How Vulture Fest Became Makanda’s Best Tradition

2019 marks the 22nd anniversary of Vulture Fest, and it’s taking place . As one of Makanda’s longest traditions, it’s a pretty big deal every year for both locals and tourists.

The festival is a celebration of fall, as vultures fly over Makanda and the surrounding areas, signaling the arrival of autumn and the incredible colors it brings.

It’s also a celebration of community, as it boasts many local vendors and artisans displaying their work, and local musicians playing music and entertaining attendees.

How Did Vulture Fest Come to Be?

How did Makanda’s “Vulture Fest” become the festival that is known and loved today? It started in the 1970s when a little railroad town of the past was renewed as an artist community. That same artist community remains today and is a big part of what Vulture Fest is about.

Makanda’s first annual festival held before Vulture Fest was “Springfest”, which started in 1996. The festival had been held on the first weekend in May, until recently, when it was called off due to Spring floods.

Makanda Vulture Fest began shortly after Springfest in 1999, according to Jan York, one of the numerous coordinators over the years. Since its inception, Vulture Fest has always been held on the third weekend of October. At the time, Makanda locals figured “why not have a fall festival? People are here this time of year anyway.” 

Every autumn leading up to 1999, tourists would come to Makanda to watch the migration of the vultures, along with the fall colors in the area in and around beautiful Giant City State Park. We’ve counted nearly 300 vultures flying overhead or up in the trees on average, sometimes thousands.

The vultures in the area are believed to have been taking residence in the cliffs and trees of Makanda since at least the last Ice Age. They rear their young in the cliffs during the summer and as fall approaches, return to the trees, before migrating. The idea of having a fall festival naturally transformed into Vulture Fest, an annual tradition that has since become a Makanda staple.


What’s The Festival About?

Vulture Fest has evolved from an informal gathering to a local event for everyone to see. As the event has evolved over the years, Vulture Fest has become a well-known festival of both art, music, and food among other traditions.

The Art Scene at Vulture Fest

The festival has long featured many galleries and shops that showcase and sell works of acclaimed local artists, along with 40 artists and artisans per year from around the nation. 

Over the years, the festival has brought a true sense of Makanda, “the Valley of the Arts”, with a celebration of the arts, with a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature. Find beautifully handcrafted goods, art pieces and more all available for purchase!

Music at Vulture Fest

The music is what brings some people to Vulture Fest. It has always been a vital component in the popularity of the festival. A lot of the bands look at it as a great way to get exposure and they have fun playing for the crowd.

Every year there are performers setting up at the main stage under the downtown Pavilion and in the gorgeous gardens of Rainmaker’s Art Studio for a total of 12 bands over the weekend. This area is brimming over with some of the region’s most talented, well-known acts and every year we anticipate some new musical collaborations.

The genre of the music is varied so there is always something for everybody – folk, jazz, country, blues, americana, bluegrass, rock, a little bit of everything!

The Caged Vulture – An Annual Tradition!

The annual tradition of bringing caged vultures will once again continue. Over the years, Bev Shofstall of “Free Again” will have vultures in the cage at Alan Stuck’s Studio, north of the post office so people can get a close-up look at them. Bev works tirelessly to rehabilitate wildlife for return to nature and will accept donations during the festival to help finance her efforts.

Posters Over The Years

Every year, there are annual posters created for the festival. The poster designs have been just as much part of the history of Vulture Fest as anything else. They are printed and hung up around the town.

Here are a few from previous years:


About the 2019 Event

The 2019 event is FREE!  Expenses are paid with the generous donations of our sponsors, the fees from artists and the sale of Vulture Fest t-shirts.

Parking is usually a challenge during the festival, so car-pooling is a good idea. 

Also, note that Makanda has no ATM’S and the internet is unreliable for purchases with plastic.

Music Line-up for October 19 & 20, 2019:

The music line-up this year features many well-known artists! Headlined by Miss Jenny & The Howdy Boys, Porchfire, and other great artists, you’ll have fun listening and dancing right here in Makanda!

Music will be set up both under the downtown pavilion and the Rainmaker Garden.

Rainmaker’s Garden:

SaturdayOctober 19  Schedule

12:00 pm Gypsy 13 (featuring Sarah Lannom)
2:30 pm Tim Crosby Trio
5:00 pm Miss Jenny & The Howdy Boys

Sunday October 20 Schedule

12:00 pm Fiddle Rick & The Bourbon Boys
2:30 pm The Deciders
5:00 pm Tawl Paul & Slappin’ Henry Blue


The Pavilion:

Saturday October 20 Schedule

12:00 pm Eric Howell
2:00 pm Taylor Steele & The Love Preachers
4:00 pm Porch Fire

Sunday Schedule

12:00 pm Kendall Bell & Ben West
2:00 pm Ethan Stephenson Band
4:00 pm The Polytricksters


Artist Spotlight:

Tim Crosby:

Tim is a southern Illinois-based songwriter and performer in the Americana/country rock genre. He released a CD in 2017 titled “Resurrection Mule Farm” with his band, the Lightning Strikes, and currently is recording another CD. He performs more than 100 shows a year, including nearly every weekend at venues in Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky, playing all original music that explores the trials and triumphs of everyday people. His influences include Steve Earle, Tom Petty, Todd Snider, John Prine, Chris Knight, and others. He’ll be performing Saturday afternoon in the Rainmaker’s Garden accompanied by Carbondale mainstay musicians James Ricks on bass and vocals and Ray Maring on dobro, guitar, and vocals.”


The Polytricksters are a roots reggae band from Southern Illinois. The seven-piece band plays classic reggae hits from artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Judy Mowatt as well as digging into more obscure numbers from groups like The Congos, Black Uhuru, and The Gladiators. On top of that, The Polytricksters add in their own original songs written in the style of reggae music from the ’60s and ’70s that they love so much.


Porch Fire:

Porch Fire is a Southern Rock/ jam band based out of Carbondale, Illinois. Porch Fire smoothly combines diverse styles of music to create their own unique sound. They’re known for their high-energy live performances, rollicking rhythms, and witty lyrics.



A Love Story at Vulture Fest

For many locals, Vulture Fest is something that has created great memories throughout the years. For two people, in particular, the beginning of Vulture Fest was also the beginning of something special. A man named Bill “Buck” Smith was hanging out with some friends on the Boardwalk suffering the anguish of a recent divorce around the time of the decision to have a fall festival in Makanda. During the planning stages of Vulture Fest, he met a woman who was a stained glass artist and invited her to become a vendor and set up a booth. She did, and the two have been together ever since.

What’s Your Favorite story or memory of Vulture Fest? We’d love to know! Email us at [email protected]