Get to your nearest chair and proceed to sit so hard that you accordion your spine in on itself, because that’s what it’s probably gonna take to keep your pants from flying off after you learn that it’s fall festival season again! That’s right, it’s everyone’s favorite time to herd into the smallest towns imaginable by the thousands and then proceed to rip it to shreds like some sort of cursed locust-people. All while buying up every single shitty piece of local art they can find, along with shoving their faces full of food so unhealthy that it should qualify as body torture. Get hype, son!
Now you may be saying to yourself, “But Jeremy, you already wrote an extensive, boring article on fall festivals years ago! In fact, Amandoll just re-posted it a few days ago! It’s right here! Why even bring this up again? Who really gives a shit?” Well, I definitely can’t argue with that last point, but I can confirm that I did write that article well over two decades ago, back when it was all the rage with my family to drag us around the state and partake in whatever festival they could find each weekend during the fall season. And believe it or not, it was something I actually enjoyed. But over the years since then I really haven’t been to many at all, and since I now have way too much free time and literally no friends whatsoever, I figure it’s high time that I return to those cursed festivals to see what I’ve been missing, and also add a few things that I sort of glossed over in the first article. So please, dear reader, take a trip with me to Greenfield, Indiana, for their “Riley Days” festival. Let’s see together just how bored you truly have to be to do shit like this.
Chapter 1: Parking
In the first article I only touched on this briefly, probably because I wasn’t the one actually doing the driving. Unfortunately that’s not the case anymore, and I don’t know if you guys know this or not, but most towns outside of large metropolitan areas are not made for hundreds upon hundreds of people to suddenly show up out of nowhere. If by chance you did not know this, then you will the minute you get within three square miles of any festival. This is actually one of the things that have kept me away from festivals for so long, as the mere thought of trying to actually park at one is so god-forsakenly tedious that it usually sucks out whatever fun the trip had before you even get out of the car.
Most of the towns that host these festivals will usually do so near the town center, which is fine since it’s a centralized location and easily found by out of towners. The problem arises when us out of towners DO arrive and find that the organizers of the festival have reserved an area large enough for maybe two dozen cars to park in an orderly fashion. Meanwhile, the rest of the 700 or so cars that show up are left to battle it out in a scene not too far removed from Mad Max. With people hanging out of cars to get the best logistics on a 6×6 foot area next to the dumpster at the Piggly Wiggly, and then fighting off the fifteen other cars that are already headed for it. The entire scene is pure chaos, and infinitely more tiring than actually participating in the festival itself. I definitely got that old feeling of “Maybe we should just cut our losses and leave” as most of the town’s side roads had already been occupied by what seemed like every car on Earth. Thankfully a parking space was finally managed to be found under an abandoned granary that looked close to toppling over at any minute, but at that point I think we would have taken being crushed by a granary over looking for another parking spot any day.
Chapter 2: Welcome Back
Coming back to a festival in 2017 is about how I remember leaving a festival in 2004: Mostly just filled with a billion people all walking in random directions. I think this is the one thing about festivals in general that I never cared for: it’s just overall a bit too chaotic for my tastes. There’s no rhyme or reason to anything, and everyone is going to go where they want to go, regardless of which direction everyone else is headed. If you’ve got any sort of crowd anxiety at all, then stay far, far away from festivals in general, since I can only imagine you’d need to be airlifted out to a pile of valium somewhere almost immediately.
Even though I have a good deal of anxiety myself, I’m somehow generally able to stomach the chaos, so I was back into the festival swing of things in no time. Making my way down streets, seeing what all was on offer, and still being kind of amazed that such a thing is even legal to do. Besides the obvious vendors taking up space everywhere, there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment around except this one guy on the square singing the slowest, most depressing religious music you could ever imagine. Seriously, not even the people watching him knew whether to clap or just lie down and start crying once he finished a song. He definitely wasn’t exactly putting the “festive” in this festival at any rate.
I quickly decided it was time to move along after his third song about Jesus saving him in some way or another, and on to doing what you do at every festival, which always starts with…
Chapter 3: Buying Everything You Never Wanted
When I was a kid going to these festivals, most were filled with local arts and crafts that you could peruse. Sure there were more than a few junk stalls selling flea market-grade items like three dollar sunglasses and fingernail polish so cheap that it’s probably dangerous to even expose to air, but it was all easily avoidable. I always had fun seeing what the locals would bring out to sell, since you always had your mainstays like fun regional artwork and handmade clothing. But then you also had those people that somehow saw fit to sell stuff like painted rocks and custom t-shirts that they had obviously printed off with their copy of Printmaster 2003. Of course you’d never buy any of it, but it was still fun to browse in a sad kinda way. Coming back now, I mostly expected the same. I mean there’s only so much you can sell at these kinda things that makes sense, right? Unfortunately, I was wrong.
