Downtown keeps its cool during winter
Four years ago, a group of community-minded young leaders worked to come up with a new way to bring people together in the middle of winter. A way to beat the winter blahs and give people something to look forward to. A way to highlight local music and attract people to downtown. They wanted to replicate the fun that Fort Wayne experiences in the summer when crowds gather for events like GermanFest, GreekFest, and the Three Rivers Festival. As a result, Weather the Fort was born.
“Fort Wayne has so many great festivals, but there wasn’t a downtown winter festival,” said organizer John Felts. “Our group wanted to change that.”
Felts and five other members of Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana hosted the first Weather the Fort in February 2016, hoping to create a warm and memorable experience in spite of the cold. Mother Nature had different ideas.
“In the first year of the event, we were planning for 35 degrees and snow. Oddly enough, it turned out to be 70 degrees and sunny. It felt like a spring festival, which is great story to tell,” John laughed.
About 2,000 people showed up that first year to enjoy live music, ice carving demonstrations, fire dancing, interactive art, food and beer. Since then, Weather the Fort has grown in popularity and has become a way for people to not just tolerate the cold and snow but to celebrate and even embrace it.
“Our festival’s motto is come out for one day and enjoy the winter season in Fort Wayne,” Felts explained. “We understand people like to stay inside this time of year. But for one day, come out and celebrate the great city of Fort Wayne and our growing downtown with fun winter activities and entertainment.”
Tweaking the successful formula
This year’s Weather the Fort will be held on Saturday, Feb. 16, from 4 to 10 p.m. Organizers have made a few changes and are hoping for an even better turnout this year. They’re focusing some of their marketing efforts on millennials and empty nesters but say anyone 21 and older is more than welcome to attend. Generous sponsorships from local companies offset the costs, so admission is free.
“We surveyed several attendees and asked them what they’d like to see at future events,” Felts said. “We received tons of positive responses, but it was clear attendees wanted more outdoor activities.
“This year, we’re partnering with Pedal City, and they plan to host a Pedal City Activities Hub. We’ll have some fun outdoor games. We haven’t decided yet what games there will be, maybe cornhole or outdoor basketball, but something for everyone to enjoy.”
The ice carving demonstrations and fire dancing are back, as is the live music. Casual Friday will provide the entertainment this year.
“It’s exciting to be a part of the entertainment for such a unique event in our community,” said Casual Friday lead singer Jordan Applegate. “For years, people would say, ‘There is nothing to do in the winter in Fort Wayne.’ Weather the Fort is proof that if our city offers events, even in the winter, our community will embrace and support it.
“What’s even better is that the growth of our festivals in Fort Wayne over the years is providing opportunities for local artists to get more involved than they ever have.”
Moving To Berry at Barr
Weather the Fort has been held at Freimann Square each of the past three years but is being forced to move for 2019.
“Freimann Square is currently under construction right now, so Weather the Fort will be held in the Barrett McNagny parking lot, right across the street from Citizens Square,” Felts said. “The New Year’s Eve Ball Drop was held there a few years ago, and it treated them very well. We looked over the space and decided that it would be a great location for us, as well.”
Odds are good that it’ll be chilly and there could be snow on the ground, so organizers remind everyone to dress appropriately. Unless there’s an extreme weather emergency, Weather the Fort will go on as scheduled.
“We’re a dedicated group of volunteers putting this on for our community,” Felts said. “Some people think there’s not much to do in Fort Wayne in the winter and that’s just not true. We’re simply just adding to our city’s offerings.
“We want Weather the Fort to be a memorable experience for our residents and visitors. We hope it continues to grow for many years to come.”