Roanoke's Fall Festival returns for its 59th year this weekend, starting with the crack of the bat on Thursday, Sept. 6, and continuing through the last boom of the fireworks on Sunday, Sept. 9.
Packed in between are games and rides, two parades, a high-powered tractor pull, a demolition derby and free entertainment in the main festival tent.
The free entertainment, festival Chairman Dave Tucker says, has been one of the event's constants for all of its 59 years.
The entire weekend, he says, offers a low-cost entertainment option for families.
"It's a good, fun, clean, cheap weekend," he says. "It doesn't cost anything to get in, and I would not be afraid to let my child walk down there."
A bevy of free games are offered for children on Saturday, sponsored by a variety of organizations and coordinated by Karen Baker.
Baker, like Tucker, is a long-time member of the Fall Festival steering committee.
Putting on a quality festival year after year, he says, "takes people that are creative. She's been willing to come back every year to help out."
Tucker and Baker have both been involved in the festival for about 10 years, and Tucker has served as its chairman "off and on for four or five years" - he can't remember exactly how many.
"I've lived in Roanoke all my life," he says. "Back in the '60s, when I was going to the festival, someone was doing my job. It's my way of giving back."
A committee of people who are motivated to produce a quality fair, along with solid support from area business sponsors, are the reasons for the Fall Festival's success, he says.
"Eventually, we'd like to get some new (committee) people in and get some new ideas," he says, especially as plans are being made for next year's 60th Fall Festival.
Anyone willing to help should call Tucker at 672-3451.
Most of this weekend's fun takes place at Roanoke Park, which will host carnival rides and games, food and commercial vendors and a display of antique tractors throughout the weekend.
Spike and the Bulldogs, an area '50s-'60s band known for drawing huge crowds, will hit the festival tent stage on Friday at 8 p.m. for a free two-hour concert.
The band, organized as a duo in 1982, now has six members who have been playing together for about 15 years. "Spike" - also known as Val Asay - has been the group's front man since the beginning.
Spike and the Bulldogs specialize in the music of 1955 to 1966, playing tunes from Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Wilson Pickett, the Righteous Brothers and more.
Two shows are set for Saturday - a live animal show at 5 p.m. and the sounds of rockabilly at 8 p.m.
Silly Safaris, a youth-oriented program featuring animals normally encountered in the wild, will set up on stage at 5 p.m. Safari Steve will also appear in the Fall Festival parade, which winds down Roanoke's Main Street beginning at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Safari Steve blends facts and fun as he teaches about the natural world, occasionally calling on audience members to help. Among his entourage are four alligators named Dooney Burke, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Versace.
The focus shifts from gators to guitars for the evening show on Saturday.
Kenny Taylor and his Rockabilly Trio start playing at 8 p.m. Guitarist Taylor is joined by his son Colin on bass and Flava P. Coltrane on drums in a musical style that borrows from country, western swing, boogie woogie and rhythm and blues in an up tempo version of rock.
Taylor performs as a studio musician in Nashville, TN, and teaches guitar at Sweetwater Music in Fort Wayne. He has played at the Latch String and the Embassy Theater, both in Fort Wayne, and is part of the Shade 'n Shannon Johnny Cash tribute show.
A full slate of other activities is packed into the weekend.
Softball teams from Huntington University, the University of St. Francis and Indiana Tech get the festivities going when they meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday on Roanoke Park's front diamond for a fast pitch softball tournament.
Also Thursday, children and their pets will parade through the park at 6 p.m.; those interested in taking part can register at 5 p.m. at the park entrance. The festival's prince and princess will be crowned at 6:30 p.m.
Ageless Iron will parade its vintage tractors down Main Street to Roanoke Park starting at 6:10 p.m. Friday.
Evening activities at the park include the Kendall Dennis Memorial All Star Coaches Pitch game, a corn bag toss tournament and the NTPA Tractor Pull.
The Roanoke Lions Club will offer a pancake and sausage breakfast at Seminary United Methodist Church from 8 to 11 a.m. to offer some fuel for Saturday's events. A five-mile run takes off at 7:30 a.m., followed by a one-mile fun run at 8:30 a.m. Participants can register for both races that day at Main and First streets.
The festival's parade steps off at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Entries in the parade must be registered no later than Wednesday, Sept. 5, by completing a form at American Legion Post 160 in Roanoke or by calling Mike Sheets at 747-6926.
The parade will feature many of the cars on display Saturday at Seminary United Methodist Church.
Registration for the car show starts at 11 a.m. Dash plaques and door prizes will be handed out and a people's choice trophy will be awarded at 5 p.m. The church, located at 285 N. Seminary St. in Roanoke, will also be serving free ice cream after the parade.
Cakes entered in the festival's cake competition will be auctioned off at Ness Bros. Auctioneers starting at 6 p.m. in the festival tent at Roanoke Park.
Participants in the cake contest can drop off their creations at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Roanoke Town Hall. The cakes will go in display in the town hall at 11 a.m., but the exhibit will close from 11:30 a.m to 2 p.m. for judging.
The demolition derby starts at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The final event of the festival is a fireworks display at dusk on Sunday, Sept. 9, at Roanoke Park. The fireworks were postponed from July 4 because of extremely dry conditions at that time.
A complete schedule of festival events is available online at www.discoverroanoke.org .