VALPARAISO | Like fine wine, one of Valparaiso's most enduring traditions seems only to be improving with age.
The 35th annual Popcorn Festival on Saturday promises fun for the whole family, capped with a free performance by the nationally known pop rock group the Gin Blossoms.
The fest began in 1979 as a way to salute Valparaiso native Orville Redenbacher and his famous popcorn.
Highlights include the Popcorn Panic run, the Lit'l Kernel Puff kiddie run, the Orville Redenbacher Parade, live music, food and arts and crafts vendors and the Kids Poppin’ and Play Place.
Over the years, the fest has grown to attract more visitors, said Tina St. Aubin, executive director for Valparaiso Community Festivals and Events.
“It’s evolved to include quality artisans and gain recognition in live entertainment,” she said.
Music in Central Park Plaza starts at noon, with the Gin Blossoms to hit the stage at 5.
The group reached national prominence in 1992 with the song “Hey Jealousy.” They broke up in 1997 but reunited in 2002. Their most recent album, “No Chocolate Cake,” was released in 2010.
They are the third nationally known band to perform at the fest, following Cracker in 2011 and Rusted Root in 2012.
Festivalgoers can win a chance to meet Gin Blossoms band members by filling out a survey between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority booth. Besides the music, the fest has changed in other ways. In 2009, a poster contest for residents was begun.
“We wanted to have the community design the look of this festival each year, and we have received really outstanding quality work since we began,” St. Aubin said.
Organizers also canceled the festival's annual theme to give parade participants more room for creativity when designing their floats, she said.
The more than 300 vendors this year will feature some new faces, including Guy Wellman painting, the Old World Market and Ivy Boutique, St. Aubin said.
Between 55,000 and 60,000 people are expected to attend.
“The community involvement plays a very large factor in bringing people back,” St. Aubin said. “Everyone comes together for this one day to showcase our community and the great people in it.”
The full schedule for this year's festival can be found at www.valparaisoevents.com.