Franklin Main Street Festival Celebrates Heritage Foundation’s 50th Year

(Photo: Ace’s Kettle Corn Facebook page)

Think kettle corn, cake walks and popular carnival games from decades ago.

That’s just a sample of what you can expect at this year’s Franklin Main Street Festival.

Now in its 34th year, the event, organized by the Heritage Foundation, will feature vendors selling tasty treats and artisan wares, with no shortage of live music and entertainment throughout the two-day festival on April 29 and 30.

Here are some things to know about the festival, food options to consider and fun activities for the kids.

Kicking it old school

This year, Third Avenue North will be transformed into a free, all-access vintage carnival kids’ area. And it’s going to look the part, said Teryl O’Connor, street festival manager for the Heritage Foundation.

Classic red and white tents will house old-school carnival games and food, O’Connor said.

“It’s different this year, there’s not a bunch of inflatables like last year,” O’Connor said. “There’s nothing electronic. (We’re) taking it back to the vintage-style carnival games we used to play when we were little kids.”

The area will also feature cakewalks, pony rides and a petting zoo.

Sweet seeds

Of the roughly 50 events Ace Wilson travels to each year to sell his one-of-a-kind kettle corn, the Main Street Festival is one of the most successful, he said.

Wilson, who’s been in the kettle corn business since 2003, runs a Bethesda, Tenn., farm that’s been in his family since the turn of the 20th century

Like any good entrepreneur, he won’t share his secret recipe, but it’s been a hit at the festival over the past several years.

“It took us several years to figure out how to be consistent, especially teaching my older boys how to pop it, and the amount of ingredients you put in,” Wilson said.

“The classic line we get at every festival is, ‘I don’t like kettle corn, but I like yours,'” Wilson said.

The company, Ace’s Kettle Corn, is a family affair. Wilson’s wife and four kids help out at the fairs and festivals he travels to throughout the year.

The Memphis native said he used to visit family in Williamson County as a child. Over a decade ago, he decided he wanted to be a part of it.

“Downtown Franklin and Middle Tennessee (are) growing so quickly, but it’s kind of in my roots. I’d come here and saw how Franklin has grown and changed, (so) I moved my family here,” Wilson said.

He considered his options, and noticed at another festival one day that the longest line was people waiting for kettle corn.

“I decided I could afford this kettle to get started, and the rest is history,” he said.

Bratwurst and beer
The 65-foot long Big Taste Grill will feature Johnsonville sausages at the Franklin Main Street Festival on April 29 and 30.

The Johnsonville Big Taste Grill — a 65-foot-long, 53,000-pound grilling behemoth — made its debut at the Main Street Festival in 2013 and is back at this year’s festival.

The gargantuan grill can cook up to 750 brats at a time and sits on the back of a semi truck, with a separate serving trailer that travels with it eight months of the year, said grillmaster Suzy Shelstad.

“Everywhere we go, the most famous question is, ‘Is this really a grill?'” Shelstad said.

Created by Johnsonville Sausage, LLC, in 1995, the Big Taste Grill travels to roughly 120 fairs, festivals and other events each year selling its signature natural casing bratwurst.

The company donates part of the proceeds to local charities, and has raised over $4 million across the U.S..

Bratwurst can be purchased at the Main Street Festival for $3 each, with $1 from each sale being donated to the Heritage Foundation

The Big Taste Grill will be set up next to the beer tent near Fourth Avenue South. Franklin-based Mantra Artisan Ales will be offering a beer and wine selection.

If bratwurst isn’t your first choice, more than two dozen other food vendors will offer options for festival-goers, including corn roast, barbecue, burgers and hot dogs, Greek and Mexican cuisine, funnel cakes, Italian ice and old fashioned sodas.

Three food courts will be open during the festival at Third Avenue South, Fourth Avenue South and Main Street at the corner of First Avenue.

Foundation’s 50th anniversary

Of the eight series and festivals the Heritage Foundation hosts each year, Main Street is the largest, said Julian Bibb, the foundation’s board president.

The two-day event attracts up to 120,000 people, with a $2.6 million economic impact on Franklin and Williamson County, O’Connor said. Money raised supports the foundation’s mission of “saving the places that matter.”

And there’s another reason to celebrate this year: It’s the 50th anniversary of the Heritage Foundation, which held its first organization meeting March 7, 1967, according to its website.

“The festival grew out of efforts to promote Main Street in Franklin,” Bibb said.

As the city’s main thoroughfare changed through putting utilities underground, planting urban trees and saving historic buildings, the foundation began the festival in the early 1980s.

The turnout has grown significantly over the past few years and doesn’t just attract locals, Bibb said.

“For some people, it’s become a mainstay of their travel plans. We have a group of folks from out of state who travel to Franklin every year for this festival,” he said.

Reach Elaina Sauber at esauber@tennessean.com or 615-571-1172 and on Twitter @elainasauber.

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