Three Rivers Festival turns 50: Events, people reflect decades of Fort Wayne fun

Cookie Monster from "Sesame Street" will be one of a few large balloons in the Three Rivers Festival Parade, which opens the festival at 10 a.m. Saturday. (Courtesy of Three Rivers Festival)
This artist rendering provides a glimpse of the village feel this year for International Village July 20-21 at the Three Rivers Festival, which will use individual tents for each country rather than one large tent. (Courtesy of Three Rivers Festival)
A battalion of trash bins stands along Barr Street on Wednesday morning, ready for deployment in Headwaters Park for use during the Three Rivers Festival. The annual summer celebration officially begins Saturday, but the midway, Junk Food Alley and Emporium market at Headwaters Park all open Friday. (By Kevin Kilbane of
Portable toilets in place for the Three Rivers Festival almost form a semicircle along the turnaround on Barr Street beside the pavilion in Headwaters Park. (By Kevin Kilbane of
Vendors in the Three Rivers Festival's Junk Food Alley were well along Wednesday morning in setting up for their scheduled opening Friday at Headwaters Park. (By Kevin Kilbane of
Three Rivers Festival Executive Director Jack Hammer discusses some of the events during this year's 50th anniversary. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of
This is an image of the 50th anniversary Three Rivers Festival button. (Courtesy of Three Rivers Festival)

Joining the fun of the 50th Three Rivers Festival will be a tug-of-war, eating contest and sideshow attractions such as a man eating chicken (note the lack of a hyphen) along with some of the faces that harken back to the early days of the event.

The festival board has invited Tommie Manny, a member of the board for that first 1969 festival who’s “still a fireball,” to serve as an honorary grand marshal for Saturday’s Lutheran Health Network Parade with Dave Auman, who’s “been a volunteer for us since the beginning,” said TRF Executive Director Jack Hammer.

RELATED STORY: Three Rivers Festival turns 50: Fort Wayne’s fun event by the numbers

Former contestants on TV’s “The Voice” and Fort Wayne residents Addison Agen and Christiana Hicks will serve as the parade’s grand marshals.

A couple of special “guests” will be the giant Cookie Monster and Abby Cadabby “Sesame Street” balloons along with a couple of Angry Birds balloons.

The festival opens Friday with events that include 7 p.m.’s “Live and Let Die,” a four-piece band that performs Beatles and Paul McCartney solo songs and the Downtown Midway and Junk Food Alley, both opening at 11 a.m. at Headwaters Park at Clinton and Superior streets. This year’s new trendy food item appears to be root beer float funnel cake, but will check it out Friday.

The parade starts at 9:45 a.m. Saturday on Wayne Street at Rockhill Street, so that means some attendees will be staking out their viewing spots at 5 p.m. Friday. Several streets will be closed early that morning before the 8 a.m. Runners on Parade begins.

Hammer, a Fort Wayne native who was born Tom Jaxtheimer and spent about two decades in local radio, has overseen the festival since 2010. He’s worked to cut down the time of the parade and increase the entertainment value.

“It’s got to be something that brings a smile,” said Hammer, who remembers the Dancing Elvises and the synchronized lawnmower team of the past.

So this year, everyone walking in the parade must participate in some choreographed dance moves that include some shimmies. An expected total of 118 units will travel in the parade through downtown — and construction contractors promise to fill in a hole on Superior Street, at least temporarily, Hammer said.

Here are few of the events that have been brought back (sorry, Show Us Your Tan isn’t among them):

• Remember all those pursuits of trivia you did with friends in the 1980s? It’s time to assemble your team of geniuses for 10 categories and 10 questions each during Trivia Night 7-10:30 p.m. July 18. Cost is $40 per team.

It’s one of a few events that will charge, Hammer said. Except for the concerts and food purchases, most events are free.

