Our beautiful state may glow during the summer, but it really starts to shine in the fall — red, gold and orange, against a deep-blue sky. While the madding crowd has returned to its cold-weather homes, the folks that are here year-round have the two months of autumn to revel in Maine’s natural beauty and waning warmer weather. It’s an ideal time to plan some offbeat events, be they food-related, film-centric, outdoorsy or, for a few weeks at the end of October, decidedly creepy. From a major arts exhibition to a mad dash through the western woods, here are 25 things to do this fall. The list is by no means exhaustive — please send us your suggestions for other fun fall events.
Common Ground Country Fair, Unity Fairgrounds, Sept. 21-23
What’s not to love? Three days of food, cute animals, funky people and great music. Pick up some amazing produce from the height of the fall harvest. Buy some beautiful handmade gifts. Be serenaded by a guy with a banjo. Eat deep-fried shiitake mushrooms and pumpkin milkshakes. It’s the biggest event of its kind in New England, and it’s still the best. Admission is $10 daily ($8 seniors, free for kids 12 and under).
“Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine,” Portland Museum of Art, Sept. 22-Dec. 30
This major new exhibition showcases 38 masterpieces that the great American artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910) created during the final decades of his life, when he lived and worked in Maine. Homer’s studio in Prouts Neck will be open to the public, and in conjunction, the museum will present an exhibition of contemporary photography made with a variety of historic processes available during Homer’s lifetime. Tickets to tour the studio are $55; regular admission to the museum is $12. No admission is required to visit the museum’s cafe and store. For information, call 775-6148 or visit portlandmuseum.org.
Camden International Film Festival, locations in Camden, Lincolnville and Rockland, Sept. 27-30
Small towns, big films. That’s the idea behind the eighth annual CIFF, held at nine venues in Rockland, Camden and Lincolnville. This documentary-based festival was named one of the 25 best festivals of its kind by industry leaders for its diverse range of films telling a variety of stories. Individual screenings are $8.50; all-festival passes are $75 and $150. A full schedule can be found at camdenfilmfest.org.
The Oak and the Ax Fest, 140 Main St, Biddeford, Sept. 28-30
The Oak and the Ax — one of Maine’s great small venues, and a treasure in the burgeoning southern Maine arts and music scene — hosts a three-day festival of Maine and New England independent music. For a $30 weekend pass, you can listen to more than 20 bands, ranging from Providence, R.I.-based alt-folk duo Brown Bird to Maine artists such as The Milkman’s Union, Butcher Boy and Micah Blue Smaldone.
Great Maine Outdoor Weekend Celebration at Fields Pond Audubon Center, Holden, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 29
Help the Fields Pond Audubon Center staff celebrate the coming of fall with free activities for all ages. They’ll be offering naturalist-led hikes, a challenge course, canoeing at the pond, geocaching, cider and suet making, yoga and more. This event is free and open to the public, as is the center’s network of scenic trails, bogs and rolling meadows.
Pemaquid Oyster Festival, Schooner Landing Restaurant and downtown Damariscotta, Sept. 30
Oyster shucking, oyster poetry and plenty of tasty oysters will be featured at the 2012 Pemaquid Oyster Festival, from noon to dusk throughout Damariscotta. The festival will also host more exhibits than ever before, highlighting Maine’s working waterfront and the variety of recreational and commercial activities that revolve around it.
Wife Carrying Championship, Sunday River Ski Resort, Oct. 6
Last year’s winners in the Wife Carrying Championship at Sunday River were Rocco Andreozzi of Bethel and Kim Wasco of Farmington — Andreozzi carried Wasco the distance in 49.64 seconds! This year’s competitors — sorry, registration is full — compete for the woman’s weight in beer and five times her weight in cash. It’s as fun to watch as it is to compete.
