Ever wished you could step inside your television and become a resident of the fictional town of Mayberry portrayed on the 1960s hit, The Andy Griffith Show?
That dream is actually more possible than you might think. During the third weekend in May every year, fans of the show or lovers of small-town Americana in general can descend on Danville, Ind., in Hendricks County to enjoy the honest-to-goodness, wholesome fun of the Mayberry in the Midwest festival.
Planned for May 20-21, 2017, this will mark the fourth year of the festival, which continues to evolve and add new surprises. As a staff member of Visit Hendricks County, lover of the TV show and festival attendee the first three years, I feel pretty qualified to provide some reasons why you should come see Barney, Aunt Bee, Opie and the rest of the gang.
- It's Free! - A few activities do require a paid ticket that I will describe in more detail later, but for the most part, all of the fuÂ that follows is free including parking.
Tribute Artists - I really believe the men and women who come from all across the country to bring the show's amazing characters back to life make this event special. Great actors portray Barney, Gomer, Floyd the barber, Ernest T. Bass, Goober, Aunt Bee, Otis and many others. Not only do these actors put on a great hour-long show on the festival's main stage each day, but they mingle with the crowd, keep up the show's hi-jinks on unsuspecting visitors and are generally intertwined with every aspect of the two-day festival. Make sure to get your picture taken with them and say, "Hey."
- Iconic Guests - In addition to the Tribute Artists, actual cast members from the show also attend the festival to meet with fans and sign autographs. This year's special guests include Maggie Peterson (who portrayed Charlene Darling on the show), Ronnie Schell and even Andy Griffith's real-life daughter, Dixie Griffith.
- Meet & Greet - If you really love the show and don't want to chance missing any of the Tribute Artists or special guests, I highly recommend one of the few ticketed events during the weekend. The VIP Meet & Greet provides an exclusive opportunity to talk, mingle and have dinner with those Mayberry dignitaries and is held the Friday night before the festival every year. This year it will begin at 6 p.m., May 19 at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds & Conference Complex in Danville. Tickets are $30 each and include dinner.
- Everybody Loves a Parade - And there isn't a parade around here quite like this one. Paying homage to the show, some of the regular parade entrees include the "Mayberry dignitaries" and fun surprises like a pack of Opies (Opie look-a-likes), old Mayberry squad cars and more. Who knows what this year might bring? A loaded goat perhaps or maybe a cow wearing shoes?
- Fun for Everyone - Taking its cues from the show which has a multi-generational following because of its longevity on TV, Mayberry in the Midwest has plenty to see and do for all ages from Opie's World for the kids to all of the shows, live entertainment and other wackiness for the adults.
- ProximityÂ - One little-noticed aspect of this festival centers on how much there is to do and how close everything is to the Hendricks County Courthouse Square in downtown Danville. The historic Royal Theater on the east side of the square will show episodes of The Andy Griffith Show on its big screen both days. Opie's World is just off the square on Jefferson Street. The Mayberry Cafe, which is how this festival originated, on the north side of the square will be open, but is usually packed that weekend (I recommend coming back to that destination restaurant some other weekend.) The Hendricks County Historical Museum just a block south of the square has plenty of activities both inside and out that you shouldn't miss. I could truly go on and on, but just know that once you are there, everything you would want to see or do is within walking distance.
- Live Entertainment - In addition to the Tribute Artist stage shows, a number of bands will perform on the main stage, on the south side of the square, all weekend long.
- Extras - Among the activities I haven't mentioned yet, two are ticketed events. Ronnie Schell will have two shows at the Royal Theater, one on each day. His Saturday night show is entitled "A Serious Evening of Hilarious Comedy," and then on Sunday afternoon he will present "My Life After Gomer" including exclusive outtakes from Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., which he co-starred in with Jim Nabors. Tickets cost $20 for the Saturday show and $15 for the Sunday performance. Other activities you should consider during the festival include the Squad Car Nationals on Saturday afternoon and the Celebrity Basketball Game on Saturday evening.
- Schedule - I highly recommend visiting the festival website to plan your weekend ahead of time. You can find the complete festival schedule on that website. Then, once you arrive, I would suggest stopping at the festival Welcome Center on Marion Street (south side of the square). The Welcome Center opens at 9 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
I hope to see you in Danville this year! As Barney Fife would say: "It's going to be big!"