NEW ALBANY — Festival goers will see a number of changes at this year's Harvest Homecoming Festival, including a new parade schedule and expanded events.
On Thursday, the Harvest Homecoming announced plans for year's festival, which takes place Oct. 5 to Oct. 13. The annual festival — now in its 52nd year — will feature a carnival theme called "Carnifall," and activities include craft/food booths, rides, children's events and live music.
This year's festival will kick off a little later in the day on Oct. 5. The Harvest Homecoming Parade was moved to 3 p.m. instead of its usual noon starting time, and it will be followed by several new events. Attendees can view the floats after the parade as they park around Bicentennial Park, where they can also participate in the Harvest Kickoff Karaoke.
Courtney Lewis, the new chair of the Harvest Homecoming Festival, said the event will "really blow the riverfront out of the water" this year. It will feature a couple of riverfront concerts, including a Friday night concert with local and regional acts and a Saturday night concert with Katie Toupin, the former lead singer of Houndmouth, and a national act — organizers will announce the headliner in a couple weeks. The riverfront will also feature a Saturday beer festival from noon to 4 p.m., which is a new addition to Harvest Homecoming.
"We're super excited to announce it," she said. "It's definitely new territory for Harvest Homecoming to go into this bigger concert, but we're super excited."
Harvest Homecoming will also open an hour earlier on its Sunday booth day from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for its new "Inclusion Day." During this time, individuals with physical limitations or discomfort in crowds, including those on the autism spectrum or with cognitive disabilities, are invited to enjoy a calm day at the festival before the crowds fill the streets.
"I think Harvest Homecoming is a group of volunteers who care about our community, and that includes everyone in the community," Lewis said. "I get that crowds aren't for everyone, but I think Harvest Homecoming has something for everyone, and if we can facilitate people who wouldn't be comfortable on Friday night with so many people, we want to do absolutely everything we can to do that."
Harvest Homecoming President-elect Beth White said this year will feature many new food and craft vendors, and although they have had to move some booths around due to changes on Market Street, they were able to make it work. For example, the pork chop booth, a longtime vendor on Market Street, will be moving to Bank Street.
She said she was excited to receive additional community sponsorships that are allowing organizers to make these improvements and additions.
"It's only going to make the events that we already had even better," she said.
White said the festival couldn't happen without the dedication of Harvest Homecoming's volunteers. The festival continues to change for the better, she said, and she stressed the importance of consistency for the annual event.
"We've been around now for 52 years, so I think that's really important," she said. "We come back every year, and we're bigger and better every year. We continue to give to our community."
Lewis said for the Southern Indiana community, Harvest Homecoming is "a great uniter."
"It's definitely a great time," she said. "I mean, it's the best time of year in Indiana, and it's the best time of year in New Albany," she said. "I think it's an opportunity for everyone to find their commonalities versus their differences and really just come for a good time and see people you haven't seen in a while."
Art Niemeier, the 2019 Harvest Homecoming president, said the festival truly is a "homecoming."
"There's so many people who plan their vacation or the week around this," he said. "The part that's so neat for me is that you'll see people who haven't seen each other since last year at Harvest Homecoming ... a lot of the New Albany and Floyd Central classes will have their class reunions during Harvest Homecoming because everyone comes down for it. That's the neatest piece — everyone coming together."