Small Towns, Small Festivals, Strange Finds

From time to time my wife and I take a momentary break from life on the grid and get away from the big city for a few hours. For those who feel like “roughing it” in today’s spoiled sense, Indiana has plenty of communities outside the reach of easy internet access or modern cultural saturation. Twice in the past month we spent a little quality time wandering through a pair of annual small-town festivals for a glimpse of life away from the ubiquitous confines of pop and geek cultures in which we’re normally submerged.

Mid-September brought us to Danville’s Fair on the Square, whose name tells all. Danville is large enough to have their own town square, and at least once yearly there’s a fair. Yep.

Danville Fair on the Square

We’ve driven through Danville many times on our way to and from other locations further west on Highway 36, but we’ve rarely taken time to stop there along the way. One destination we highly recommend: the Mayberry Cafe, a diner with an Andy Griffith Show theme — dishes named after characters, Andy Griffith merchandise sold at the front counter, replica Mayberry police car parked out front 24/7, that sort of thing. Food’s good, too.

Sheriffy Andy's car, Mayberry Cafe, Danville, Indiana

Okay, so we didn’t completely get away from pop fiction in Danville. We even met one cosplayer — Deputy Barney Fife, complete with single bullet in his shirt pocket.

Deputy Barney Fife, Andy Griffith Show, cosplay, Danville, Indiana

Danville’s fair is mostly an arts-‘n’-crafts festival, featuring booths for handicraft, aspiring chefs, concession stands, local small businesses, self-employed salespeople, at least one food truck, and a pair of political campaign tents stumping for the candidates dueling for the sheriff’s position. Presumably Deputy Fife is not in the running.

English's Buffalo Farm, Danville Fair on the Square

Of all the booths, my personal favorite was an Amish bakery, whose shoo-fly pie was not unremarkable. Close runner-up was another bakery whose name I’ve sadly lost but sold us a loaf of bacon-flavored bread that I can’t believe isn’t selling millions to online bacon ‘shippers.

Oh, and more traditional organizations were around as well. The local fire department held a charity barbecue cookout that unsurprisingly had the longest line of any attraction.

Girl Scouts, Danville Fair on the Square

* * * * *

This past Saturday, as part of my wife’s weekend birthday celebration, we added a stopover down south in Martinsville to check out their Fall Foliage Festival. Our original intent had been to visit a restaurant owned in the area by some of her relatives, but the festival just so happened to be scheduled this same weekend. Nice timing.

Fall Foliage Festival, Martinsville, Indiana

Their Festival took one step beyond Danville and brought in carnival rides. To be honest, not much of the proceedings that we witnessed made direct references to fall or foliage, but the “festival” couldn’t be overlooked.

FUNTIME fun house, Fall Foliage Festival, Martinsville, Indiana

If you weren’t satisfied searching for the lost treasure of the Dread Pirate Bryce, you could try the other carnival rides, sample booths of a slightly smaller assortment that Danville’s, or watch the toilet races.

Fall Foliage Festival 2013, Martinsville, Indiana

Not a typo: toilet races. We stumbled upon the town’s first annual Pot Trot, in which local organizations combined one commode, one pair of plungers, and a bizarre abuse of ingenuity to create the kind of soapbox racers that would’ve gotten 1950s kids thrown in the clink and branded juvenile delinquents.

Pot Trot 2013, Martinsville, Indiana

This event was more organized than it had any right to be. Teams raced in pairs of two while the announcer goaded them from the middle of the main-street track. I’d rather not recount the puns that peppered his speeches or were painted on the sides of the racers.

Pot Trot 2013 announcer, Martinsville, Indiana

Some brawnier drivers fared better than others, darting from one side to the other with a scary efficiency, as if they’d been using plungers like ski poles all their lives. Others who lacked upper body strength or a dedicated toilet-driving sensei struggled to move their cans.

Pot Trot 2013, Martinsville, Indiana

When we drew up the day’s itinerary, we really hadn’t bargained to lay eyes upon a thoroughfare thick with thrusting thrones. Our goals were modest: enjoy our time together stroll the town; see a few sights we wouldn’t normally see every day; spend a few tourist dollars (I found comics at an antique shop!); and maybe splurge on a snack or two. Pro tip for would-be festival organizers: if anyone walks away hungry, your festival has failed.

candy apple


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