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WARMfest Brings Music, Art and Life to the Waterfront



During the early 1900s, Broad Ripple was a popular resort town for many Indianapolis residents who wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of "big city" life.

There they built summer homes and spent most of their time along the waterways of the White River. Soon, bathing houses started popping up on the river banks and recreational activities -- from boat clubs to steamboats featuring live music, dancing and daylong trips on the river -- began to attract throngs of visitors for the day.

White City Bathing Beach in Broad Ripple.
  • White City Bathing Beach in Broad Ripple.

The height of that era was the opening of White City Amusement Park in 1906. The park featured rides, including a roller coaster, a carousel, a bathing beach, a four-acre swimming pool and a dance hall, as well as other attractions, which some say rivaled New York's Coney Island or the World's Fair in Chicago.

However, by the mid-1900s, White City Amusement Park was dismantled and developed into a city park (known today as Broad Ripple Park) to better fit with the growing development of residential neighborhoods in Broad Ripple at that time. The City of Indianapolis acquired the park in 1946, according to Indy Parks history.

Broad Ripple remains a popular destination. These days, the area attracts foodies, music- and art-lovers, fitness enthusiasts, outdoorsmen and throngs of twenty-somethings in search of a fun night on the town. And automobiles -- not the streetcars of yesteryear -- dot the city streets.

Although still a thriving village, there are a few residents who long for those years of grandeur, when Hoosiers spent more time on the White River than in those newfangled automobiles. When canoeing, kayaking, fishing and sunbathing along the banks of the White River were the norm.

Steam boats were a popular form of transportation along the White River in Broad Ripple in the early 1900s.
  • Steam boats were a popular form of transportation along the White River in Broad Ripple in the early 1900s.

These residents aren't just wishing for something to happen, they're making it a reality.

On Labor Day Weekend, members of the Carl G. Fisher Society, a non-profit whose goal is to restore the waterfront in Broad Ripple, and several of the city's key cultural groups, will present the White River Arts & Music Fest -- or WARMfest -- in Broad Ripple Park.

The inaugural three-day event merges the Broad Ripple Music Festival, the Indie Arts & Vintage Marketplace with live theater performances, carnival-style games and environmental stewardship.

Proceeds from the festival will go to the society, which is working to restore 4.15 miles of the White River -- from the Broad Ripple Dam (adjacent to the head gates of the canal at Westfield Boulevard and East 65th Street) to the top of the Broad Ripple Pool at Union Chapel Road -- to resemble its glory days.

"I had a vision to raise awareness of the White River as a recreational resource," says Dan Ripley, executive director of the Carl G. Fisher Society, named for the Indiana native who later became a pioneer and promoter of several industries (including auto racing, automotive and real estate development).

"The shoreline used to be popular, with bathing houses, beaches and amusement parks, before World War II. My ultimate vision is reconnecting Broad Ripple as a village to this waterway through boardwalks and docks to enter the village by boat, and reconnecting Broad Ripple Park back to the water. To cut down on the reliance of cars to enter the village and to use the waterways."

Ripley, himself, is surrounded by water.

Dan Ripley stands beside a painting of the Broad Ripple Dam done in 1927 by George J. Mess.
  • Dan Ripley stands beside a painting of the Broad Ripple Dam done in 1927 by George J. Mess.

At work, his large, second-floor office window provides a scenic view of the Broad Ripple dam and oxbow along the White River.

From that vantage point, he has a front row seat to the work currently being done to restore the dam's skirts, which have eroded over time, and often watches as local fisherman wait patiently in boats for the catch of the day.

His connection to Central Indiana's waterways, however, doesn't end when he leaves his office at Antique Helper, a local boutique auction gallery he founded and runs.

Ripley's love of water continues when he goes home. His house, near the Fashion Mall, backs up to the White River and includes a boat dock that he uses almost daily to enjoy recreational sports along the river.

"I've created a lifestyle for myself, and I am on the water year-round," says Ripley.

Yet Ripley understood that if he wanted people to support the society's mission of restoring a portion of the White River into usable, fun recreational space, he had to do more than create an event that focused on conservation and environmentalism.

Although both are popular topics these days, Ripley had to find a way to attract a larger, more diverse audience. So he reached out to a few friends -- Indy Parks Department, and organizers of both the Broad Ripple Music Festival and the Indie Arts & Vintage Marketplace.

Red Wanting Blue will perform at WARMfest.
  • Red Wanting Blue will perform at WARMfest.

WARMfest will feature live music on multiple stages, vintage and antique vendors, as well as theater events and games. The Sapphire Theatre Company will present larger-than-life entertainers who will roam the festival, including two turn-of-the-century stilted characters, and Carl G. Fisher riding on his velocipede. Sapphire will also create retro-boardwalk stage designs and interactive side show banners, as well as carnival-style games to promote recycling.

