Ask most Americans where the largest street fair is, and chances are they’ll come up with Mardi Gras pretty quickly. But if you were to ask them to name any of the rest in the top ten, and suddenly the game is a little harder. Evansville, Indiana, an Ohio River town in the Southwestern tip of the state, is the home of the West Side Nut Club Annual Fall Festival. And, believe it or not, this event you’ve probably never heard of is ranked as one of the most popular street festivals in the US – reported by some as the second largest street festival in the country.
The festival is held every October, in the first full week of the month. The Evansville West Side Nut Club organizes the event. The West Side Nut Club began in 1921 as a civic organization interested in helping the community and promoting the interests of the west side businesses and residents. The fall festival is their largest event of the year.
Attendance each year is estimated at between 100,000 to 150,000 people. Considering that the population of Evansville is somewhere around 120,000, these are pretty impressive numbers! Add to this the fact that the festival is crammed in a little piece of the city around a few blocks of Franklin Street, and you can imagine the crowds.
Besides the crowds, there are a few other things you can expect. Carnival rides, which feature a section exclusively for kid-friendly rides, are available. Tickets for the rides can be purchased individually, or if you’re more daring, save money by buying a wristband that gives unlimited access to the rides for the night. Sprinkled throughout the rides are game booths, which for a price will give you the chance to bet a mouse will pick your color, flip a rubber chicken into a rotating pot, throw darts at balloons, or any number of other standard fair games. Visit the stage to witness some local talent, or line the streets for the parade. Features vary by night, so check out the schedule.
Another must-have in your festival visitors’ kit? – the famous “munchie map”! This single document is your guide to one of the festival’s biggest draws, the food. Expect to find between 120 and 130 different booths from which to choose. These booths are run by a variety of Evansville’s non-profit groups, and for many provide a sizeable portion of their annual income. Your options will include the expected (onion rings, walking tacos), the wild (scorpion pops, brain sandwiches), and foods that reference the traditional west side German heritage (kuchen, bratwurst).
So, thinking about making the trip? Here are a few tips. First, visit www.nutclub.org. This official site can provide you with general info, the schedule of events, daily hours, and the munchie map. Second, plan to bring a lot of small bills. From games to booths you will find your pockets drained in steady few-dollar increments, and dealing with change in the chaos can get pretty tough. Third, plan a designated meeting spot if you get accidentally separated from your group – it’s easy to do in the crowds.
As you would expect, bigger crowds are expected in the evening and on weekends. Check the weather before you go, as some of the rides may be shut down in the event of inclement weather. Be aware that seating is very limited, and many areas are difficult to access for those with limited mobility. You can find street parking if you drive a little, and pay-to-park lots are also available. And, as with any crowded place, practice good safety. Leave your valuables at home, and keep your little ones close.
It doesn’t take long to get to Evansville from Indianapolis, Bloomington, Louisville or St Louis. If you live in the region, the annual fall festival is something to check out!