MARIA STEIN — The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus “Greatest Show on Earth” may have played its final performance last month, but perhaps that makes room for Nojoe’s Circus to climb higher in the big top June 23-25 at the Maria Stein Country Fest.
The traveling 3-ring circus is a highlight of free public attractions as the village of 3,100 swells to 25,000 people a day visiting the annual three-day festival. Nojoe’s bills itself as “America’s most loved family circus” with its array of clowns, acrobats and daredevils, both airborne and earth-bound.
Another crowd pleaser should be Jurassic Kingdom, which gives a close-up view of dinosaurs and prehistoric life — including a 14-foot walking, growling Tyrannosaurus Rex that doesn’t bite. Rather, it poses for photos with audience members.
“Everything is free, except for food and amusement rides,” said Don Huelskamp, in his 14th year as festival spokesman.
He explained that there used to be three community picnics in Maria Stein, hosted by the Knights of St. John Hall, American Legion and Sisters of the Precious Blood, but 30 years ago they combined into one three-day village festival on the grounds next to the Shrine of the Holy Relics.
Huelskamp said, “The three hosts split the proceeds of the festival and give back to the community in scholarships and other project funding.”
“Famous” and “fantastic” are words Huelskamp uses to describe food offerings that have been carried over from separate picnic days, such as the Knights’ fried chicken and the Legion’s turtle soup. Other food fare ranges from pizza and cabbage rolls to strawberry shortcake.
Making return entertainment engagements are two tractor-related events. The Country Fest Tractor Square Dancers will make five appearances in three days. Eight men (half of them made up as women) maneuver their 2-ton machines in wheeled do-si-dos and promenades among otherwise traditional square dance steps. Also on schedule are three classes of tractor pulls — garden, antique and stock — plus a cruise-in car show.
Also returning, for perhaps the 25th time, is the Kuenning family chainsaw wood carvers from New Bremen. After three daily performance, their carving artistry will be auctioned Sunday night.
Local visitors can take part in competition events by registering for a mini-Indy big wheel race, diaper derby, punt-pass-kick quarterback challenge and 5-kilometer run-walk. They also can form teams for tournaments in dodgeball, volleyball, corn hole and 3-on-3 basketball.
More experienced competitors will be racing go-karts while the Cincinnati Strolling Entertainment troupe meanders through the grounds in their costumes to lend character to the festivities.
Huelskamp said 40 to 50 local and visiting artists rent booths at a craft fair to be held all three days. Meanwhile, the air will be filled with music from DJ Pac-Man and local bands Shucking Bubba Deluxe, The Bulldogs 50’s & 60’s Band, Kyle Koesters, Kevin and the Others, Mic Stan Band, Free Lance and Saw Creek. “The bands are all local but they’re really good — especially Shucking Bubba,” said Huelskamp.
Additionally, the Ranly Brothers will provide music for a folk mass at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Carnival amusement rides and a free petting zoo are favorites among the festival attractions. “We plan year-round to make the festival a success,” Huelskamp said. “We try to have something different each year.”
For detailed information and registration guidelines, log onto www.mscountryfest.com. The website has links to Nojoe’s Circus, Jurassic Kingdom and daily schedules.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.