International Oktoberfest, Augusta Armory, 2-6 p.m. Oct. 6
Thirty-five beers, nine countries, all delicious. The first ever International Oktoberfest, sponsored by Central Maine Brews, will set up shop at the Augusta Armory for one day. Home brewing supplies will be provided by Central Street Farmhouse of Bangor, there’s live music by the JT Lockwood Band as well as food, games, contests and prizes. Tickets are $25 at Jokas’ in Waterville, The Liberal Cup in Hallowell, Lisa’s Restaurant in Augusta, Fat Toad’s Pub in Farmingdale and Central Street Farmhouse.
Paws on Parade, Bangor Waterfront, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 6
Whether you’re walking your dog or just stopping by to see the cute animals, the 19th annual Paws on Parade takes over the Bangor Waterfront the first weekend of October. The Bangor Humane Society raises funds each year to help rescue cats, dogs, bunnies, birds and everything in between, and they need your help to succeed — what better way than to take a scenic fall walk with your furry friends?
Gauntlet Haunted Night Ride, 125 Pigeon Hill Road, Mechanic Falls, weekends Sept. 28-Oct. 28
You think you’ve seen a haunted hayride? You haven’t seen one until you’ve endured The Gauntlet, a Halloween screamathon presented by Harvest Hills Farm in Mechanic Falls. For $15, you can get your pants scared off by the Ghost of the Lady in White. For $19, you can add in a visit to their corn maze, though the littlest spooks can do only that for $6. Few other haunted hayrides can compare to this one; tickets are available at harvesthillfarms.com.
Guided fall foliage tours at Maine state parks, Sept. 29-Oct. 14.
Enjoy the state’s most colorful season and join a park ranger on a family-friendly hike or paddle at one of Maine’s many state parks. The Division of Parks and Public Lands has partnered with the Androscoggin Land Trust to organize guided hikes (or paddles) at Mt. Blue State Park on Sept. 29; Aroostook State Park, Sept. 29; Androscoggin Riverlands State Park, Sept. 30; Bradbury Mountain State Park, Oct. 6; Vaughn Woods State Park, Oct. 13; and Camden Hills State Park, Oct. 14. For information, visit take-it-outside.com/hike2012.shtml.
Arts for Hunger Auction and Concerts, Oct. 4-28, Unity College Center for the Performing Arts
Every fall, the folks at the Unity College offer up an art auction and series of concerts to benefit three organizations that help needy families in Waldo County — the Volunteer Regional Food Pantry, People for People and Open Door. Local artists, crafters and residents donate items for a silent auction and sale held throughout the month of October at the UCCPA, and two concerts — one featuring gypsy jazz trio Ameranouche on Oct. 13, the featuring the band Greater Purpose on Oct. 14 — will also raise money for those less fortunate.
LGBT Film Festival, The Grand, Ellsworth, Oct. 5-7
Year two of the LGBT Film Festival at The Grand in Ellsworth brings four acclaimed films to the big screen — including one of the few Maine screenings of the 2012 film “Pariah” — as well as a series of staged monologues and a performance from the Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue. A festival pass is $50, with individual days less.
Cirque du Soleil, Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland, Oct. 10-14
The first-ever Maine appearance of Cirque du Soleil takes place this October at the Civic Center in Portland, with the troupe’s “Saltimbanco” performance. The acrobatics, dancing, wild costumes and pageantry will be performed eight times, and tickets are $28-$80 for kids and $35 to $100 for adults, depending on the performance. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.
Gardiner Swine and Stein, Main Street in Gardiner, 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Oct. 13
The third annual event on Main Street in Gardiner features a trifecta of delicious Maine craft beers, mouthwatering pork dishes, and live music from an eclectic collection of Maine bands, including Anna and the Diggs, Poke Chop and the Other White Meats, North of Nashville and a German polka band. Mmmm. Pork and beer. Beer passes are $15, food is separate.
Race Thru the Woods, Hidden Valley Nature Center, 131 Egypt Road, Jefferson, 9 a.m. Oct. 14
A half marathon, this race is on a beautiful course, a mix of single- and double-track trails over rolling terrain. After the race, enjoy hot food around the fire pit. Registration is free for HVNC members and $30 ($40 after Oct. 1) for nonmembers. All proceeds will support the maintenance of HVNC trails and educational programs.
