by Shaun Tilghman
The North Manchester community is already in preparation for the annual FunFest By The River celebration next week, and along with the numerous activities people look forward to each year, this year’s schedule includes several new additions.
Traditionally, FunFest is advertised as a three-day event, but with multiple activities now scheduled on Wednesday and Sunday, it is really more like five days. This year’s festival is considered to officially begin on Thursday, Aug. 7th and to end on Saturday, Aug. 9th; however, there will be four activities on Wednesday evening and four more activities on Sunday.
“We seem to be creeping out of our borders on each end, as there are now several events taking place on Wednesday and Sunday as well,” said Laura Rager, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. “On the Wednesday preceding FunFest this year, there is now a Powder Puff football game, a performance by Charles Billingsley, and a bonfire, as well as the start of the tennis tournament.
“The Powder Puff game came about because our theme for this year is ‘homecoming’, which was originally intended to relate to the number of people that come home to North Manchester during this time every year. Over the years we’ve learned that a lot of people schedule their family reunions, class reunions, or large get-togethers around FunFest because it gives everybody such a great opportunity to see old friends. So, that’s what our original intention was; but, when people began to think about school starting again soon and the start of football season being just around the corner, that different aspect of homecoming just kind of crept its way in and stuck.
“For most of us on the FunFest Committee, Powder Puff football is synonymous with bonfires, and Manchester Community Schools was not only gracious enough to provide the football field for our new event, but also the venue and the wood for the bonfire as well. I think that all will make for a very fun addition; now, whether it will continue going forward, that just kind of depends on how popular it is. I know it took a while for the idea to catch on but now we seem to have people gaining enthusiasm for it.”
Another new event preceding the official start of FunFest is the concert on Market Square sponsored by Shepherd’s Family Auto Group. The featured performer will be Charles Billingsley, who is a contemporary Christian artist.
“It kind of ties into our Playin’ in the Streets summer music program that we started last week because this falls on a Wednesday night, but it also happens to be the Wednesday before FunFest, so it kind of got tied into that as well,” Rager explained.
“On Sunday, we have our Summer Blast Baseball & Softball Tournament, which was really successful last year, so that’s kind of a carryover event,” she continued. “The Izaak Walton League Prize Shoot is also on the Sunday following FunFest, and this year, the Strauss-Peabody Aquatic and Fitness Center is offering a ‘Dive-In Movie’ on Sunday as well. They will have free open swim while they show a movie up on the wall, so you can bring your floats or rafts and enjoy what sounds like it will be a really neat event.”
Rager went on to say that, while the Chamber Raffle has long been a part of FunFest, the prize this year is a little different. The winner will still be drawn during the Cruise-In Car Show on Friday night, but the prize is now a brand new Cub Cadet UTV (utility vehicle) with a hydraulic lift bed and four-wheel drive.
“It’s been really well received,” she added. “We’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by the number of women that are excited about winning it.”
According to Rager, the five-member band Small Town will provide entertainment on the Crossroads Stage both Friday night and Saturday night. “They do a great variety of music and will cover some well-known songs from several different genres,” she said. “They’ve been very well received here over the last couple years and they’re great to work with, so we thought it would be fun to bring them in for Friday night this year as well.”
“The Kiwanis ‘Ride for Riley’ is in its second year,” Rager continued, “and that’s a great event for a great cause, as all the proceeds go to Riley Children’s Hospital. People seem excited about that event, especially since it includes rides of several different lengths (50 miles, 20 miles, and 5 miles).
“Also, there will be a Craft Beer Tasting on Saturday evening. The Chamber is sponsoring the event in conjunction with the consortium of Home Brewers here in North Manchester. The idea for this event is different than that of a beer tent though; the intent is for people to experience different beers and the brewing process, so it’s more like an educational event.”
In terms of this year’s FunFest, Rager says just being out of the construction phase downtown is an asset in itself.
“I’m sure there were some people last year that thought stuff would still be all torn up and decided to take a year off from attending FunFest,” she concluded. “Everything is all put back together now, it’s very easy for people to get around, and it’s very attractive.”