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Free for fall

Leaf through some goings-on around the region that will inspire cravings for crafts, apple crisp, and Celtic crooners

Jake lent a helping hand at a giveaway in York, Maine.
Jake lent a helping hand at a giveaway in York, Maine. (Andrew Moore/Seacoast Media Group)
By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / September 14, 2008
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Autumn in New England. We ought to have a song for when the air turns cool and crops are ready for harvest. Or perhaps a poem like Whitman might have written: "Oh, apples! Pumpkins! Oh falling leaves and bright blue sky!"

Better than a song or a poem, we have the season to enjoy. If summer can be characterized as hot and lazy then fall is an energizing time. As the light wanes and the leaves fall, the impulse is to get out and do things, perhaps in anticipation of cold weather confinements.

But what to do? In this climate of belt-tightening it's refreshing to know there are plenty of free opportunities to enjoy the bounty of the season, including great events for kids. Check out these family-friendly free venues and then write your own ode to fall.

River Valley Kids Fair, Brattleboro

For four hours next Saturday Brattleboro Common will be transformed into an entertainment and educational center for children of all ages.

Up to 30 nonprofit organizations set up tents, including the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum, and the Vermont Institute for Natural Science. The latter organization maintains a rehabilitation center for birds of prey in Quechee, and exhibits several birds in its care. The Vermont fire marshal erects a popular "Smoke House," using dry ice, to teach kids how to escape a burning building. And a group called Mad Science performs demonstrations that show science can be enjoyable.

In addition, professional children's entertainers such as jugglers, magicians, puppeteers, and jesters stroll the grounds. For general goof-around fun there's a giant inflatable slide.

"It's a three-ring circus. So much is going on all at once," said Bob Furman, project coordinator.

If you get hungry, there's a free BBQ provided by the Boys and Girls Club in Brattleboro.

Sept. 20, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., rivercu.com.

Truro Treasures, Truro

Truro Treasures is a bustling annual fall weekend event filled with a myriad of activities, many of which are free. A kickoff lecture and cocktail party are scheduled for Friday night but the bulk of the programs are on Saturday and Sunday.

Events take place in many locations, from the library to the Pamet Harbor Yacht Club to the Truro Center for the Arts. Truro is small and it's easy to navigate between events. Highlights include a flea market, antique and classic car show, arts and crafts sale, library book sale, lectures, a dog show, and an adult treasure hunt. The hunt is intensely competitive and reservations are recommended, and visitors should be warned that local residents have an advantage in solving the clues.

For kids, there's "Clown Around Town" on Saturday, when the pink "Buffoonery Bus" arrives with face painting and games for ages 4-10.

Saturday's most popular event is the silent auction. Also on Saturday, local artist and teacher Joyce Johnson will be feted at the dedication of her new sculpture at the Truro Central School. On Sunday, the whole shebang winds down at the Grape Stomp and Jazz Festival held at the Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod. Those who fondly remember the town's Dump Dance will be sorry to learn of its demise; the Grape Stomp is now the official closing event.

Sept. 19-21, Friday 3-7 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 8-6, trurotreasures.org.

Pipes in the Valley, Hartford

If you enjoy all things Celtic, head to Riverfront Plaza for the 7th Annual Pipes in the Valley festival featuring a full day and night of Celtic music, food, beer, and festivities. Sponsored by East Hartford's Olde Burnside Brewing Company, the entire event is free.

According to festival coordinator Gail McClellan, 15,000 people are expected to attend.

"It's a very classy event. . . . It's right on the Connecticut River and the leaves are beginning to turn," said McClellan.

Music is made on two stages. The featured band this year is the Red Hot Chili Pipers, a tartan-wearing Celtic-rock group. Also playing will be Albannach, a six-person, pipe-and-drum band from Scotland, Danny McLaughlin Band, Celtic and world-music musicians from Queens, N.Y., Young Dubliners, rockers from Los Angeles, and others.

Activities include daylong demonstrations of highland games, such as an open stone throw, heavy stone lift and carry, and a caber toss. According to McClellan, a caber is "something like a telephone pole." Vendors will be selling fine Celtic wares and there's a kids' activity tent.