The White Rabbit Cabaret's Bingo Bango Show will give festival-goers an opportunity to win a variety of prizes during the interactive Bingo game. And Indianapolis-based collective Know No Stranger will present its musical Reconnecting Our Waterways, along with a preview of its fifth annual variety show Optical Popsicle! which debuts in October at the Athenaeum.

There will also be a reconstructed midway.

"We're creating everything that recreates the nostalgia of what the park and area used to be," says Ripley, who contends that getting people and organizations to partner with WARMfest was easier than he had initially expected.

Jack Shepler, director of the Broad Ripple Music Festival, jumped at the chance to be part of WARMfest.

"Initially, (Dan) and I were planning two separate events and realized that we shared the same vision of improving Broad Ripple, improving local art and local business," says Shepler. "And, I was really excited about presenting the Broad Ripple Music Festival in the park."

For the past six years, Broad Ripple Music Festival has taken over bars, clubs and record stores in the village, along with two outdoor venues at Kilroy's and Conner's Pub.

During WARMfest, the 7th annual BRMF will take on a whole new look and feel.

More than 100 bands -- local, regional and national -- will fill Broad Ripple Park with an eclectic mix of sounds on five stages, including a DJ tent.

Delta Spirit will be playing as part of the Broad Ripple Music Fest.
  • Delta Spirit will be playing as part of the Broad Ripple Music Fest.

Some have questioned whether BRMF is partnering with WARMfest because of poor attendance in year's past. But Shepler scoffs at that notion. He says that over the past few years, Broad Ripple Music Festival's audience numbers have grown, not dwindled.

If anything, Shepler believes the mix WARMfest organizers are expecting to attract through live music, the Indie Arts & Vintage Marketplace, live theater performances, and environmental issues and opportunities can only improve awareness for all of the groups and organizations involved.

Jon Jenkins, who runs the monthly Indie Arts & Vintage Marketplace is excited about the opportunities he believes partnering with WARMfest will provide for his regular vendors.

Since June 2012, the marketplace has featured vendors offering one-of-a-kind, re- or up-cycled, locally sourced vintage and antique items. Jenkins says vendors have been asking to increase the marketplace from one day a month to multiple days.

"Fifty percent of our vendors trail in for the shows," says Jenkins. "A lot of work goes into doing a one-day show. They wanted multi-day, and if we were going to do that we needed to do something special."

WARMfest is that "something special."

In addition to increasing the vintage marketplace to multiple days for WARMfest, the once-a-month event will also move from its usual spot behind Glendale Mall to Broad Ripple Park for the inaugural festival and present vendors during all three days. As a convenience, shuttle service to and from Glendale to Broad Ripple Park will be available for festival-goers.

Broad Ripple Park was a popular destination in the early 1900s along the waterways. The park include boating docks, bathing houses and a roller coaster.
  • Broad Ripple Park was a popular destination in the early 1900s along the waterways. The park include boating docks, bathing houses and a roller coaster.

For some, the thought of mixing environmental issues with an antique and vintage marketplace crowd and a music festival audience might sound like an odd mix. But Jenkins, Shelper and Ripley believe the crowds will offer just the right demographic mix for all three entities.

"Combining the audiences seems like oil and water, but I think it helps in the setting," says Ripley.

WARMfest is also expected to attract people of different ages. "It kind of brings a lot of cultural things together," says Shepler.

Maureen Faul, senior manager of communications and public information officer with Indy Parks, says the idea of stewardship and investing in park spaces and the waterfront, are just a few the reasons why Indy Parks is partnering with WARMfest.

According to Faul, Indy Parks works to bring in new kids of events and new audiences for its entertainment series to make local parks more relevant to residents. WARMfest accomplishes that mission and more.

"New events like this, we hope, will bring an awareness to the community about parks, their lives and their neighborhood," says Faul. "WARMfest and events that we are trying to host are always in an effort to keep reinvesting in our parks, thus reinvesting in our neighborhoods and our communities as a whole."

Faul says in the past 20 years, local parks were used more passively. "Now, we're seeing a trend where more people are seeking parks out as destinations for broader use and for lots of different entertainment."

Canoeing along the White River was a favorite past time in Broad Ripple.
  • Canoeing along the White River was a favorite past time in Broad Ripple.

Entertainment like WARMfest, which Faul believes will attract a large audience during its three-day run in part because of the easy accessibility to Broad Ripple Park -- from the Monon to 52nd Street and the connectivity of the bike lanes, as well as shuttle bus service to and from Broad Ripple Park and Glendale Mall.

"We see things coming full circle for Broad Ripple Park, and it getting back to the destination that it once was ... where people come to the park for many forms of entertainment," says Faul.

For Ripley, WARMfest is the vehicle that combines his love of music and arts, and a lifelong love of the water. One that hopefully restores the waterways along the White Ripple in Broad Ripple to its glory days.

"It's about environmental stewardship," says Ripley.

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