For 49 years, citizens and guests have convened in Greenfield to honor one of its native sons, James Whitcomb Riley.
Riley, a famous poet, will again be remembered this weekend with the Riley Festival, which is in its 50th year. The festivities begin Oct. 3 and last until Oct. 6 and the theme for this year is one that many festival goers will know well, “The Old Swimmin Hole.” The poem was the first that brought Riley success and was used as the first official theme of the festival in 1974.
“The Riley Festival is an annual celebration of James Whitcomb Riley. It started primarily with our merchants doing sidewalk sales and a parade of flowers with our school children delivering flowers to the Riley statue on the courthouse lawn. James Whitcomb Riley is one of our most famous citizens from Indiana, and he wrote a lot of poetry and was a great person. A lot of people enjoyed those poems like “The Raggedy Man,” and “Little Orphant Annie,” and if they haven’t read them, they know them. We honor him with a four-day festival that includes music, a street fair and a lot of food. It is a great time, and in addition, this year, tours of his home will be available for free,” said Dan Riley, a board member of the festival.
The fun will begin Thursday, Oct. 3, at 5 p.m., and several highlights of the first night include opening ceremonies at the Greenfield Banking Company Entertainment Tent, along with the Wright Brothers Trio.
On Friday, the festival begins at 9 a.m. and free tours of the Riley Boyhood Home will begin at 10 a.m. The Flower Parade kicks off at 12:30 p.m., and various musical acts will perform during the day and night, including the Main Street Band, Craig Moore and The Flying Toasters.
Saturday starts at 7 a.m. with the Mayor’s Breakfast at Trinity Park United Methodist Church and the festival opens to the public at 9 a.m. The Riley Festival Parade kicks off from Greenfield-Central High School at 11 a.m. and there is various entertainment slated during the day and night, including Thunderstruck at 8 a.m. The final day of the festival, Sunday, opens with a church service at Greenfield Christian Church at 9 a.m. and the festival opening to the public at 11 a.m.
The highlight on Sunday is the Riley Birthday Celebration in the Garden with the Greenfield Community Choir at 1 p.m. The event features cake and punch and Jeff Kuehl, as James Whitcomb Riley, presenting “The Old Swimmin Hole.” The festival will close at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Riley told Giant FM the festival has about 20 board members who work around the clock to ensure the festival is a successful one.
“We have a group of 20 board members that work year-round to make sure this is happening. We have some younger people on the board, and we have one of the best music line-ups this year. We have activities for the children beside the flower parade. Our big parade is Saturday. We spent extra money this year for the clean-up. We want the city to be clean after the festival and be as nice as when we found it,” he said.
And, according to Riley, the weather looks to be “very nice.”
“I remember walking through snow for the festival. We have a great number of vendors, some new ones this year and some new food vendors. I encourage people to come out, and believe it will be the best one ever,” Riley told Giant FM.
Those in attendance this year can get a special pin commemorating the event. The pin will be available at the information booth and features a picture of the old swimming hole.
“It is quite a site to see as I come over the hill coming into downtown from the east and to see a mass of people. I hope they remember they are celebrating his birthday. The poetry portion is something we need to instill in the children. It is a great time, and I hope everybody comes out. We probably have the largest attendance of any four-day festival in the state,” Riley told Giant FM.