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Kentucky by Heart: Local fall festivals provide colorful way to mark the change of seasons

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

Autumn is right there with spring as my favorite season of the year. After the hazy days of summer, clear skies that appear as if God took Windex and cleaned them thoroughly make me smile.

I like the changing leaves, football, cooler temperatures … and I simply adore the season of fall festivals around Kentucky.

What makes the festivals (sometimes called “fairs” or other names) so special? I notice several things. The sense of local pride usually stands out, with themes that help define the community: apples in Paintsville, sheep in Falmouth, tobacco in Carrollton, and “woolly worms” in Beattyville, to name a few.

I like the smells of hot dogs, funnel cakes, and barbeque, and I like the sounds of upbeat music and the act of happy people interacting in an environment designed to be without stress and conflict. All of these and more usually take place outdoors amidst the earthly colors of yellow, red, and brown that autumn bring.

It’s a huge part of Kentucky’s culture, and that ain’t all bad.

Recently, I came across a passel of festival-related, Kentucky-style YouTube videos on the Internet that, in some measure, capture a little of that excitement. Many of the videos are a bit outdated, but I found them most helpful in providing a glimpse of what communities offer in their gatherings.

I’ve pretty much stayed with the ones still available, as many festivals have already happened for 2017.

In Warren County, the Jackson’s Orchard Fall Festival is a robust affair from the Sept. 30 weekend and weekends all through October.

Another commercial orchard, Evan’s Orchard, in Georgetown, does a nice corn festival and many other activities during the year. Contact 502-863-2255 for more details.

The iconic Kentucky Apple Festival in Paintsville, always scheduled on the first Saturday in October, opens with a parade. You better get there early for this festival… it’s a crowded one! You might also like to be part of one in Owensboro, the Reid’s Orchard Apple Festival.

The town of Carrollton shows tribute to its long and influential burley heritage with its Carroll County Tobacco Festival. Cadiz, in western Kentucky, presents their Trigg County Ham Festival on Oct. 13-14, plus includes a carnival the next day.

One of my favorites is the Kentucky Wool Festival, next door to Kincaid Lake State Park, several miles outside Falmouth. It started out in town, but has an idyllic setting now and has grown into a signature event in the state. Don’t miss this one, a festival that my parents, who lived in Pendleton County, attended for years.

A few of the Louisville biggies are the Belknap Fall Festival (Oct. 13-14), the St. James Court Art Show (Oct. 6-8), and the Garvin Gate Blues Festival (Oct. 13-14). The arts are booming in Falls City.

Steve Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood day trips (and sometimes overnight ones) orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points being in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state now. After teaching 28 years, Steve spends much of his time today writing and reading about the state, and still enjoys doing those one dayers (and sometimes overnighters). “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes, and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”

In Kentucky’s second largest city, Lexington, a unique and popular gathering is the Lexington Roots and Heritage Festival, founded under the leadership of civil rights activists Chester and Ann Grundy.

You’ve missed it for 2017 as it runs right after Labor Day, but make sure to put it on your schedule next year if you’re looking for good music and a strong celebration of diversity.

In Taylorsville, there’s the Spencer County Octoberfest on Oct. 7 and don’t forget to crawl on down to eastern Kentucky to Beattyville to watch the woolly worms race, along with a whole lot of other entertainment.

The Woolly Worm Festival has been known to attract 100,000 people, according to officials, and this year is held Oct. 20-22.

One of the most tourist-friendly small towns in Kentucky is Bardstown, and taking in the Bardstown Arts, Crafts, and Antique Fair is a good way to see why. The festival is scheduled this year for Oct. 14-15.

Not far from Bardstown, the beautiful forested surroundings at the Bernheim Colorfest will be a visual delight on the weekend of Oct. 21-22. While there, have your walking shoes on for a long walk through the woods.

And, on the third Saturday in October, the Glendale Crossing Festival is quite a showcase and well-attended. It’s easy to get to, near Elizabethtown and only a few miles off I-65.

This is actually a very small sampling of the state’s offerings, so visit this festival website to learn about many, many more.

Let me know about some of your favorites!

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Read his KyForward and NKyTribune columns for excerpts from all his books. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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