If I was just returning to swaths of flea-market crap vendors I probably wouldn’t have blinked, since it’s only natural that their cheap, easy to produce trash products sell well at festivals. Instead it was the sheer amount of sponsored vendors from major brands lining most of the streets that constantly caught my attention for all the wrong reasons. Anytime Fitness was giving out free massages with signups, John Deere was hawking their tractors with free demonstrations, and several dozen other major corporations were advertising at this festival like it was their own personal commercial break. At some point I actually started wanting to see more of the flea market vendors rather than walk past yet another IGA Fresh Rewards card sign up booth.
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of corporate sponsorship, but I realize it’s a necessary evil. Still, it’s sad to see these corporate entities barge into small town America and somehow manage to one-up the vendor selling neon green “Barrack Obummer” t-shirts in terms of regrettable irony. And thinking about all of this and how we’re all doomed to ultimately become a commercial for our evil corporate overlords at some point unfortunately always leads to…
Chapter 4: Giving Up on Life and Eating Everything in Sight
If there’s one thing that never, ever changes at any festival you go to, it’s that you will never be able to walk more than five feet without seeing some sort of massive truck selling their latest edible abomination to mankind. If you thought that maybe years of this country working hard to eliminate fat and dangerous chemicals in their foods would somehow carry over to the festival scene, well, it didn’t. If anything, the whole healthier food movement has done nothing but embolden these purveyors of vessel death to a whole new level of absurdity. I remember the first time I saw a fried candy bar truck at a festival and figured we had reached peak “WHAT?!” with just that. Oh how naive I was. This time I was met with truck upon truck that was seemingly trying to one up each other with what they could put in a deep fryer and legally sell to people for money. Here are just a few choices I noticed within half a mile of one another:
- Deep fried bacon
- Deep fried hot dog wrapped in bacon
- Deep fried cereal
- Deep fried chicken noodle soup
And my personal favorite:
- Deep fried tator boat
I don’t even know what that last one was, but rest assured it probably had all of the above tossed into a pontoon boat and then deep fried for your enjoyment. Possibly with some “tators” thrown in.
Now I know in my previous article I had mentioned that you shouldn’t eat anything at one of these festivals, and that argument is still quite valid. But with a good seventeen years of life experience tacked on since that last article, there’s really not much of a reason to care anymore. Hell, most days I kinda want to die anyway, so the idea of eating unhealthy food isn’t quite the detriment it once was. I suppose it mostly matters just how much you’ve given up on life in general. But if you have, then I can guarantee that this one aspect of a festival may be your best bet for even going to one. Or at least until you…
Chapter 5: Realize This Was a Mistake and Leave
No matter what your tolerance is for torture, festival fatigue will inevitably strike at some point. For myself, I can usually make it to about an hour before literally everything and everyone at the festival starts to grate on my nerves. And I can knock that down even further if all the awful crap I’ve eaten has suddenly decided to forgo the digestive process and has coalesced into a solid brick the size of a Ford Taurus in my gut. I actually know several people that can wander around festivals for several hours, and my hat’s off to them. Honestly I’m not even sure how that’s even humanly possible since it seems the main loop of going to a festival is the following:
- Look at vendors
- Buy Stuff
- Eat food
That’s really about it. There’s very little in the way of things that you can do to stray from that loop. And sadly, all of those steps are vital, because if you remove just one, you’re then locked into a Chinese finger trap-like nightmare that few can escape. Now ask yourself how many times you think you can do that loop of activities before you try to jam a piece of deep fried bacon into your brain, and that’s about how long you’ll last at a festival.
For myself, the trip back to a festival all these years later hasn’t changed much. It’s still just as crowded, unorganized, and annoying as I remember it being all those years ago. Just with a way more corporate vibe than anything that I remember from back when I wrote that original guide. Still, there’s something about it. I hate using terms like “a slice of Americana” or whatever, but I’m having a hard time coming up with something better. It really is a compelling trip into towns and places that many of us big city people rarely get to see, even if there is 587934 vendor booths disguising it. It’s still a unique experience, and one I’d recommend checking out for yourself if you’ve never had the chance. So get to your nearest way-too-small-to-exist town and buy yourself a few custom tattoos, eat an entire fried hog until you lie down in the street praying for the crowds to trample you to death to end your suffering, and then get lost for days trying to remember what county you had to park in. It’s a good time! I promise!
But maybe only do it once.