RUSSIAVILLE – The Russiaville Summer Fest has been permanently canceled after the carnival hired for the event pulled out in December and no other carnival would agree to come to the festival.
Rhiannon Thompson, chairperson of the Russiaville Twisters, which organizes the event, said the carnival informed her in early December by text that it had acquired the accounts of another small carnival that had closed.
Those accounts included a large festival the same weekend of the Summer Fest, so the carnival informed Thompson they were going to the larger festival because it was more lucrative.
“We’re the little guy,” she said. “We’re at the bottom of the totem pole, and we can’t compete.”
Thompson said the Twisters spent two months calling more than 30 carnivals in four states to find a replacement for the festival, which is held the weekend after Memorial Day, but none would agree to come.
That led the group last month to unanimously vote to disband the festival after nine years as a successful and popular Russiaville event that also included a parade and car show.
“We had multiple people working on this, but when it comes down to it, you can’t have a carnival without a festival, and you can’t have a festival without a carnival,” Thompson said. “For our small town, it does not work.”
She said other festivals that focus on a niche attraction, such as crafts or food, might have a chance at surviving without a carnival, but Russiaville’s event was organized around the rides and games the carnival provided.
“The festival itself was doing great, and we felt like if we changed it this year and did just crafts or something else, we wouldn’t have been able to generate the funds needed to sustain the festival,” Thompson said.
Switching the weekend of the event also wasn’t an option, she said, because the food vendors that attend are booked every weekend for up to five years.
Thompson said in the end, the only feasible option was to call off the festival.
“It was one of the hardest decisions our directors have ever had to make,” she said. “Honestly, it made me physically sick. Canceling this was never really an option until the weekend we came to the final conclusion … We fought until we could fight no more.”
Now, the Twisters are turning their sights to beefing up the town’s Winter Fest. The event is being organized for the fifth year, and in that time has grown into a popular festival, Thompson said.
Last year, the group dressed up horses to look like reindeer. This year, they are discussing potentially adding food and craft vendors and organizing a town-wide outdoor Christmas decorating contest.
The festival this year will be held Dec. 5 at the Jeff Stout Community Center.
Thompson said the Twisters will also continue to organize the Gene Parks 5K and Fun Run, which is a major fundraiser for Winter Fest, as well as the group’s Carl Koontz Community Scholarship, which goes to a senior at Western High School. The race this year is being held May 30.
She said people can stay up to date on times and details about the Winter Fest and the 5K run by following the Russiaville Summer Fest Facebook page, which will soon be renamed, but continue to post about Twister events or activities.