Food includes Scotch bonny biscuits, macaroon snow creams, sweet and salty kettle corn, plus fish and chips, spicy meat sandwiches, and more. New this year is "the world's biggest inflatable Irish pub."

Sept. 27, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., pipesinthevalley.com.

Warner (N.H.) Fall Foliage Festival

For a town of about 3,000, Warner hosts quite a festive event. Now in its 61st year, on Saturday and Sunday of Columbus Day Weekend, free activities include a juried craft fair at Town Hall, a country bazaar, live music, a road race, and a farmer's market with local organic produce, cider, homemade donuts, fudge, wool products, and other handmade goods.

"The fair features traditional, old county-fair type things. There's an oxen pull, and a pie-eating contest for kids. People come from all over the country for this," said Kathy Carson, a resident and festival board member.

This year's food offerings will include healthy as well as kid-friendly fare. A buffalo farm in Warner will serve buffalo sausage, hamburgers, and cheese steak. There will also be BBQ, grilled chicken, steamed lobster, and corn on the cob. Entertainment will feature the early jazz sound of the Fountain Square Ramblers.

Events culminate on Sunday with a parade at 1 p.m. This year's theme: "Wild Wild Wild Life."

Oct. 11-12, Saturday 7 a.m.- 8 p.m., Sunday 7-6, wfff.org.

Bowen's Wharf Seafood Festival, Newport, R.I.

Bowen's Wharf is in the center of Newport, directly off America's Cup Avenue. The festival, now in its 19th year, is housed under colorful tents along the bustling commercial wharf. The event is free, as is the view of luxury boats and sailboats docked in the harbor, though you'll have to fork over some cash to enjoy the plethora of seafood offerings presented by local restaurants and fisherman's associations. (It's hard to resist the clam chowder, quahogs, lobsters, clam cakes, oysters, etc., as well as freshly baked pies and other dessert goodies.)

Once you've satisfied your seafood and sweets cravings, there's plenty of free music in the entertainment tent both days, including sea shanties, Celtic music, folk, and blues. Event organizers advise visitors to wear dancing shoes, boasting that it's hard to sit still when the music is playing.

As for children's activities, there's face-painting, Simmons Farm from Middletown sets up a small petting zoo, and the organization Save The Bay educates kids about ocean ecology with touchable live sea creatures.

Oct. 18-19, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., bowenswharf.com.

Harvestfest, York Village and York Beach, Maine

This three-day festival, always scheduled the weekend after Columbus Day, is full of free activities, entertainment, and old-fashioned fun.

"Harvestfest is a Colonial-themed festival designed to celebrate our Colonial heritage," said Carrie Eisner, vice president of the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce.

Friday events are centered in historic York Village, and feature a marketplace with crafts, collectibles, and food. On Saturday free trolleys shuttle visitors along the 5-mile stretch between village and beach activities. At the Old York Historical Society you can learn to make cider with an old press, see Colonial reenactments in costume, and tour the old jail.

KidsFest is a daylong extravaganza in its own area, with puppeteers, magicians, face painting, and crafts, such as making Colonial hats or paper lanterns.

Ever heard of a bean hole? It's a deep, lava-lined hole where beans are baked for 20 hours. The beans are served Saturday, along with roasted ox. There are plenty of edible treats, often made and served by local churches and organizations. Save room for other New England-themed food such as lobster rolls, apple crisp, and homemade pie.

Also on Saturday, carve a pumpkin for free and add it to the collection along the beach during the evening Pumpkin Stroll.

On Sunday, only at York Beach, there are more crafts, food, and live entertainment, a classic car show, and a Native American powwow beneath a big tent. Hopefully, you'll have enough energy left to drive home.

Oct. 17-19, Friday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (York Village), Saturday-Sunday 10-4 (York Beach), plus other nightly venues, gatewaytomaine.org/Harvestfest/index .htm.

Necee Regis can be reached at neceeregis@gmail.com.

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