Niles Bluegrass Festival to return to Riverfront Park

Published 9:52 am Friday, May 17, 2019

NILES — A four-day festival jam-packed with music, carnival rides and entertainment will return to Niles for the 17th year.

The Niles Family Fun Fair and Music Festival will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, May 31, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 1 and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, June 2 at Riverfront Park. The Riverfront Optimist Club of Niles host the event. Admission is free and open to the public. Wristbands must be purchased for the carnival rides. Those proceeds are collected by the Optimist Club and used to support a youth or music cause.

Josh Sitarz, 17, the event coordinator for the festival, said there are traditions and new events on tap for this year’s festival.

Those who attend will be able to see some crowd favorites, including Audie Blaylock & the Redline — a bluegrass band.

While bluegrass and Americana music will still take center stage, Sitarz said festival organizers wanted to diversify the genre of music that people could hear. This year, festival goers can also hear pop, country and gospel bands. Among the bands taking the stage will be the Toona’s – a group of Brandywine school district musicians and Fillmore’s Ladder — a Grateful Dead tribute band, to name a few.

The festival will also feature a petting zoo, camel and pony rides and a host of activities. New this year, Sitarz said there will be a dunk tank where people can dunk a cop or firefighter. The festival will also get a visit from a Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator – a popular character from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

Sitarz is a Berrien Springs High School student and he grew up helping his father, TJ Martin at the festival every summer.

“I was considered the trash boy when I first started. I started going to all the meetings and taking notes and learning from [my dad],” Sitarz said.   

Martin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and Sitarz said Martin needed to focus on his health this festival season. Sitarz said Martin expects to be well enough to attend the festival and see Sitarz help carry on the legacy.

The festival has traditionally drawn local and national musicians alike to play on the amphitheater stage.

“It has really grown,” Sitarz said. “It started as just a small little concert that Tom Majerek started back in 2002.”

Sitarz said he looks forward to seeing the festival providing family fun to area residents.

“When I was younger I would go there and see everyone enjoying themselves and enjoy myself,” Sitarz said. “Hopefully, it can get better each year with a younger mind [helping out].”

With a variety of bands set to take the stage, carnival rides and family-friendly activities, Sitarz encouraged people to check out the festival.

To learn more about the festival and see a lineup of bands, which will be posted soon, people can visit the festival’s Facebook page.