Dancing with the Locals at Indiana’s Least Known Festivals

Participating in A Traditional Dance with Community Members at Indiana's Lesser-Known Festivals
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Have you ever been to one of those small-town festivals where it feels like you’re the only tourist for miles?

I love checking out local festivals, it’s kinda become a hobby of mine! I’ve been to so many little festivals around Indiana, I’ve probably danced in more cornfields than I have socks.

And lemme tell ya, each one is special in its own way. The people that live there really put their hearts into making it fun.

Wanna hear some stories about eating too much popcorn, dancing with a giant pie costume, and learning to talk like a local?

Pull up a chair, I’m gonna tell you about exploring Indiana’s festivals.

Zoopolis 500

Zoopolis 500 in Indiana

It’s this race they do every May at the Indianapolis Zoo. Instead of fast cars though, they got slow tortoises crawling around the track! They do it around the same time as the big Indy 500 race but with shells instead of horsepower.

I went to check it out last year and was rooting for this one tortoise named Zoom. The crowd was really into it too, felt like a Super Bowl party! It was fun sitting back with a cold lemonade, watching the kids wave flags and everyone laughing at the slow pace.

No one’s really in a big hurry to win, just enjoying being there. They make a whole day of it too, with zoo animal games and activities. There’s music for everyone to enjoy while noshing on zoo-themed snacks like pretzels shaped like animals or hearty sandwiches.

Pierogi Fest

Pierogi Fest in Whiting, IN

Do you ever hear about Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana? Man is that a fun time. I went last summer and the whole downtown area was rocking with polka music and people laughing and talking. Really put you in a dancing mood, I even busted a move with some folks I just met!

The food is the real star though. I’m telling you, I stuffed myself with every kind of pierogi you can imagine. Potato and cheese is classic but they had some with fruit in them too that were pretty interesting! Washed it all down with some local craft beers too, those went perfectly with the savory pierogies.

But the best part was the Pierogi Parade. People dress up in the craziest costumes.

James Dean Festival

James Dean Festival

It is held each September in Fairmount. The whole town really gets into honoring their famous hometown hero. They really make it feel like you stepped back in time! They have this classic car show that looks straight out of an old movie with all the shiny restored Cadillacs and Chevys on display.

You can listen to rock n roll music while checking them all out too. All around they got food stalls serving classic American grub like burgers and homemade apple pie, just what you need to fuel a day of fun.

But one of the best parts is the James Dean look-alike contest. Folks of all ages, from little kids to grandpas, dress up in that iconic red jacket trying to capture James Dean’s cool attitude.

Marshmallow Festival

Ligonier Indiana, Home of the Marshmallow Festival

Ligonier, Indiana hosts a Marshmallow Festival each Labor Day weekend. They really know how to celebrate sweets there!

They set up these giant roasting pits with s’mores as far as you can see. When I went last year, I jumped into one of their marshmallow-eating contests – fingers and all! It was a sticky mess but a fun time.

The local bands played some tunes that had everyone dancing around.

Lotus World Music and Arts Festival

Lotus World Music and Arts Festival

Bloomington, Indiana shows it can bring world culture every September with the Lotus Festival. Last year I went and found myself dancing to music from places like Africa and Asia. Streets became stages and the air was filled with languages I didn’t know.

Food from all over the world was everywhere too. Art displays covered every corner of town, making it feel like a living museum. Even though Bloomington is not that big, during the festival it feels just as worldwide as any big city.

Nappanee Apple Festival

Nappanee Apple Festival

Every September in Nappanee, the town puts on their annual Apple Festival celebration. One of the highlights is the giant apple pies they make – they’re so large you won’t believe your eyes!

The whole town fills with the scent of cinnamon and baked apples from all the cooking. In addition to enjoying the various pies, there are also apple peeling contests people participate in. Live music plays as local artists showcase their crafts. It’s the perfect way to get into the fall spirit, enjoying culinary delights and hometown pride.

Covered Bridge Festival

Covered Bridge Festival in Bridgeton, Indiana

Every October, Parke County puts on their big Covered Bridge Festival. At first, you might think it’s only about looking at old bridges, but they really turn the whole area into a happening place! There are craft vendors as far as you can see selling all kinds of things.

And the food – let me tell you, after one bite you’ll wish you didn’t eat breakfast! But the bridges are really the main attraction. You see them all decorated with fall colors, it’s a beautiful sight. It would make any photographer or history lover happy.

When I went last year I spent the whole day wandering around, snacking on kettle corn, and picking up homemade jam from the locals.

Popcorn Festival

Popcorn Fest - Valparaiso, Indiana

Orville Redenbacher got his start there, so they honor his contributions. During the festival, the whole town comes together for popcorn in all its flavors. The parade is especially unique, with creative floats that showcase the spirit of the event. When I attended, one float really stood out shaped like a bucket spilling over with fun costumes.

Last Words

You really make memories at these things that stick with you. If you like seeing new places off the beaten path, check out one of Indiana’s lesser-known fests. They may be small towns but they sure know how to throw down.

Get your dancing shoes on cause you never know what kind of fun you’ll find! These festivals are a great way to learn about different communities. I say give one a try – you won’t regret it.

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