How to Fall Fest

It’s here: possibly the greatest weekend of the year in Door County (unless you’re curmudgeon Steve Grutzmacher). Fall Fest may no longer be the last gasp of the busy season, but it’s still the granddaddy of Door County festivals, and it’s no time for training wheels. 

Let’s start with a few key times. First, this party doesn’t wait for Saturday anymore. If you hate crowds, you can get a taste of Fall Fest on Friday afternoon without the elbows. The Lions Club car show opens at 9 am Friday; many food stands are open by noon; and the first band plays at 12:30 pm.

When you stumble home Friday, set your Saturday bloody mary alarm early because the parade begins at 11 am, and you’ll need time to walk from your parking spot if you don’t catch a shuttle. Kids’ games start even earlier, with inflatables and bungee jumping by the village hall at 9 am. 

The Badgers kick off at 11 am Saturday, and the Illini should be waving the white flag beneath a half dozen Jonathan Taylor touchdowns about 10 minutes later, so we can all get back to the street. 

On Sunday, the Packers take on the Raiders at noon. The ping-pong ball drop takes place at 2 pm, so you might have to miss Aaron Rodgers complete a few passes to receivers you’ve never heard of before getting back to screens all over town for the fourth quarter. The Bears kick off at 3:30 pm against the Saints, which couldn’t possibly lead to any fan-versus-bartender confrontations that would sully the end of the festival weekend.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are seven tips for the Fall Fest novice:

Fast. If you’re reading this on Friday or Saturday, it’s too late for you. Move on. But if you’re catching this on Wednesday, here’s my advice: A big appetite is crucial to a great Fall Fest. Fast – or at least eat lightly (no more than one order of curds per day, and small tubs of Merkts only) – during the days leading up to the weekend to save room for six-packs of brats, a cup (or five) of pumpkin pie, poutine, tenderloin sliders, lobster rolls and Go Bo! cookies. 

Tip, smile, thank, repeat. I spent my first 10 Fall Fests behind the bar, over the stove and mopping up messes. It was always fun, but always exhausting. During the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend Fall Fest as a reveler, but for hundreds of restaurant workers, shopkeepers and housekeepers, these are the busiest days of the year, and they fall at the end of a long, long season. When you’re having fun, be kind and generous to those slinging your drinks, frying your brats and cleaning up after you all weekend. 

Take your dancing shoes. You want live music? You’ll get all the music you can handle, with at least 16 different acts playing 21 different sets throughout the village Friday through Sunday. See the full slate in this week’s Fall Fest insert. 

Don’t fear Mother Nature. Sister Bay businesses have become experts at weatherproofing the weekend, with massive tents at Husby’s and Stabbur and plenty of smaller tented areas throughout the village.

Check the maps. The arts-and-crafts fair has moved. The 75-plus-artisan fair is still on Mill Road, but it has relocated to the west side of Highway 42 in front of Waterfront Park, next to the Lions Club car show. The change came so firefighters and first responders have faster, safer access to the village and lodging on Mill Road. 

Take the kids! Fall Fest organizers have added more games, activities and even a kids’ ping-pong ball drop in the center of town to give families more to enjoy. 

Take the shuttles, hire a driver, get an Uber or walk! Whatever you do this weekend, do it safely. The Sister Bay Advancement Association will be running shuttles all weekend (see this week’s insert for schedules and maps), and the Baileys Harbor Community Association has stepped up to sponsor a shuttle to get revelers to and from Baileys Harbor. Uber and Lyft do have a couple of drivers in the area, so if you don’t mind a little wait, you can catch a cab. Don’t risk your life or the lives of others by making a stupid decision this weekend.