Darien Cornfest returns the weekend of Sept. 6 to 8

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

DARIEN—It's hard to know where to start when writing about the Darien Cornfest.

Should one first attempt to explain "hammerschlagen," the game that mixes basic carpentry skills with drinking? Would it be better to describe the rules surrounding the nonmotorized outhouse races?

Starting with the basics is probably best. The 53rd annual Darien Cornfest will run from Friday, Sept. 6, to Sunday, Sept. 8, in West Park and downtown Darien.

It's an old-fashioned, small-town celebration featuring softball and horseshoe tournaments, a tractor pull, carnival, parade and, of course, bingo.

The event has a following that stretches beyond village's population of 1,600, helping it survive in an age when communities have lost their annual celebrations due to a lack of volunteers and/or interest.

What makes this festival work? No one can say for sure, but the possibilities include:

1. Free sweet corn. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Birds Eye Foods, the area's largest employer, serves as many free ears as people can eat. Covered with butter and salt, sweet corn is one of the world's greatest hand-held foods.

2. The hammerschlagen game. Competitors attempt to drive a nail into a block of wood, usually the cross-section of a large tree. The one who drives the nail completely in first, wins.

Traditionally, the one who gets the nail in last has to buy the next round of drinks, but that isn't part of the official rules. 

It's not a game you would want to play when you've been drinking, but apparently people do, and this is part of what makes it so entertaining.

3. Liberty Bike Ride and parade. The Liberty Bike Parade started as a memorial for a member of the Cornfest Committee. It quickly evolved into a memorial for service men and women, firefighters and police officers.

The bike ride features 30 to 40 motorcycles traveling slowly through downtown. Many of the bikes carry flags, and spectators maintain a respectful silence.

After the bike ride is an old-fashioned parade with floats, good-looking young women waving from cars and a certain amount of candy-throwing.

4. Outhouse races. The best part of the outhouse races might be reading the rules. Pertinent rules include:

—“A crew shall consist of three members, two pushers and a driver/rider, all of whom should be of basic humanoid ancestry.”

—“Outhouses must be pushed or pulled by human power only. No motors, sails, dog teams or gas-assisted propulsion are allowed.” We're all too sophisticated to make the obvious joke about “gas-assisted propulsion.”

—“Outhouse teams must maintain control of/contact with their outhouses at all times during the race.” That's sound advice for anyone using or racing an outhouse.

5. Live entertainment for adults and kids. The entertainment lineup includes the David Marshall band, a popular group that plays country and Southern rock covers; Liquorish, a six-piece rock and Top 40 cover band; and With a Bullet, a group that plays country, rock and blues.

Nick's Kids Show will be onstage three times during the weekend.  The show features singing and dancing to popular hits, a hula-hoop contest and plenty of other silliness.

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