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Indiana Festival a celebration of food, music and art
By Mike Michaelson | Midwest Travel

Young guests help unload hay into the barn at the Golden Eagle Inn in 1836 Prairietown. Everyday, guests have the chance to join in farm chores.


Photos courtesy of Conner Prairie

Young guests paint a mural at Conner Prairie's Indiana Festival. Each visitor can paint a square representing their family's culture.


Photos courtesy of Conner Prairie

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Published: 4/12/2008 4:39 PM

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Learn to play the bagpipes or to salsa dance. Or maybe lend a helping hand at whipping up a batch of baklava, the honey-laced Greek dessert. Or how about taking youngsters to see Dora & Diego, characters from Nickelodeon's hit television show?

Conner Prairie's Indiana Festival is at once a fun family outing with games, such as bocce ball and croquet, and a shopping extravaganza with an arts and crafts marketplace. It's a living-history experience that recalls mid-19th-century Indiana and is a place to learn the basic techniques for playing an extraordinary musical instrument, such as Celtic bagpipes, and to sample ethnic foods, such as Jamaican beef patties.

This fourth annual repetition of the cultural festival that celebrates the art, music and people of the Midwest takes place on June 7 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and June 8 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and is expected to draw close to 10,000 visitors. While you're there, spend time exploring this time-warp community and meeting its residents at work and at play.

Because Conner Prairie, near Fishers, Ind., is one of America's major living-history museums, you can rest assured the vignettes of history it presents will be authentic and re-enacted with skill and enthusiasm. It is an experience that transports you back to agrarian America, circa mid-19th century.

If you're looking for an unusual gift for graduation or for Father's Day, the Art & Craft Marketplace could be an ideal venue, with 60 local and statewide artisans selling their handmade work. Bling-seekers will find jewelry in all styles and colors, incorporating precious stones and glass beads, copper and other metals. Or you can shop for American Indian jewelry and pottery, hand-woven quilts and rugs, Shaker-style wood clocks, lanterns and boxes, homemade soaps and lotions, stained-glass ornaments and sun catchers and paintings in oil, watercolors and pastels.

You might choose to stop by the Art Uncorked tent where you can learn secrets of artistic creation and also sample wine. "The artists bring a wide range of items with different price points," assuring you not only are likely to find an unusual item, but also a piece of artwork, including wearable art, that also fits your budget, says event producer Kathy Pataluch.

Local and regional performers keep three stages busy during the weekend with an eclectic selection of entertainment chosen as representatives of many cultures. A lineup of 15 performers ranges from the Russian Ballet Academy of Indiana, the Freetown Village Singers and the Indiana Caledonia Pipe Band to the Drums of West Africa, the Irish Airs and Die Fledermauschen Tanzegruppe.

The food court is full of ethnic choices. Find mild pork and spicy chicken tamales, barbecued ribs and pulled-pork sandwiches, Greek gyros and feta cheese, Jamaican jerk chicken, fried plantains and beans and German bratwurst, weisswurst, schnitzel and potato salad. There is pizza and Italian sausage with peppers and onions and Indiana's favorite food-on-a-bun, the pork tenderloin (along with roasted ears of corn). Desserts include funnel cakes, frapples, assorted pies, hot-fudge brownies and ice cream. Healthy choices include fruit-and-yogurt combinations.

Interested in learning how to make German spaetzle, Latin-American guacamole or Greek spanakopita? Visit the Culinary Pavilion for 20-minute chef demonstrations on how to make these ethnic staples (with sampling and wine and beer kiosks available to those age 21 and older).

Keep youngsters entertained at the Kids' Pavilion where they can create (and take home) their own handiwork. Activities include Mexican paper flower making and learning the origins of familiar and not-so-familiar games. Visitors are chosen contestants in one of the "Indiana Jeopardy" games, played twice a day with prizes.

You'll find plenty that is new at Conner Prairie. At the Craft Corner and Puppet Theater, guests can try their hand at textile skills, create their own masterpiece at a drawing station and participate in a puppet show. There also is a new Wagonmaker's Shop where guests can try out traditional carpenter tools at the workbench or assemble a wagon wheel. Offered at various times throughout the year are featured activities, such as basket-making, weaving, crocheting, knitting, papermaking and working with leather.

A new experience called Farm Hands is an immersive program where visitors take on the roles of indentured farm workers. Guests will sign an actual contract, which they are welcome to keep, and will become involved in role-playing and participating in chores alongside staff. They might find themselves making beds in the farmhouse, plowing the fields behind a team of draft horses, planting in the garden, working in the kitchen, building a split-rail fence, milking the cow or feeding livestock.

Across the street from Conner Prairie is a charming (and convenient) bed-and-breakfast: Frederick-Talbott Inn. Also find accommodations at hotel chains, many in nearby Fishers, including properties that offer package discounts for Conner Prairie. The latter include Fairfield Inn and Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites.

If you go

Information: Conner Prairie, (800) 966-1836,; Indiana Tourism Hot Line, (800) 884-4612,

Mileage: Conner Prairie is about 175 miles southeast of Chicago.

Other upcoming events at Conner Prairie: Sheep to Blanket, in which sheep lose their winter coats and get cool buzz cuts for summer, then their wool gets spun, dyed and woven into cloth, April 18-20; The Great Baseball Match, April 26; Heirloom Plant Sale, May 3 and 4; Election Day in Prairietown, May 10 and 11; Civil War Days, highlighted by a battle, performances by a cornet band and visits with Abraham Lincoln, May 17 and 18.

MikeMichaelson is a travel writer based in Chicago and the author of the guidebook "Chicago's Best-Kept Secrets."