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Sol Fest returns to celebrate summer

Sarah and her partner, Joshua Wiley, are excited to reunite Sol Fest bands, fans and supporters in support of Fox Island.
Courtesy/Sol Fest
Sarah and her partner, Joshua Wiley, are excited to reunite Sol Fest bands, fans and supporters in support of Fox Island.

After a three-year hiatus, Fort Wayne’s annual Sol Fest event to benefit Fox Island is back on the horizon and takes place this Sunday at a new venue, Parkview Field.

The festival, which was launched at Fox Island in 2000 to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Allen County Parks Department, has also served as the primary fund raiser for the park’s environmental education programs, including summer camps and field trip passes.

Despite rain cancellations, COVID restrictions, and fallen trees from severe storms earlier this year, supporters are eager to continue the tradition and help get the park back in business.

Julia Meek talks with festival organizer Sarah Loshe about the celebration’s place in the community, its challenges in recent years and the reasons for its revival.

Event Information:

Sol Fest 2022 @ Parkview Field, Fort Wayne
Sunday, August 14th
Noon to 10:00 p.m.
All Ages
$15.00 Admission
Age 10 & under Free

Find more information on the Sol Fest Facebook page.

Julia Meek: Sarah Loshe, welcome.

Sarah Loshe: Thank you.

Julia Meek: Now after a three-year hiatus, Fort Wayne's beloved Sol Fest is back on our summertime horizon. It's a grand revival and renovation that you do have underway. Would you share the major point, the core mission of this heliocentric celebration?

Sarah Loshe: Bringing together local bands and local vendors to share in community and raise money for local county parks. Fox Island is a gem.

Julia Meek: So this tradition to celebrate that County Park department's 35th anniversary as well as Fox Island's wonderful education programs, so it's always served that dual purpose, actually all began in 2000. That's more than 20 years of community connecting that you're talking about Sarah. What has COVID and then Mother Nature done to our Fox Island nature preserve--the park and everything that goes with it, and it's cause, and Sol Fest?

Sarah Loshe: Well, as far as I know, Sol Fest is the one big way for Fox Island to have money donated towards educational programs and such and they haven't been able to have it for three years. Two years it was rained out, one year it was COVID. And the original organizer now doesn't work with the parks anymore. So I thought I would ask if I could help them carry the torch.

Julia Meek: It really sounds like the torch might have been extinguished and tossed to the side and forgotten, had you not done that? Was it as "Aha!" of a moment as you made it sound there?

Sarah Loshe: I think so. (chuckles) The Parks Department needed to approve it. And it took them a couple months to decide that they were on board with it. So it was really like nerve wracking and exciting. And then when it happened, it's really exciting.

Julia Meek: (chuckles) No doubt it was! Okay, when you did finally decide to do something about it, get the approval and everything, how did you get it to all come together? That's a lot of moving parts in that kind of a festival.

Sarah Loshe: The market part's easy because I usually run a market--Healing Hands Night Market and Fort Wayne Maker's Market. They're actually the same market at different locations, lots of talented folks in Fort Wayne. And so bringing them together with music...ah, It seems like it's all just falling into place.

And once we found the spot, once we found Parkview Field and we saw the stages, I was with a couple of the musicians that have been doing Sol Fest for 20 years, the whole time, Dave Pagan, and Kyle Heller, and I just saw it! I saw my market around the stadium, I saw the acrobats. I saw the fire spinners, I saw the stages.

And then so did everybody else. We all just saw it. And we felt it. And we knew this was the place and we asked the parks and they said, "sounds good."

Julia Meek: Being a visionary then was a big plus, it sounds like and being surrounded by them, but also having the drive to go forward with all of this.

Sarah Loshe: It's super fun. The whole experience is very, very fun. And I find it exciting when the community gets together. I like bringing people together, I like bringing the kids out. I like doing things where the adults and the kids can both be one and have their fun together but separately, and so there's a lot of that going on.

Julia Meek: And let's start then with the venue. Parkview Field is as accessible and all-weather and parking friendly as can be which is a plus compared to more primitive access to Fox Island. Meanwhile, how are you making it aesthetically "sol festive?"

Sarah Loshe: Aside from the music, the rock climbing wall is probably as close to having something outdoors as we can inside the ball diamond, and we have a splashpad and I have a face painter that can draw nature on your face. (chuckles)

But we know that, you know the bottom line is that at the end of the day, hopefully we'll be able to open the park back up by having listened and we'll be back to nature soon enough.

Julia Meek: That fits, then, the festivity requirement as well as the "sol" the happy sunshine that's going on here. Now music and sense of place are key, always have been, to this festival.

How does the amazing assortment of roots music that you are used to that you that has been amassed and you're carrying forward now and all of that complement the feel and ideal of the whole scene that you're trying to create--the camaraderie, the community connection and everything else.

Sarah Loshe: Those bands that we have playing, the ones that we've chosen and that have been doing it for all these years and want to continue doing it, they have local followings. They have been doing this for, some of them, longer than what Sol Fest has been going on; they, they were born to rock, so to say and they make it feel like home.

And then the community comes in with the local handmade stuff and doing all the fun Flow Arts and dancing and the things that they're going to be doing, and all together I think that that feel that you get from that kind of community just, you can't beat it.

Julia Meek: And what about moving the festival which is traditionally May 1st, around the first weekend in May, to it's certainly full swing of summer? August is traditionally a month where people get in all their last hurrahs and fun things to do. How are you speaking exactly to that?

Sarah Loshe: It just worked out this year, (chuckles) it's just the way it happened this year. I'd like to have it on--during the Summer Solstice, which is around the middle of June. If we're doing it next year, which hopefully we are, I think that that will be the date that we're going to shoot for.