• Delay that gastric bypass until after the festival and join in the Pie Eating Contest. The preliminaries will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 15, at The Emporium in Headwaters West with the finals at 8:30 p.m. Monday, July 16, at Ruoff Festival Plaza. Register through Friday for the free event.

• High school students will brighten up downtown business windows with murals to celebrate TRF’s golden anniversary noon-7 p.m. this Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Ask at the information booth for the locations.

• Like feats of strength? The Tug-O-War is back with teams of six ages 8 and over competing at noon July 21 at the Headwaters Park West amphitheater. Cost varies by age. Register by July 19 at the TRF website.

• Remember how much fun the peanut hunts were at school before one kid in every class seemed to develop an allergy? Well, the festival hunt has been revamped as the Tootsie Roll Hunt. It takes place at noon July 21 during Children’s Fest, which has been moved to North Side High School, 475 E. State Blvd.

• In the Downtown Midway in Headwaters Park, festivalgoers will find the Ten-in-One sideshow, but nothing in it that takes advantage of people.

“It’s all old beautiful art of the past with ‘tricks,'” Hammer said.

An animal-free family circus including an act with a motorcycle operator driving inside a steel ball is also part of the events there.

Also, the Power Racing Series, which Hammer likens to adults riding around on modified Peg Perego-style toy vehicles, takes place Saturday and Sunday.

International Village, a celebration of different cultures, will have a new look when it takes place 11 a.m.-9 p.m. July 20-21 in the Club Soda parking lot off Barr Street north of Superior Street. Each cultural group will have its own tent to create a truer village feel, Hammer said. Admission is free, but the groups charge various prices for food.

With the “Create Great Memories” theme, the second biggest outdoor festival in Indiana draws 500,000 visitors and plans to go out with a bang — a super-sized one. The grand finale fireworks will be set off not from one building but five: Indiana Michigan Power Center, Lincoln Tower, Rousseau Centre, 202 Metro and 1st Source Bank, thanks to funding from major sponsor Hanning & Bean Enterprises.

“Bill (Bean) does this because he loves this city,” Hammer said.

Hanning & Bean Enterprises also stepped up in 2013 to return the raft race — once a major party on the river with folks flooding the riverbanks to watch until rising liability costs, flood-prevention work by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and declining participation ended the event in 1997. The raft race won’t be a part of this year’s festival either because of logistics. The $26 million first phase of riverfront development has begun and currently includes construction work in the St. Marys River.

Brew Review is another event that won’t be back this year. So many other groups have started doing similar events, Hammer said.

The festival is all about creating memories, Hammer said.

“It’s supposed to be where you take your kids and make friendships.”


Throughout the Three Rivers Festival, The History Center will be hosting the T.R.A.I.N. Display. Open from 10am-5pm Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm on Saturday, and 12pm-5pm on Sunday, this impressive model train show highlights Fort Wayne’s history. This display is included with our regular museum admission of $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and youth, and ages 2 & under are free.

The History Center and American Guild of Organists present “Follow the Pipes,” a tour of Fort Wayne pipe organs with performances at each location. “Follow the Pipes” is a free event. This year’s schedule is listed below:

Tuesday, July 17

10 a.m.: St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1126 S. Barr Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Organist- Matthew Machemer

11 a.m.: First Wayne Street United Methodist Church, 300 E. Wayne Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Organist- Dr. Geoffrey North

Wednesday, July 18:

1 p.m.: First Presbyterian Church, 300 W. Wayne Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Organist- Dr. Chelsea Vaught

2 p.m.: St. John Lutheran Church, 729 W. Washington Boulevard, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Organist- Martin Gigler

3 p.m.: Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 917 W. Jefferson Boulevard, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Organist- Mark Handy, Myra Schmidt

Thursday, July 19:

7 p.m.: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 1122 S. Clinton Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Organist- Michael Dulac

8 p.m.: Embassy Theater, 126 W. Jefferson Boulevard, Fort Wayne, IN 46802

Organist- Cletus Goens