This weekend is the busiest weekend of the year for Carmen Ottinger. The Lebanon seamstress has invested 25 years of her life to give back to her community. Over that time, she and her committee have grown the Back to the Fifties Festival from a small downtown affair to one of the largest events of the year at the Boone County Fairgrounds.

Back to the Fifties started as a small event called “Saturday on the Square” 25 years ago. It was designed to showcase area crafters and artists. Ottinger added a small car show with only 12 entries the first year. Now more than 300 classic cars participate in the annual Friday night Cruise-In.

Twenty-Five years ago, it was a one day event. Then they added the Friday night dance and that’s when things really began to grow. Now, Ottinger estimates that 3,000 to 5,000 people visit every year.

“We were downtown for 23 years,” Ottinger said. “But when you bring in custom cars and you don’t have room for 300 custom cars ... .”

What most festival goers don’t realize is that the money raised is used to give grants to county schools. Ottinger said the festival committee awards grants to art and music teachers.

“It can be microphones,” Ottinger said. “It can be music. It can be costuming and things like that. So they write a grant. We try to do one (grant) in each building.”

After 25 years, some events at the festival are a tradition, but Ottinger said there are some new things this year, too.

Visitors will see that the entertainment will be under a tent this year. That may help people deal with the weather, Ottinger said.

The highlights this year include bands all day Saturday, Sept. 14, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Roy E. Reynolds brings his rendition of Elvis back at 3:15 p.m. for the 23rd year. The Wright Brothers will cap off the year with a Saturday concert at 6 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 13, is reserved for the flashback to the '50s, complete with a dance and the cruise-in. The Tune-O-Matics will play again this year. There will be a new costume contest for the best poodle skirts and senior cords, Ottinger said. In addition will be the staple Hula Hoop and Twist contests and the Beach Ball Toss.

“The band plays some Beach Boys’ songs and they do a beach ball toss,” Ottinger said. “When the songs are all done, if you’ve got one in your hand, it’s yours.”

There will be strolling minstrels with the Circle City Sidewalk Stompers new this year. There will also be several remote-controlled car club events including a demolition derby.

As always, the art and photography show and sale will be at the festival. Plus, the Lafayette Colombian Park Zoo at 1 p.m. Saturday, the Hoosier Antique and Classic Bicycle show, inflatables and the Coneys are all back for the annual event.

There are new, 25th anniversary T-shirts for sale too.

Also, the Greater Lafayette Kennel Club Indiana Summer Cluster Dog Show will be at the fairgrounds this weekend too, so festival goers can stop by and see a dog show as well.

If you go:

The Back to the Fifties Festival starts at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, with the new costume contest. The dance begins at 7 p.m. The festival ends at 10 p.m.

It opens back up at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, and then wraps up with the Wright Brothers in concert from 6-9 p.m.

All this is free at the Boone County Fairgrounds, 1300 County Road 100 South, Lebanon.

For more information, visit the website at or visit the Facebook page.

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