Best Of The Fests

8/26 Chreece Hip-Hop Festival

Back after a three-year absence, Chreece 2023 will present more than 60 local and national acts and 20 producers and deejays at eight Fountain Square venues. Headliners include beatmaker 9th Wonder, who’s worked with Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé and made an album called Indie 500 with Talib Kweli; rapper Redveil, whose songs are heavily soul-influenced; and Kari Faux, who is rightly described as fearless and outspoken. The festival also will pay tribute to DJ Indiana Jones (Ron Miner), a fixture in the Indianapolis music scene for decades before his death in 2020. 

8/31–9/3 BUTTER Fine Art Fair

After doubling attendance from 4,000 to 8,000 in its second year, “North America’s most popular new art fair” returns with a bigger presence in the newly renovated Stutz building and expectations for additional growth. This year’s BUTTER will take up 10 spaces in the building (40,000 square feet) and display works by more than 50 visual artists, in addition to hosting music, dance, poetry and spoken-word performances; conversations with artists; and more. Director Deonna Craig anticipates about 10,000 ticket holders and 2,000 students under 18 (who receive free admission) over the course of four days. “Fairgoers will feel like BUTTER has grown because we have, in size and in space,” she says. Created by GANGGANG, the cultural development agency, BUTTER exists to provide a platform for artists of color like Craig. She grew up in Indianapolis and participated in BUTTER as an artist in its first two years. Her work sold out on preview night both years. (In 2022, 109 pieces of artwork sold, generating $250,000 during the four days and another $210,000 afterwards.) “I’ve seen how it can help the trajectory of an artist’s career, and I’ve seen the need to continue to do the work,” Craig says. And that’s why she applied for the newly created position of fair director. As a result, this year she’s concentrating on presenting the event and won’t be showing her work. “The entire 10,000-person fair—that’s my art this year,” she says. “BUTTER 3 is my art.” 

9/9 Penrod Arts Fair

The Penrod Arts Fair began decades before the 38th Street and Michigan Road grounds were labeled Newfields. In fact, its history goes back to 1967, before we even had an Indianapolis Museum of Art. From its early days as a party thrown by the Penrod Society to support what was then called the Art Association of Indianapolis, the event has grown into a tradition happening the first Saturday after Labor Day every year. Thousands flock to the fair to peruse and purchase art, see local talent on stage, find out what’s happening in the upcoming arts season, and give in to the temptation to buy sticky bags of caramel corn. 

9/9–10 All IN Music & Arts Festival

Year two of this music festival is packed with jam bands—Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Umphrey’s McGee, and Trey Anastasio of Phish—and, curiously, the comedy-rock group Tenacious D. Some of the musicians also will play together in “dreamsets” covering Led Zeppelin and Beatles music. All IN bills itself as “the most comfortable festival in America,” and last year that proved to be true, with easy access to food and restrooms and great views of the indoor and outdoor stages. And since it’s the brainchild of Steve Sybesma, one of the founders of Deer Creek (now Ruoff) Music Center, you know the production will be solid. 

9/16 Art Squared

There’s a small-town energy to this festival/block party where local artists and artisans set up booths in Fountain Square. But there are two elements that make it unique. First, there’s the joyful Art Parade, where creativity and playfulness are the driving forces for the DIY floats—along with an excessive amount of candy tossed to the crowd. Then there’s the Masterpiece in a Day competition, during which visual artists and writers have just a few hours to create new works to be judged for cash prizes. 

9/18–30 Indy Jazz Fest

The finale of Indy Jazz Fest was held in Garfield Park two years ago, and it was super-duper hot outside. Then last year, the weather was a little cold. This year, festival director David Allee expects the weather will be just right when the festival celebrates the 25th anniversary of its founding. The big event is September 30 at the TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park, featuring smooth jazz saxophonist Boney James; percussionist Sheila E. & the E-Train; great fusion bassist Stanley Clarke and his new band, 4EVER; and a collection of Indianapolis jazz all-stars performing as the Indy Jazz Fest Legacy Band. That’ll be the final show of a festival that also includes iconic guitarist Pat Metheny (September 29 at Clowes Memorial Hall) and a slew of more intimate shows at The Cabaret and The Jazz Kitchen. Those include Naptown Sound, the official festival kickoff on September 23 featuring 10 local groups. “We did it last year and it was fantastic. People got to mingle with the artists, and it was a great showcase,” Allee says. The September 27 Jazz Kitchen show featuring guitarist Russell Malone with the Indianapolis Jazz Collective pays tribute to legendary Indianapolis guitarist Wes Montgomery, who would have turned 100 this year. The theme of this year’s Jazz Fest is “Looking Back/Looking Forward,” with a focus on celebrating modern masters and new stars while celebrating Indy’s jazz legacy. For those who need a primer on the Indianapolis scene, the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation has a new website, 

