Stomping-Good Fun At The First Annual Warmfest

Two days at Broad Ripple Park and our feet were brown with dust, dinged from the moshing of crowds on the field in front of the River Stage. It's true my young daughters and I chose to wear flip flops - all the better for removing quickly when the mood struck, sending us into a leaping revelry as the dread-locked Michael Franti wove through the throngs, tattooed arm held high in his trademark "we the people" stance. Children on shoulders, including mine, bobbed up and down in the strobe-lit evening, pink beach balls bouncing into the night air like popcorn; this, the final act of the first annual WARMfest.

If there was a highlight to the two days we spent there, this was it: Franti's performance on Labor Day night, drawing a diverse mixture of retirees, babes in arms, and all variations in between. If there was a downside, it was the smoke: cigarette, cigar, who knows what else - that seemed to form a pall over the exuberant crowd.

We waved it away like gnats, or tried to; deciding that a relatively brief sting to our lungs under the cloud of second-hand smoke was an acceptable sacrifice so that we could all commune with Franti and his unabashedly inclusive outlook. And I don't use the word "commune" lightly.

If there's a church I'd be willing to join, it is this one (sans smoke): Franti's message of compassion and the brotherhood and sisterhood of love seemed to come from the heart. We were told to turn to a complete stranger and give them a hug, so we did: whether we were drunk or not (we weren't). I thought of my older daughter, away at college - and immediately texted a photo. Even she would not be left out.

As a testament to Franti's loving charisma, earlier big-name acts made cameos: G. Love (front man for G. Love and Special Sauce), who had finished out his own electrified performance earlier that evening (albeit without the family-friendly lyrics), offered up some riffs on his harmonica. And as the concert wound down, Todd Park Mohr (whose Big Head Todd and the Monsters headlined the Sunday night round-up) showed up to wax on his guitar - monkey grin sending the crowd into an uproar.

But it wasn't just Michael Franti and Spearhead that sent us home elated, and past our bedtime (it was a school night for my 1st and 4th grader), there was so much more that my kids, spouse and I will remember from this weekend: including visits with the actors from Sapphire Theatre Company, the male and female "spirits of the White River" wearing shimmering Smurf blue costumes, one resembling a tiered cake, elevated above the crowds on stilts.

The message of river responsibility may have been lost on many, but I hope it wasn't lost on those who did take the time to talk with the spirits, or otherwise learn more about the river - and what can (and should) be done to both honor and sustain it. That, after all, is the point of WARMfest.

To that end, the spirit of Carl Fisher (from the same theater group) could be seen throughout the park, in period costume, or at least a theatrical variation of it - complete with skimmer straw hat - pedaling about on his antique high wheeler bicycle and stopping to elucidate Fisher's role as the visionary for the park's attractions that once graced the riverfront, among other legacies.

Did I mention the food trucks? Not even Carl Fisher's ghost could keep my youngest from tugging at my arm incessantly - "let's go to the trucks, Mom!" - for handcrafted strawberry lemonade popsicles, be-sprinkled cupcakes, Bavarian pretzels, old-fashioned French fries and mango smoothies; and these were just the kid-friendly options.

As one might expect, the kids at first gravitated to the part of the park most familiar and beloved to them, the play structures and swings, but were quickly lured by the hand-made and vintage goods at the Indie Arts and Vintage Marketplace. We made sure to take them across the park to the riverbank, only recently affording a view of the White River with the clearing of invasive honeysuckle. While the Wapahani riverboat music sessions were sold out by the time we figured out how to get tickets, we could still hear the splash of the paddle wheel and the twang of the guitars from onshore.

Like the ghost of river revelry from bygone days, if you just closed your eyes, you were there: living the river rat life through the consciousness of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, poling the muddy bottom as the herons swooped and the fish splashed, and the partiers carried on in the big boats.

As Franti re-appeared for his encore, performing the song that put him on the map for music lovers of all stripes - "Say Hey (I Love You)" - he invited children to join him onstage. Immediately I pulled my two girls up through the crowd, adults parting to let us through - only to be blocked in front of the stage by a security guard. The stage was full; they would allow no more.

We left the park with one of our children in tears, our feet bruised.

Was it worth it? Even my most disappointed daughter said yes - she'd do it all again. In a heartbeat.


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