Farm Aid Festival Is Back in Central Indiana After More Than 2 Decades

The bucolic benefit concert returns to founder John Mellencamp's hometown in Noblesville, Indiana.

Photo courtesy of Farm Aid
Photo courtesy of Farm Aid
Photo courtesy of Farm Aid

Like an altruistic Coachella, the sold-out Farm Aid Festival is a music festival on a mission-and for the first time in more than 20 years, that mission is bringing it back to its roots, in America’s fertile Midwestern epicenter. Farm Aid blossomed in 1985 in Champaign, Illinois, after rock stars Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young banded together to create a benefit concert for family farms. Their seed of an idea was a smashing success, attracting 80,000 attendees at the inaugural festival and raising some $7 million for family farms across the country. This year’s Farm Aid will land at the Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana (Mellencamp’s home state).

Now the longest running benefit concert in the nation, Farm Aid has crisscrossed the country for festivals in cities like Seattle, New Orleans, Louisville, and Indianapolis, featuring A-list performers like Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Wilco, and Dave Matthews Band. While each event attracts thousands of visitors (even the 2021 COVID-era festivals had 15,000 vaccinated attendees), Farm Aid still feels homegrown and wholesome, differentiating itself from the Coachellas and Lollapaloozas of the world with its emphasis on agriculture, altruism, and nutritious local food.

The all-day, family-friendly affair features big-name performers and unique areas spotlighting farm-fresh food and interactive agricultural activities. Lollapalooza is fun and all, but it doesn’t have agricultural Jenga or temporary veggie tattoo stations.

It’s Indiana’s third time hosting Farm Aid and Noblesville’s second. Located in Hamilton County, Noblesville is just 40 minutes north of Indianapolis. Doors open at noon on September 23, and music and food runs until 11 pm, with a lineup that includes Farm Aid fixtures like Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews, plus Lukas Nelson, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Allison Russell, Particle Kid, and more. Additionally, Homegrown Concessions will serve farm-fresh food. (in the past, that’s included roasted Brussels sprouts, tomato sandwiches, and brisket-stuffed sweet potatoes), alongside agricultural “edutainment” at Homegrown Village, like the aforementioned Jenga, plus cooking demonstrations, a mini animal farm, and discussions on seed saving.

While general tickets are sold out for this year, the festival can be streamed on Farm Aid’s YouTube channel and donations or merch purchases can be made through the Farm Aid website.

Photo by Scott Streble, courtesy of Farm Aid
Photo by Scott Streble, courtesy of Farm Aid
Photo by Scott Streble, courtesy of Farm Aid

Drive time:

3 hours from Chicago.

More things to do in Hamilton County:

Indoors and out, there’s a cornucopia of activities and attractions to explore in Noblesville and the greater Hamilton County, which comprises the far northern exurbs of Indianapolis. This being early fall, it’s prime time for kayak and canoe rentals on the White River, zip-lining through the lush forests at Koteewi Aerial Adventure, and pumpkin-picking at Russell Farms Pumpkin Patch. Stick around a couple weeks and attend the Potter’s Bridge Fall Festival, an annual tradition in Potter’s Bridge Park with kettle corn and folksy music galore.

Shopping and art abound at Historic Noblesville Square, a quaint collective of boutiques, eateries, and festive events. Flanking the historic Hamilton County Courthouse, itself a French Renaissance gem listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Noblesville Square is an idyllic place to shop for antiques at Logan Village Mall or trendy accessories at The Wild Bohemian, or take an art class at Nickel Plate Arts.

To better immerse yourself in the regional scenery, one of the county’s foremost attractions is the Nickel Plate Express, offering scenic train rides with fun family-centric themes like superheroes, wizards, and barbecue.

Where to stay near Hamilton County:

Farm Aid partners with QuintRooms to assist with hotel booking, but it also donates a portion of reservation sales to Farm Aid’s Homegrown Youthmarket. Visit Farm Aid’s page on the Quintbook site to check out area hotels including the Sheraton Indianapolis Hotel at Keystone Crossing, Courtyard by Marriott Indianapolis Fishers, and Drury Inn & Suites Indianapolis Northeast.

For something closer to the venue, Noblesville hotels include budget chains like the Courtyard by Marriott Indianapolis Noblesville and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Indianapolis NE – Noblesville. The Prairie Guest House, in nearby Fishers, is a particularly bucolic option, while the Ironworks Hotel Indy is a rustic-chic, boutique-style property in the hip Bottleworks District near a slew of restaurants.

Where to eat in Hamilton County:

Seeing as Noblesville and Hamilton County are playing host to a farm festival, it’s no surprise that the area is teeming with locally sourced, homegrown restaurants too. One soulful example is Rosie’s Place, a cute and homey cafe wafting with fresh bread, buttery pastries, and scratch-made dishes like pork tenderloin Benedicts, oatmeal pancakes, blackened salmon BLTs, and turkey artichoke melts. Debbie’s Daughters, another quaint cafe and bakery in Noblesville, features seasonal dishes, sweets, and lattes, like peach crumble muffins, lemonade cookies, pistachio rose cappuccinos, and chimichurri roast beef sandwiches.

With a few locations in the area, the buzzy, Latin-leaning Livery has built a reputation for its empanadas and selection of tequilas-plus yucca fries, potato tarts, and tacos galore-served up in stylish, spirited digs. The Nesst, a new-ish sensation, offers swank steakhouse vibes and hearty eats like fried green tomatoes, stuffed cabbage leaves, veal chops, and filets.

To drink, Primeval Brewery is a downtown Noblesville haunt offering European-style craft beers, with special emphasis on German- and Belgian-style brews. Even oenophiles have something to savor here, with tastings at the pastoral Country Moon Winery, complete with both indoor seating and ample outdoor lawn space.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Matt Kirouac is a Thrillist contributor.


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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