HOPE — It seems fitting to open a story about one of the area’s largest festivals with a rather festive number: 25,000.
That’s the estimated attendance of last year’s Hope Heritage Days, the largest such number since the pandemic began in 2020, and a number nearly commiserate with the festival’s healthy — no pun intended — pre-pandemic numbers.
So, understandably, organizers optimism is as sky-high as Sunday’s pre-parade flyover that the free outdoor event that opens today and runs through Sunday along the town’s Main Street will draw a healthy throng once more.
This year’s theme is “All Roads Lead to Hope.”
“So far, all the indicators that we have seem to show us that the attendance will continue to grow,” said Jake Miller, president of the event’s board.
He mentioned that the number of food and arts, antiques and crafts vendors is up about 15 percent over last year — and probably at its highest level in the past decade. In fact, there are so many that side streets and overflow areas not needed before will be utilized to make room for everyone.
“We’re at maximum capacity,” Miller said.
The Hope native who loves his community as you might expect a local leader to do so figures small towns do festivals in a big way.
“This whole town comes together,” he said. “And having a three-day event like this in today’s world is very unique.
“I regularly tell people, ‘You’ve just got to come out and see it for yourself. There really is something for everybody — kids, young adults. older adults. And the icing on the cake is this: If you come down to the town square and can’t find something good to eat, then you must be blindfolded.
“And maybe the thing I’m proudest of about the food is that every vendor represents a local, nonprofit organization. We hold that pretty sacred in our bylaws.”
Even the nonprofits teaming with a restaurant to make preparation and logistics a little easier must agree that at least half of the profits will go to the nonprofit.
If he had to pick Heritage Days’ biggest draw besides the parade, Miller looks at the width and breadth of a schedule teeming with everything from gospel and pop-rock music to a pedal tractor pull to the pioneer village.
“I would have to say that it’s the overall variety,” Miller said. “Entertainment as a whole is always a big draw.”
Here are some schedule highlights taken from the event website at hopeheritagedays.org.
5 p.m.: Booths open.
6 p.m.: Vendor food and bazaar booths open.
6 to 8 p.m.: WYGS Gospel Sing featuring Ernie Haase and Signature Sound with comedian Mickey Bell, Hauser High School Gym, 9273 N State Road 9.
6 to 8 p.m.: Hotwired (Bandstand), town square.
8:30 to 10 p.m.: Wild Bill & The Bruisers (Bandstand), town square.
8 a.m.: Booths open, town square.
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Yellow Trail Pioneer Village, Jackson Street lot.
9 a.m.: Heritage Classic Cross Country Meet (on Jackson Street).
10 to 11 a.m.: Horseshoe tournament, $5 per player, behind old fire station.
10 a.m. to noon: Studebaker and classic car show, First Baptist Church lot.
Noon to 1:30 p.m.: Utopia Wildlife Rehabilitators presentation at the bandstand.
12:30 to 1:30 p.m.: Dr. Hope medicine show 0n Jackson Street.
12:30 to 2 p.m.: Kiddie pedal tractor pull sign-up on Jackson Street.
6 p.m.: Oddz R band on Jackson Street main stage.
7 p.m.: Jennifer Mlott on the bandstand.
8 p.m.: Elvis and Michael Jackson tribute bands on Jackson Street main stage.
9:30 to 10 p.m.: Fireworks, weather permitting.
Noon to 1:30 p.m.: Cottonpatch band at the bandstand.
1:45 to 2:15 p.m.: Circle City Stompers Clown Band
2:15 p.m.: Flyover, followed by parade.
2 to 3 p.m.: Kiddie pedal tractor pull heats on Jackson Street