The 49th annual Fall Festival of Leaves kicks off this evening and general chairman Keith Johnson said visitors can expect the same type of event they’ve enjoyed the past 48 autumns.
“There’s nothing really new. It’s the same entertainment, food, pet parade and all those other things,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to come up something new after 49 years. That’s why we’re thinking hard, because we really want to do something big for our 50th festival next year.”
This year’s festival gets underway Thursday night with opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. at the corner of Main and Maple streets, followed by a parade of queen candidates, then the queen pageant at 8 p.m. at the Paxton Theatre. The festival opens at 10 a.m. the next three days and concludes not long after a drawing for prizes at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on the main stage.
At least 100 vendors will be on hand and Johnson said, “That’s just in the festival area. A lot of private people take advantage of the festival, too, because of all the people in town.”
“We get people from all over the U.S.,” Johnson added. “It’s kind of like a big reunion for people who grew up around here. Maybe they moved away and they tell their friends, and those people tell other friends, and they all come home. People in our area plan their year around it.”
Some of the main attractions, Johnson said, are the queen pageant, the 31st annual Prince and Princess Contest at 10 a.m. Saturday, the seventh annual 5K run at 8 a.m. Saturday, a “magnificent” car and truck show that starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, stage entertainment that’s almost constant, the 49th annual parade at 2 p.m. Sunday, and a community worship service at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the Paxton Theatre.
The festival has been held on third weekend in October since it started, Johnson said, as long as both Saturday and Sunday fall on the third weekend. He said Friday does not count because it’s not part of the weekend.
The then-active Bainbridge Lions Club planned the very first festival and they discussed how an autumn event could showcase the natural attractions that surround the Bainbridge area. The area was once roamed by the Mound builders, other Indians tribes, and was known as The Valley of the Kings. Seip Mound, Kilvert Mound and Baum Village Site, as well as many Indian artifacts still being found in the surrounding fields today, all attest to those claims, the festival’s website says.
The Lions’ Club sent letters to all businesses, organizations, churches and civic-minded citizens to attend a town meeting in February 1968. More than 30 people attended the first meeting and the first festival was held Oct. 17-20, 1968.
“We expect that’s it’s the beauty of the Paint Creek Valley that’s the main attraction,” Johnson said. “We always say God sets the stage and we provide the entertainment in the Valley of the Kings. And there’s lots of good food and entertainment.
“We just invite everybody to come out and hope they have a good time with their family.”
See inside today’s edition of The Times-Gazette for more information on this year’s festival.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.