Fall festivals: chocolate, blues, and vodka

Ten 8-foot-tall guitar sculptures add to the festival vibe at the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival in Columbia, Mo.
Ten 8-foot-tall guitar sculptures add to the festival vibe at the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival in Columbia, Mo. Courtesy photo

Blues blowouts, chocolate celebrations, Swedish soirees. Towns throughout Kansas and the region plan some of their best festivals to take advantage of the weather from September to November.

Organizers of the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival are predicting temperatures in the 70s and abundant sunshine for their Sept. 29-Oct. 1 event. American Blues Scene magazine calls it “one of the most prominent festivals in the country,” and it takes place among the Missouri oak trees in the 116-acre Stephens Lake Park near downtown Columbia, Mo.

That’s the same weekend of the free Kansas Chocolate Festival staged in the middle of Kansas Avenue in downtown Topeka, and organizers are expecting temperatures cool enough that the chocolate samples melt in your mouth, not in your hand.

Svensk Hyllningsfest is Oct. 13-14 in Lindsborg, which allows for cooler temperatures, leaves turning and children who have been back in school long enough to practice their Swedish folk dances before thousands show up for the free biennial event that roughly translates to Swedish honoring festival.

“It’s not too hot to wear a costume and it’s not too cold for the crowd to be able to stand outside and watch,” said Holly Lofton, director of the Lindsborg Convention & Visitors Bureau. “And it’s beautiful in the Smoky Valley in the fall, with the grasses and the sumac beginning to turn those wonderful ambers and oranges and reds. I think the Swedes were homesick so they planted trees very early on, and we have many mature trees that begin to turn. It’s just a pretty little place to be in October.”

Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival

American Blues Scene loves Roots N Blues, now in its 11th year, for the high-caliber acts it recruits to perform on two main stages during the three-day festival in Columbia, 320 miles from Wichita. Among the 32 acts this year are headliners Ryan Adams, Leon Bridges, Band of Horses, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Gary Clark, Jr., Booker T’s Stax Revue, Pokey LaFarge, Amanda Shires, Margo Price, Nikki Lane, The Mavericks and Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives.

The music starts at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29 and by the time the festival wraps up Sunday evening, more than 32,000 people from nearly every state will have attended. Artists span blues, soul, rock and roll, country and bluegrass genres.

Besides having an over-the-top lineup, the festival offers a great value and unique setting, said Jamie Varvaro, director of marketing and development for Roots N Blues. For a weekend pass, you’ll spend $125 in advance or $135 after Sept. 15 to see 32 artists. “You would pay $353 plus fees to go see just our top seven artists,” Varvaro said. “Great ticket value, amazing artists and it’s just this magical park loaded with beautiful green grass and these amazing oak trees. Our art team does some pretty incredible things with lighting and art installations so this magical daytime park becomes this even more magical setting at night.”

Adding to the festival vibe are arts and crafts booths; a fleet of food trucks and vendors selling barbecue, fair food and local craft brews; a large Ferris wheel; and art installations like 10 8-foot-tall guitars arranged in a circle reminiscent of Stonehenge and larger-than-life puppets throughout the festival’s 50-acre footprint.

Day passes start at $49.50 in advance and go up to $55 after Sept. 15. Ages 12 and younger are free for the family-friendly festival. In addition to general admission tickets, there are VIP packages that include lounge seating, upfront viewing areas, food and use of private restrooms and bars.

A full schedule and tickets are available at www.rootsnbluesnbbq.com. Following the trend of other large music festivals, Roots N Blues is going cashless this year so be sure to check out the website for information on loading your wristband in advance.

Kansas Chocolate Festival

This is the second year for the Kansas Chocolate Festival, which offers free chocolate samples and two stages providing entertainment from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 30 in downtown Topeka, 140 miles northeast of Wichita.

The festival was inspired by the 2014 opening of a Mars Chocolate North America plant in Topeka. You can’t tour the facility, so Mars is one of the community partners for the festival coordinated by Visit Topeka, the convention and visitors bureau. They even provide the 20 participating food truck operators, who are required to have at least one menu item featuring chocolate, with the factory’s products, Snickers and M&M’s.

