Festival favorites: What not to miss at this year’s Riley Festival

GREENFIELD – Anita Turner grew up in Greenfield and remembers dressing as a pioneer girl to walk with her fellow classmates in the traditional Children’s Parade of Flowers in honor of the Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Today, as an adult, she serves as vice president of the Riley Festival committee for the 105th celebration of the festival.

The theme of this year’s festival, chosen specifically for Indiana’s Bicentennial from among the hundreds of poems written by Riley during his lifetime, is “Indiana.” The theme inspires the poetry contest, the photography and art competitions and even the floats in the parade.

Turner is excited by the growth of the festival and by new events and perennial favorites on this year’s schedule. These are some of the activities not to miss.

The Mayor’s Breakfast

The doors for the annual Mayor’s Breakfast open at 7 a.m. Oct. 8 at Trinity Park United Methodist Church, 207 W. Park St., with Indiana Tourism director Mark Newman as keynote speaker. Tickets are $13 and available online at rileyfestival.com/mayors-breakfast. The agenda for the breakfast includes comments from the mayor, the introduction of the Riley Queen and her court, impersonator Jeff Kuehl as James Whitcomb Riley reciting the theme poem, the keynote address and Jerry Bell providing musical entertainment on the saxophone.

Book drive

The Riley Festival is sponsoring a children’s book drive as an Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project approved by the Indiana State Bicentennial Commission. Legacy Projects, which are happening this year across the state, seek to highlight the best of Indiana history.

Vendors and visitors to the festival can drop off new books at the festival information tent at the southwest corner of State and Main Streets. The festival committee is hoping to collect and distribute more than 2,000 books for county kindergartners.

Helicopter rides

New this year, residents and visitors to the fair will be able to get a bird’s-eye view of Greenfield from a helicopter. Helicopter rides in groups of three, sponsored by Paratus Air, a helicopter touring company out of Ohio, will depart, weather permitting, from a grassy area near the Main Street entrance to Riley Park, 280 N. Apple St., Oct. 6 from 5 till 9 p.m., Oct. 7 from noon to 9 p.m., Oct. 8 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Oct. 9 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Rides are $20 per person.

Laser light show

Laser Image Pro, a Greenfield-based company, will present a 25-minute laser light show after dark Oct. 7 and 8. With the help of a 15-foot screen on East Main Street, Laser Image Pro will fill the night sky with high powered lasers, video images and pop music and end with a patriotic finale, said Laser Image Pro owner Rick Kopernak.

The Children’s Parade of Flowers

The flower parade’s roots can be traced back to 1912 when 1,000 school children followed after a car carrying James Whitcomb Riley and covered it with flowers. The modern flower parade, scheduled this year for 12:45 p.m. Oct. 7, welcomes children who will walk down Main Street and lay flowers at the foot of the statue of Riley in front of the Hancock County Courthouse. This year’s flower parade will be led by Greenlight A Vet, a veteran’s group from Knightstown.

Poetry of all kinds

The Riley Festival celebrates Indiana’s Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, so it’s no surprise that poetry is an important component of the festival. Festival-themed poems are sent in ahead of time for judging, but the Poets at the Podium competition, the longest-running event at the Riley Festival, is open to walk-in participation. Poems of all themes are welcome. The presentation, held this year at the entertainment tent at 4 p.m. Oct. 8, is as much performance as poetry, as contestants are welcome to dress up and bring props or musical instruments for their recitations. Awards of $100, $50 and $25 are given to the top three poets.


There is no doubt the Riley Festival is a celebration of small-town living, but new this year is some big-name talent performing in the entertainment tent located on the west side of the street just south of the intersection of State and Main Streets. Endless Summer, a nationally-known touring band that covers hit from James Brown to Bon Jovi plays Oct. 6. Duke Tumato and the Power Trio take the stage Oct. 7 with his mix of rhythm and blues, rock and humor. Oct. 8 will see the return of Jennie DeVoe to Greenfield for an evening of soul and blues music. All three 7 p.m. concerts are free.

Riley swag

No one can say that the Riley Festival isn’t keeping up with the times. Now, fans of the festival can get Riley merchandise — shirts, sweatshirts, tote bags, hoodies and hats — online at rileyfestivalstore.com. Get your gear ahead of the festival and show your Riley pride.

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Christine Schaefer is arts editor and editorial assistant at the Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3222 or cschaefer@greenfieldreporter.com.