9/23–24 Carmel International Arts Festival

The mission of this free festival is “educating the community through the arts.” This year, that entails showcasing approximately 140 artists (up from 100 last year) from across the United States, presentations from Carmel’s four sister cities (Jelgava, Latvia; Kawachinagano, Osaka, Japan; Xiangyang, Hubei, China; and—the newest—Cortona, Italy), and an expansion of its “Young @ Art” area to include more kids’ activities. And, of course, the event will include music performances and food from local restaurants. 

9/28–10/1 Lotus World Music and Arts Festival

Since 1994, Bloomington has fully embraced this multistage festival attracting talent from around the world. You may not have heard of the performers—or experienced the genres of music—but that feeling of discovery is a big part of the pleasure. One ticket lets you bop from one stage to the next to find your bliss. While the schedule for this year wasn’t set as of press time, you can get a sense of the range from last year’s acts, which included performers from Ghana, Ukraine, Vietnam, Angola, Ireland, and other parts of the world. And the positive vibes and party atmosphere reach into the streets to include local restaurants and businesses that sell their wares in the space between venues. 

October  Historic Irvington Halloween Festival

There’s something special about a signature event that arises not from a corporate meeting or a marketing strategy but from a grassroots passion shared by neighborhood residents. Such is the case with Irvington’s Halloween Festival, now in its 77th year and still going strong. The street fair along Washington is October 28 and includes the traditional costumed Vampire Run and Little Bat Dash races. More events will be announced, but you can drive around Irvington any time in the last half of the month to see the wild and wonderful homes decorated for the spooky season. 

10/5–8 Riley Festival

Celebrate the birthday of one of Indiana’s leading literary lights, poet James Whitcomb Riley, at this multiday festival in Greenfield. Each year’s events vary a bit as they are built around a theme taken from one of Riley’s poems. But you can always count on hundreds of exhibitors and competitions in photography, quilting, and more. Signature events include the Parade of Flowers, during which schoolchildren decorate the town’s Riley statue, which dates back to 1918. And don’t miss the actual parade, featuring more than 75 crews of performers, floats, local groups, and more. 

10/5–15 Heartland International Film Festival

Find out for yourself why MovieMaker Magazine recently named Indiana’s own Heartland Film Festival as one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the world. Yes, the world! Be warned: Since this cinematic staple seems to grow its profile every year, you will need to act fast to score tickets to the more highly anticipated major Hollywood studio releases in the lineup. (The schedule will be announced and tickets and passes will go on sale September 15.) But don’t fret if you aren’t fast enough. The Heartland Film Festival is much more than attention-getting prerelease showings. Rounding out the field for its 32nd year are more than 100 documentary and narrative films from around the world encompassing a wide range of genres. In many cases, the filmmakers themselves accompany the films, providing post-screening insight and participating in red carpet events and parties throughout the 11 days. There is big money to be had, as well: Specifically, $60,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to filmmakers who earn the most kudos from the festival jurists. This year, screenings and events will take place at multiple theaters, including Landmark Glendale, Living Room Theaters at Bottleworks, Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie, Newfields, and the new Emagine Theatre at Hamilton Town Center. 

10/5–29 Headless Horseman Festival

In addition to offering interactive trips back in time, Conner Prairie—one of the largest living history museums in the country—hosts events throughout the year. The generations have most embraced this multifaceted Halloween festival built around The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Even if you don’t want to take the hayride (for an additional fee) where you’ll encounter Washington Irving’s mythical character, there’s still plenty to do, including corn mazes, a dry tubing hill, barrel train rides, storytelling, midway games, marionette and magic shows, and other gently haunted experiences. 