Rosa Cavazos, director of tourism development for Visit Topeka, said the inaugural event drew a surprising 25,000 people and chocolate samples ran out in the first couple hours. This year, they have invited more chocolatiers, told the more than 50 vendors to bring plenty of samples and added events to the schedule.

Kansas Avenue will be full of vendors representing bakeries, sweet shops and regional businesses. All will serve free chocolate samples, from bars and nibs to brownies, cookies and more. Baking contest participants (you can register until Sept. 27) also bring samples of their entries for festival-goers. A new component this year is an indoor area where visitors can purchase tickets to sample specialty chocolates – think truffles – created by 13 chocolatiers from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida and Texas. Bring cash; each indoor sample is $2, with half of the proceeds going to charity.

Free entertainment includes one stage featuring musicians and another with chocolate demonstrations and a chocolate pudding eating contest. There is also a children’s bounce house area with a fee, and businesses located in the area will offer special experiences like a chocolate pedicure or manicure at a salon, chocolate fountains at a jeweler and a chocolate beer on tap at a barbecue restaurant.

If the daytime fun doesn’t satisfy your chocolate cravings, stick around for a new element of the festival: Chocolate After Dark. This adult-only event is from 6-8 p.m. at the historic Dillon House. The $55 ticket includes a VIP goodie bag, chocolate sampling and the chance to visit with nationally-renowned chocolatiers, chocolate-infused heavy hor d’oeuvres, chocolate and wine pairings and music by the Washburn Jazz Combo.

Svensk Hyllningsfest

This Swedish honoring festival is held in odd numbered years in Lindsborg, about 70 miles north of Wichita. It is free, so organizers can only estimate that thousands attend to soak up all the Swedishness.

“Lindsborg was settled entirely by Swedes in the late 1800s and has continued to embrace its Swedish heritage,” said Lofton, of the convention and visitors bureau. “We have visitors who come from Sweden to experience our events because they’ve heard about them from family members and, in some cases, we are carrying on many traditions that people in Sweden aren’t anymore. As people settled here, they were homesick and it was important to keep those traditions alive here. Now it’s just part of who we are.”

The festival, started in 1941, is one way to continue those traditions. Hyllningsfest has grown to six stages of all-day entertainment on Friday, Oct. 13 and Saturday, Oct. 14. Community members of all ages wear traditional Swedish folk garb and perform the dances they first learned in grade school. There are also concerts, joke competitions, an interactive drum safari program and a puppet theater for children, a costume show, a run/walk event with a 5K and 15K country-road course and a parade.

There is an indoor arts and crafts market, as well as booths set up on Main Street with vendors demonstrating and selling crafts and ethnic foods. Hyllningsfest coincides with a monthly art walk hosted by the studios, galleries and businesses in the town’s revitalized downtown. Regional artists and craftsmen gather from 5 to 8 p.m. on the second Friday of each month for Makers Street.

“There will be working artists and craftsmen up and down Main Street and they generally provide a lot of interactive activities that are free of charge or low cost,” Lofton said of the makers.

There are a few events within the festival that charge a fee, and those often sell out in advance. Smörgåsbord has seatings at 5, 6:30 and 8 on Friday night at Bethany College. Tickets for the Scandinavian feast featuring many foods prepared from family recipes are $25 each for all ages and available at www.svenskhyllningsfest.org. Two other ticketed events are at the J.O. Sundstrom Center: Jazz at the J.O. features the Anna Jalkeus Jazz Group at 8 p.m. Friday ($20 per person) and Spectacle at the Sundstrom on Saturday ($40 per person) includes a performance by the Bethany College Chamber Choir, an elegant Swedish dinner and two shots of vodka.

“A spectacle is a very traditional event in Europe,” said Becky Anderson, a volunteer with the festival committee. “There are song books, so you sing along and take a shot of vodka, and everyone has a good time. A portion of each ticket sold for that event will help fund the choir’s 2018 trip to Sweden.”

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