like we’ve done for the last 39 years, but the No. 1 priority is everyone’s health — parishioners, volunteers, the public,” Makridakis said.
Greek Festival draws more than 10,000 guests in a good year, and the funds raised account for about one-third of Holy Trinity’s budget. In order to make up for their losses, church members plan to also host drive-through fish fries starting Friday from 4-7 p.m. at the church. Fish, fries and coleslaw will be available every couple Fridays through the summer, Makridakis said. Check holytrinityfortwayne.org for updates.
Sweetwater is taking a similar approach with GearFest 2020, which will be presented entirely online June 26 and 27. The annual festival features seminars and workshops with dozens of music artists, as well as live music, giveaways and gear deals — all of which guests will have to experience virtually this year.
“While we’re certainly disappointed that we can’t host GearFest on our campus this summer, we hope that by creating an online event we can reach even more music makers and music lovers than we have in the past,” Sweetwater Founder and CEO Chuck Surack said in a news release.
More than 17,000 people attended last year’s event at the company’s Fort Wayne headquarters.
“We are in the early stages of planning, but we are working hard to create an exceptional experience, even though we’ll be doing it from afar,” GearFest Executive Director Bob Bailey said. “Our vendor partners are excited about offering some great deals and are helping to create some one-of-a-kind opportunities for those who join us online.” Up-to-date information can be found at sweetwater.com/gearfest.
While it remains to be seen whether the governor’s reopening timeline stands, several area festivals in July are still on as scheduled. Others originally scheduled for May and June have been pushed past July 4.
The 23rd annual BBQ RibFest, which was originally scheduled for June 18-21 at Headwaters, has been postponed to July 30 through Aug. 3. The event will still feature live music, beer and barbecue Thursday through Sunday.
The organizers of the Covington Art Fair at Covington Plaza announced that event has been rescheduled as well, moving from the last week of June to Aug. 22 and 23.
Over in Arcola, the local volunteer fire department hopes its annual truck and tractor pull will be one of the first large gatherings in the area after Indiana’s complete reopening. The event is currently scheduled for July 9-11 at Branning Park, 11202 Reed St., Arcola. A final decision on the dates will be reached by June 1, Arcola Fire Department member Matt Butts said.
Although Allen County 4-H events have taken a hit amid the pandemic, the Allen County Fair could still happen this year. The fairgrounds’ board of directors announced May 6 on Facebook that it is continuing to monitor changing federal, state and county recommendations regarding COVID-19, and that the board is “hard at work brainstorming scenarios and working with Allen County 4-H to determine what the 2020 Allen County Fair will look like.” A decision on how the board will proceed with the fair will be made around June 1, the post said.
The Three Rivers Festival Board of Directors made a similar statement Friday on Facebook: “The Three Rivers Festival Staff and Board of Directors are working with the Board of Health and others to determine how we can safely proceed with this summer’s festival. We are keeping the safety and best interests of our community in mind as we weigh our options. We thank you for your patience and encourage you to continue to stay safe and healthy!”
The Three Rivers Festival is currently scheduled for July 10-18.