And we'll probably do it at Parkview Field again, because we don't know what's going to happen. And we don't want them to miss out on getting that money, again. It's three years that they've lost out having this extra money for educational uses, and I don't want them to lose that again.

Julia Meek: And right now, it also is going to be integral to Fox Island's getting back on track because they were damaged pretty heavily in the last big storm that came through Fort Wayne. Is this going to be a deal breaker, or maker in this case that we can hopefully go forward?

Sarah Loshe: I think it may be a deal maker! They probably need an amount that we can't even give because there are so many trees down. There's at least 1000 down, that's at least. That's like what was counted actually down in the trails and in the roads and stuff, that's not even counting like all the other ones. So I imagine it's somewhere around 2000 trees, and it's a lot of money to get that kind of repair done.

Julia Meek: It's a big deal.

Sarah Loshe: Yeah. And we have a lot of people in the city and we have a lot of people that care. And if we tell them to come out and support this event, yes, I do think that it could be a deal maker, and hopefully they can reopen and we'll have them all summer next year will be great.

Julia Meek: We can hope, to be sure. Now this is one day only, but it does span a day and a night of extreme merrymaking. You're offering things all day long, all ages friendly, and who all do you hope to see there?

Sarah Loshe: I hope to see everybody--and their sisters and their brothers and their cousins and their friends and their kids and their friends. And, I just don't think there's anybody that shouldn't come.

Julia Meek: Folks that have celebrated with the park all these years since 2000, and you want newcomers as well?

Sarah Loshe: Oh, yeah, we want all the newcomers.

Julia Meek: Now as the creator of Fort Wayne's Makers Market and the Healing Hands Night Market, you are no stranger to large scale community events and what it takes to put them on and how much fun they are as well. How does that whole skill set prepare you for this Sol Fest revival which has to be one of your bigger, crazier projects, even by your own standards.

Sarah Loshe: It's definitely my biggest event that I've ever done, which is really, really exciting. Save Maumee was the largest event I had done before this. And I think that we can probably double the amount of people with the right advertising and support. I don't think there's anybody that doesn't want our county park to be supported. I don't think there's any good reason for it.

I mean, we're getting ready to go back to school right now. I know everybody's getting ready for school, and that's a big deal. Since I've been talking to my friends about this lately. you can bring your kids early in the day, take them, get them ready. (chuckles)

You've got a wristband, you can come back, you could even get a sitter if you want to do for a couple hours and come back for a band that you want to see, or you could hop on a scooter and you could ride to Henry's, say for instance, and then come back and enjoy the next band.

Julia Meek: It would be a whole family affair.

Sarah Loshe: Yeah!

Julia Meek: You can choose, but also the whole day and night affair. Yeah, very, very clever. And okay, Sarah, by now it is generational, I mean, you got the second gen participating in all of this after 20 plus years. Does your job of spreading the good word for Fox Island and the County Park Department and everything that they do get easier now that you have your own upcoming ambassadors in the flow of things.

Sarah Loshe: I hope that by doing this event for Fox Island, that they trust me to do more things for them. I just want to participate more with them and do more to help the park. I think that the colleges are a big draw for PFW is the first college that I would like to get on board, I'm already talking to them.

I think that the college people can do the work, they can ask their teachers to help them get extra credit or to actually get credit for doing this extra stuff that Fox Island needs and doesn't have the support to get done.

Julia Meek: It is the right time and place to be bringing environmental causes in a really big way, in an understanding and enlightened city like Fort Wayne.

Sarah Loshe: Yeah, I think that the environment is so important in general. But Fort Wayne is such a tight knit community, and we all support each other, and it's just different than anywhere I've ever lived.

You know, we all need to come together when there's things that happen like storms and anything that might happen that's disastrous and help whatever that is come out of it. Together.

Julia Meek: And we can. We've proved that we are a city that saves itself!

Sarah Loshe: We have.

Julia Meek: Now Sarah, where might you spearheaders take this festival and the good that it does next, if you have your way?

Sarah Loshe: Well, if I have my way, we're going to do this every year and then one year we're going to take the torch and we're going to pass it to somebody else with a folder that tells you exactly what to do and how to do it right.

And I hope to be doing bigger events with music after this, Fortwayne Maker's Market. I also want to be a production company so I think that it would be fun to start doing more music things and making money for causes. That's where it's at for me.

Julia Meek: You've got a good worthy cause, then wrapped up right there in your endeavors.

Sarah Loshe: Why wouldn't we?

Julia Meek: (chuckles) We wish you luck on that!

Sarah Loshe: Thank you.

Julia Meek: In your mind and heart, for all of the major improvements that are happening and the renovations and the reworking of this traditional festival that everybody loves, what is the rock solid spirit and offering that's been there all along and is most importantly stronger and brighter than ever and you hope is going to be there forever for this festival?

Sarah Loshe: I think the only thing that comes to me is the love for the parks. Love for the parks. The bands are doing it because they love the park and they want to support the park. And they're bringing people to see them that love and support them but that also want to love and support the park. So I think at the end of the day, it's just about love for the park.

Julia Meek: What would you like to remind everybody listening right now about their parks and their sense of place? The uniquely Fort Wayne thing, maybe, that makes Fort Wayne Fort Wayne and a great city to be in--especially as their own community?

Sarah Loshe: Well, Allen County Parks, which there's only two of, we have Matea and Fox Island, they depend on your support and donations to be able to continue to preserve and expand the educational use that they have on their lands. There's over 600 species that they're preserving, and without them there, we're not able to do that.

Julia Meek: Sarah Loshe is the organizer of Sol Fest 2022. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for preserving our parks.Do celebrate on!

Sarah Loshe: Thank you for having us.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.