Belfast Poetry Festival, Hutchinson Center, 80 Belmont Ave., Belfast, 4-7 p.m. Oct. 20
This annual event — one of the only community-based, nonacademic poetry fests in the country — again brings together poets and visual artists for a day of Maine-made art. In addition to all that, there’s a unique twist year, with “The Poem to Behold,” a live multimedia presentation of poetry and images inspired by the fast-paced presentation format of Pecha Kucha and by Andy Warhol’s “Exploding Plastic Inevitable.”
Haunted Woods Walk, Aroostook State Park, 6-9 p.m. Oct. 19-20
This annual stroll through one of Maine’s prettiest state parks is anything but idyllic — in fact, it’s a Halloween scream dream, as Presque Isle area organizations and businesses create a hike to be remembered. For $5, older kids and adults can get their fright on (and probably get a bit of exercise). The Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce organizes this yearly event.
Halloweenfest at the Maine Wildlife Park, 56 Game Farm Road, Gray, 6-9 p.m. Oct. 19-20
Celebrate Halloween surrounded by bobcats, black bears, owls and other Maine creatures at the Maine Wildlife Park, where there will be special Halloween displays and haunted hayrides. Don’t forget to wear your costumes. The two-night event will feature games, contests, door prizes and more. Regular admission fees apply. For information, call 657-4977.
Paraween, Nocturnem Drafthaus, Main Street, Bangor, 8-11 p.m. Oct. 26
For a unique adult Halloween experience, try this annual multimedia dance event offered by the Haus of Paradigm, a Bangor-based dance and arts collective. This year’s theme is the Mayan Apocalypse, so expect lots of fabulously freaky costumes, lights and dancing. Performance artist Ink the Faith and musician A Severe Joy are guest artists. Costumes are encouraged, and there’s a $5 suggested donation. Note: It’s 21-plus.
Bangor Zombie Walk, 1 Railroad St., 4 p.m. Oct. 27
Here’s what you do: Dress up as a zombie, the more fake blood and vacant, brain-hungry stares the better. You gather at 4 p.m. on Oct. 27 in the specified downtown Bangor locale (the corner of Railroad and Front streets on the waterfront, to be exact), and you and 100 or so fellow zombies stalk the streets, garnering amused or even frightened stares and generally creating a big scene. It’s hilariously fun for participants and spectators alike, and it’s 100 percent free.
Found Footage Festival, Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, 7 p.m. Nov. 9
Think of it as the best-curated YouTube channel ever. Joe, Nick and Glenn of the Found Footage Festival, based in New York, have spent years scouring the world for the most hilarious, random videos to be found. They’ve been featured on everything from David Letterman to The Onion, and this November, they’ll bring an array of videos to the Space Gallery in Portland. Admission is $10.
Medieval Feast, Franco-American Heritage Center, Cedar Street, Lewiston, 6 p.m. Nov 9-10
Haunches of meat, flagons of ale, knights of the realm and serving wenches abound during the Franco-American Center’s annual Medieval Feast, a family-friendly event for kings, queens, princes and princesses statewide. Tickets for this 21-plus event are $35, and there are two different dinners on two separate days. Get thee to Lewiston!
Early Bird Pajama Sale and Bed Race, downtown Bar Harbor, 6 a.m. Nov. 10
Set your alarm early and get some crazy-good holiday deals in Bar Harbor, with the annual early morning pajama sale in downtown. The sale wraps up at 10 a.m., at which point there’s the annual bed race — decorated old beds are raced down Main Street. It’s a fun way to spend a Saturday.
Maine Harvest Festival, Bangor Auditorium, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 10-11
Last year’s event was such a success it’s an even bigger affair this year. More than 40 food and beverage vendors from around the state come together to sell their wares and make new connections. It’s a treat to eat, sample and buy from the wide array of purveyors, and it’s a great opportunity to stock up on local gourmet foods in advance of Thanksgiving. Admission is $5, and hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.