10/14 The Arts in Autumn

Double your free family fun. Between 2 and 6 p.m., The Arts in Autumn will feature food vendors, arts and crafts merchants, family activities, a movie screening, live entertainment, a custom photo booth, trick-or-treating, a canine costume contest, and a variety of giveaways. Event attendees and their pets are invitecd to dress up in their favorite Halloween costumes. A few blocks north, from 4 to 8 p.m. in the Arts & Design District, is Carmel’s monthly event Meet Me on Main, featuring pumpkin carver Lee Saberson doing live demonstrations. 

October/November Bard Fest

This ambitious collection of theater productions has expanded beyond the Shakespeare works that sparked its creation. Of course, you can still see the work of Will this season—including the popular comedy As You Like It, the less-often-produced drama Troilus and Cressida, and the gore-fest Titus Andronicus. But the mix also includes Medea, Hedda Gabler, and—a true wild card—the comedy A Bold Stroke for a Husband, a rare 18th-century play by a female playwright. Performances are presented at theaters throughout the area, so double check to make sure you are heading to the right place for the show you want. 

11/3–12 OnyxFest

Theater has a long history of dismissing or ignoring the voices of Black playwrights. While recently there have been increased efforts nationally and locally to acknowledge and address this omission both on and offstage, it’s been the focus of OnyxFest since 2011. The first and still only area festival devoted to the work of Black writers, OnyxFest annually assigns a team of jurors to choose the most promising work from its substantial stack of submissions. This year, the festival’s five plays will be produced at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre and the Crispus Attucks High School Auditorium. The lineup includes Levi Frazier, Jr.’s Tigonie, about a man whose past comes back to haunt him; Josiah McCruiston’s 5 Moods of Black Anguish, described as “spoken word, prose and sermonettes” that “explore the pain and glory of a people with unconquerable spirits”; Ardre Orie’s all-male The Heart of a Man, exploring dating, love, marriage, sexuality, and domestic violence; Deborah Patrick’s Right Behind You, in which a family elder dying of Covid leads to a survivor’s reflections; and Delores Thornton’s Babe, based on the true story of an 82-year-old woman uncovering buried truths. The Africana Repertory Theatre of IUPUI also offers programs throughout the year, helping to foster community, develop positive social transformation, and empower youth via workshops, education programs, and more. 

11/18–12/30 Christmas at the Zoo

These days, you can catch holiday light shows at zoos around the country, but Indy’s was the first. Starting in 1967, every iteration has featured a mix of familiar returnees, new offerings, and family fun activities. While most of the animal residents are at rest, there’s still plenty to do. You can decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus, travel through a twinkling light tunnel and a mirror maze, check out the live reindeer hanging out by Santa’s sleigh, and meet the legendary bearded guy himself. He can be found at both Santa’s Study and in the Flights of Fancy area. (How he can be in two places at once is just one of his amazing superpowers.) 

November–January Winterlights

Try not to think about the December electric bill at Newfields as you stroll through the more than 1.5 million lights creatively hung throughout the grounds. These lights not only shine, some of them also even appear to dance—to the music of The Nutcracker, of course, as well as other holiday tunes. This year, you can even walk through the glow of a giant ornament. Need to warm up? The already fancy-schmancy Lilly House is bedecked with handmade decorations. Mugs of cider or hot cocoa are also on offer, along with festive snacks. And make sure to check out Big Piñata, a sculpture by Mexico-based art collective Happy Rebels. Yes, it’s a really big piñata. 

12/15–17 ’Tis the Season

Candlelight Theatre has staged a different version of this holiday production for the last 20 years in the Harrison home. Visitors meet in the carriage house to drink hot cider and listen to carolers, then are guided through rooms in the beautifully decorated, newly renovated house where performers share folk tales and traditions from all over the world. As always, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be there, and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are represented, too. “It’s a nice setting to tell stories and have people come through,” says director Jill Whelan. Tickets start at $15, and performances often sell out early. Room buyouts are available for groups of up to 16 people. 

11/18–12/24 Carmel Christkindlmarkt   

11/24–12/17 Athenaeum Christkindlmarkt