Even though summer just officially started, it somehow already feels half-way over. Go figure. And while we too understand the siren song of Netflix, don’t let these classic Cincinnati festivals pass you by.
1. St. Cecilia Parish Festival (July 15–17): Church festivals and tweens go together like hot dogs and mustard. Where else can a too-young-to-date, too-old-for-a-sitter kid spend a weekend hanging with friends and playing games and still have enough lawn-mowing money left to eat himself into a pizza/coney/cheese fries coma? St. Cecilia is where Oakley kids shake off the midsummer doldrums—lots of games; rides; a Crazy Hat booth where, if you’re lucky with the pull-tabs, a purple sequined Stetson or flowered tiara could be yours; and Mr. Cowpie’s Petting Zoo, featuring—I swear—the biggest rabbit this side of Harvey. For grown-up gamblers there’s Left Right Center; blackjack; poker; bingo; and the Big Six tent, with a half-dozen young croupiers reeling in the dough. To wash down the evening’s eats, previous years’ “craft beer” concessions sold Shock Top, Stella Artois, and Goose Island IPA—not exactly local brews. But the tent marked “Retro Beer” has old-school Cincinnati brands. Thank God somebody here cares about tradition. 3105 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 871-5757, stceciliacincinnati.org —Linda Vaccariello
2. St. Peter & Paul Picnic (July 30 & August 27): At Hickory Grove picnic grounds in California, Kentucky, you are truly in “God’s country.” City folk might imagine these rolling green hills are in the middle of nowhere, but you’re a mere 24.4 miles from Fountain Square. The church has been holding events here since 1902. The dinner and the visiting are the main attraction, for good reason. Behold, a country-cookin’ smorgasbord. Choose from half a chicken, chicken livers, gizzards, or roast beef, then add your sides: mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, bread, hot slaw, cucumber salad, sauerkraut and sausage, cole slaw, peppers and tomatoes, dessert, and a drink. If you can even lift your tray, maneuver it out to one of the green picnic tables lined up on the lawn (we couldn’t find a seat inside the dining hall, but we didn’t mind). Make friends with your neighbors, coo over a cute baby, and share your dessert with that nice lady sitting next to you. Maybe she’ll invite you to play a round of Bingo in the dance hall. Before you know it, you’ll be sipping a beer, listening to a country band play, and making plans to come back for the Homecoming in August. We’ll save you a seat. 2780 Wagoner Rd., California, Kentucky, parish.stspp.com —Amanda Boyd Walters
3. Glier’s Goettafest (August 4–7): It’s not a church thing. There’s no Blessing of the Dunk Tank, no saint’s name on the beer koozies, and if the crowd is here to worship anything, it’s Glier’s goetta, in all its oddest incarnations. A lady selling souvenirs near the goetta vending machine (yes, you read that right) recommends Busken Bakery’s “goobers” (doughnut holes spiked with bits of the pork-and-oat treat). “Really good,” she says. But I’m too busy staring at the three priests queued up for Colonial Cottage’s goetta nachos. Priests? Priests!!! Don’t they have their own festivals to run? The whole affair is spread along Newport’s Riverboat Row, with performance stages at each end. The crowd, which style-wise runs to Daisy Dukes and tank tops, is less family-centric than you might see at a parish party. But there’s still plenty for kids, including a cut-out where your child can get a picture taken with his head on top of a roll of Glier’s finest. It’s enough to make you say Jeeeezus. So maybe it is a church thing after all. Riverboat Row, Newport, goettafest.com —Linda Vaccariello
4. St. Teresa of Avila Festival (August 5–7): As parking lot festivals go, St. Teresa of Avila’s is pretty classy thanks to its 94-year-old church building. This west side beaut—a mashup of Spanish Revival and Italian Romanesque Revival complete with ornate archways and columns, terra cotta roof tiles, and a bell tower—looms over a tent city of food vendors, kiddie games, and crafty activities. Get your kid’s face painted, take your chances at the Elder High School hockey team’s slap shot booth, hoist a cherry slushie, and gobble down some LaRosa’s pizza for a good, old-fashioned Cincinnati summer night. 1175 Overlook Ave., West Price Hill, stteresa-avila.org —Amy Knueven Brownlee
5. Holy Cross-Immaculata Mt. Adams Festival (August 5 & 6): Come summer, there’s no one more sanctified than a parishioner who’s also a retired restaurateur. At Holy Cross-Immaculata’s annual party, the faithful queue up for a chicken dinner cooked by Dixie Cherrington, a church member and former owner of the eponymous and much-mourned Mt. Adams bistro. Miss out and you can content yourself with corn on the cob, tacos, and a hot grill serving some superb Italian sausage. Silent auction items reflect the tasteful vibe: tempting goodie baskets, memberships, and tickets from Eden Park’s arts organizations; and for serious shoppers, framed prints and a beautiful 12-string Alvarez guitar. Just don’t expect amusement rides. The big deal here is music. Bands such as L.A. rockers Crash Kings and Nico Vega, as well as local faves the Modulators, Buffalo Killers, Ricky Nye & the Red Hots, the Modulators, and Gee Your Band Smells Terrific, have all played the fest. 30 Guido St., Mt. Adams, hciparish.org —Linda Vaccariello
6. Germania Society of Cincinnati Oktoberfest (August 26–28): There’s Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, the boozy chicken dance spectacular, touted as the largest such celebration this side of Munich. And then there’s what we like to think of as the real deal: the Germania Society of Cincinnati Oktoberfest, now in its 46th year. What this plucky fest lacks in size it makes up for in authenticity. The society got its start a whopping 52 years ago to provide a home base for lovers of German culture; its annual Oktoberfest is less about novelty lederhosen (though there’s a lot of that and dirndls, too) and more about an earnest celebration of Bavarian heritage. And yes, of course, it’s about beer: 60 taps serving up German and domestic varieties (we like the hefty Warsteiner Dunkel, but don’t miss the Jever on tap in the clubhouse) and plenty of wine and schnapps to boot. You’ll need it to wash down all that schnitzel, goetta, curry wurst, sauerkraut, strudel, and Germania’s famous rotisserie chickens. Before you call it a night, seek out The Rat Game, a totally bizarre take on carnival roulette featuring—you guessed it—a live rat. It’s the funniest, weirdest thing you’ll see all summer. Germania Park, 3529 W. Kemper Rd., Fairfield, germaniasociety.com —Amy Knueven Brownlee
7. St. Vincent Ferrer Fall Fest (September 24–25): As with much else in Kenwood, parking for the SVF festival can be kind of a drag. That’s what happens when you set up rides, games, food booths, and a stage on a prime lot. But your effort will be rewarded. The main stage features a different band each night; we caught Midnight Special rocking an unabashedly faithful version of “Don’t Stop Believing” before moving on to more ’70s arena rock at the fest back in 2014.
The beer was standard fare (Bud products, Michelob Ultra, Yuengling), but a rolling wine bar—a cart equipped with wine on ice and an inflatable palm tree—also served festival-goers. We particularly enjoyed the two-sided ring-toss tent: wine on one side, two-liters of pop on the other. Gamblers have multiple options—stud poker and blackjack inside, Beat the Dealer, Hi-Lo, and more blackjack outside.There’s a kiddie corner with little-guy games like Duck Pond, plus a handful of (mostly tame) rides—although they do have a Round-Up, which will happily send anyone spinning into oblivion. 7754 Montgomery Rd., Kenwood, svfchurch.org —Amanda Boyd Walters