It's not autumn until you indulge at Fort Ligonier Days
Fort Ligonier Days annual festival invites people to enjoy a long weekend in the Laurel Highlands, often when the autumn foliage is ablaze, and even step back in time with living history demonstrations.
Throughout the downtown area, the weekend of Oct. 13-15 will feature 200-plus vendor booths, wine tasting, sidewalk sales and fireworks.
This year marks the 58th festival commemorating the Battle of Fort Ligonier, a key engagement of the French and Indian War fought on Oct. 12, 1758.
"Celebrating Our Past, Building Our Future" is the theme for this year's festival, which annually attracts about 100,000 visitors.
Several craft vendors return year after year, some for decades, including leather craftsmen Maureen and Fred Light of Lebanon, Pa., and Jan and Jack Housman of Claysburg; Roger Young Pottery of Lavale, Md.; and Steve and Chris Koladish of Brookvale, who sell handwoven baskets and seasonal decor.
New crafters listed in a festival release include Peachie Originals, a scroll saw art puzzles business owned by Tony and June Burns from Fedonia, N.Y., Jim Douglas of Huckle Bee Farms of North Irwin, selling a variety of honeys infused with different fruits and vegetables to add natural organic flavors; and Irwin photographer Rob McLaughlin, selling vistas from his regular excursions to Italy.
Festival food fare ranges from hand-held favorites like pizza and funnel cake to full meals and special menus, like several Ligonier churches and restaurants are offering.
Fort Ligonier Days is just around the corner! Check out all the details on festival!- https://t.co/q5GpDWNWzw— Visit Ligonier (@VisitLigonier) September 27, 2017
Susan Grunstra is executive director of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce, which works with the Fort Ligonier Days Committee to offer festival support year-round.
Noting the three-day event gives visitors plenty of time to browse, she nonetheless offers a few suggestions from her own "don't miss" list.
"My personal favorite is to get a gyro from the Antiochian Village (booth). ... The other thing is Chestnut Ridge Lions' Club's apple dumplings. That's definitely a 'don't miss,'" Grunstra says.
"And Sand Hill Berries. Dessert is a big thing," she says.
"For this year's entertainment, we've got a lot of great folks. This is the third year in a row Jeff Jimerson and Airborne have played at Fort Ligonier Days. We are really excited to have them here for Saturday night's (street dance)," Grunstra says.
Jimerson is well-known for singing the national anthem at most Pittsburgh Penguins games.
He also serves as the Oct. 14 parade's grand marshal, where the line-up includes high school bands, the Pittsburgh Steelers Drum Line, the Kosmix Polka Band, Seton Hill Pipe Band, Wells Fargo Stagecoach, and Giant Eagle's "Shopper Chopper," a huge, motorized grocery cart.
Musical entertainment throughout the weekend includes country and Southern rock from Renegade Ridge, Saddle Up, Jim Harrison, with his Elvis Tribute; Tres Lads, classic rock; reggae group Dub Squad, Cahal Dunne, The Phisbins and Flood City Brass.
"Obviously, if you are here (Oct. 14-15), you definitely need to catch a re-enactment at the fort," Grunstra says.
Fort Ligonier comes alive during this festival, with colorful flags and uniforms, daily camp life, living-history demonstrations and artillery demonstrations. Visitors can interact with costumed interpreters who will represent the different perspectives of the French and Indian War. (Regular admission fees apply.)
"I have to put a plug in for the (Oct. 15) 5K race. With the new (since last year) course that runs through town, it's a perfect time of the morning to experience Ligonier. It's cool, it's quiet. You see all the small shops and everything before they wake up," Grunstra says.
"If you are not a racer, you can grab breakfast someplace and stand along the race course and cheer on the ones who are out there," she says.
Fort Ligonier Days Committee chair Jack McDowell recommends staying for the fireworks on Oct. 14, following the street dance.
"They are awesome," he says.
He salutes the 30-plus sponsors as "critical" for an event that is "becoming a very, very expensive endeavor," as well as the more than 100 volunteers who serve on nearly 30 committees.
"That's where the magic happens," McDowell says.
McDowell reminds visitors a Fort Ligonier Days app is available through iTunes or Google Play.
"Bring your smart phone with the app and you will have the whole festival at your fingertips," he says.
"Probably the best thing about Fort Ligonier Days is that it is an annual gathering for family and friends. It's a holiday for Ligonierians," McDowell says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.