Niles Family Fun Fair, Bluegrass/Americana Music Festival returns

NILES — The 16th annual Niles Family Fun Fair and Bluegrass/Americana Music Festival will kick off next week, bringing multiple days of music, food and a family-style carnival to Riverfront Park.

The festival is sponsored by the Riverfront Optimist Club of Niles. It will take place from Thursday, May 31 to Sunday June 3. The hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday; 3 to 11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. The music festival is free and open to the public. Wristbands for carnival rides can be purchased for $20 apiece for unlimited rides.

In addition to nationally known and regional musicians across Berrien and Cass counties, the multi-day festival will include a Kid Zone, where there will be rides, fair food and a petting zoo. Other activities include driving and texting simulation, a S.T.E.M. Robotics Challenge, as well as performances from the magician the Amazing Zendor.

TJ Martin, a festival organizer, said last year’s event attracted more than 8,000 people to participate. And while bluegrass is in the title, the festival draws musicians across genres to perform.

“We still have a few national headliners coming in, but also we are focusing on regional [musicians] and helping younger individuals and groups have a platform to perform on.” Martin said.

One such band is the Brandywine Creek String band, comprised of middle school youth and Jim Boger, the Brandywine Elementary School principal. The band will return to the Amphitheater stage once again. Those who attend will be able to see two sides of the band: the bluegrass side and later, the rock side, when the band plays as its alter ego: the Toona’s.

“They rock out,” Martin said. “They go from traditional Americana music to rock and everything else and these are [elementary] kids.”

This year, Southwestern Michigan College’s Brass Band will help to open the festival and play from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday night.

There are more than a dozen bands on the lineup including the nationally known and Grammy-nominated Audie Blaylock and the Redline. The band is known as a festival favorite by fans and helps to draw music lovers from across state lines to Niles. Michiana musician Savannah Whitaker will also play, alongside bands Deadwood, Dry Flood and many others.

While it will bring people together to enjoy music, Martin said the goal of the festival has also been to provide a family-friendly atmosphere that people of all ages can enjoy. 

“You’ve got the music on one side and the family-fun zone and kid area on the other,” Martin said. “If we can make more memories and have more bonding … to me that is what it is about.”

This year’s festival also kicks off the Summer Concert Series in the Park, which will take place Thursdays in Riverfront Park through Aug. 31, bringing bands across Berrien and Cass counties to perform.

A portion of proceeds from the carnival wristbands go to a cause of the Riverfront Optimist Club of Niles’ choosing. This year, the funds raised will go to the Michiana Youth Robotics to help fund competition travel.

Martin encouraged anyone interested in volunteering at the festival to contact Teresa at (574) 707-5163.

Additionally, discounts for carnival wristbands for local middle school children are available at bajamusements.com. Coupons must be printed off and brought to the festival to be utilized. The coupons can also be picked up at the Niles District Library and the Cass District Library.

Martin said he hopes the festival showcases local talent and the Niles community.

“This town is not beaten down — it’s not a shutter town,” Martin said. “It’s an active community. Why not give everybody an opportunity to come down here and see what we have to offer?”

For more information: nilesbluegrass.com.

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