The Times photo by Betsy ReasonNashville country music recording artist John Riggins, a Westfield High School grad and former Carmel firefighter, will return home for Peterson Farmfest.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason

Nashville country music recording artist John Riggins, a Westfield High School grad and former Carmel firefighter, will return home for Peterson Farmfest.

Hometown fans will be thrilled to know that Nashville country music recording artist John Riggins will return this weekend to Hamilton County,

Headliner of Peterson Farmfest in Cicero, the former Carmel firefighter has performed at the festival every year since its beginning five years ago. The fundraiser brings in money for Reins of Grace Therapeutic Riding Center in Sheridan, where a dozen special-needs students, ages 2-8, ride horses weekly as therapy.

"I love coming up for Farmfest because it's for a super great cause. Kids are the best thing in the world, and anything that has to do with helping them or being a part of making them happy, makes me happy," Riggins, a Westfield native, said.

Farmfest starts at 4 p.m. Saturday at Petersons Farm, 22880 Anthony Road, Cicero.

On Tuesday afternoon, I talked to Riggins, whose first single, "Lonesome Old Guitar," was released Jan. 1, 2016. He is currently putting together his second album. Plus, his music is now on Pandora. He said, "I finally have my own channel. It's on Spotify, iTunes, Google and Amazon."

Hometowns fans and friends can also catch up with Riggins, who'll actually be home on Thursday, to perform at 8 p.m. at The Roadside Cafe in Westfield; and on Friday, at the Atlanta Pub in Atlanta, Ind. Then he's off to Franklin, Tenn., on Aug. 19, Burkesville, Ky., on Aug. 25, and then south to Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., and Durham, N.C.

A year ago, I had the opportunity to attend Farmfest, and caught up with Riggins, who performed under a small tent for a crowd of folks eager to raise money for a good cause.

Riggins and farm owner, Carmel firefighter Al Peterson, are friends from Westfield High School, where Peterson graduated in 1989 and Riggins in 1993 with Peterson's brother, Sam Peterson, a Westfield firefighter. Al Peterson said many local firefighters are pitching in in different ways, with services and donations. "And the word is getting out for the event and, most importantly, the riding center," he said.

Peterson's wife Sheri Peteron, a speech pathologist, is a volunteer at Reins of Grace. That's how the fundraiser started, when the Petersons decided they needed to have a fundraiser to raise awareness.

"It's hard to imagine that a simple idea and some sweat and phone calls a few years ago has manifested into innumerable blessings for area children with special needs ... and a really fun and entertaining way to finish up the summer for folks who come to it," Al Peterson said.

Westfield's Julie Savitsky, a therapeutic riding instructor, former employee of Westfield's Viking Meadows and medical transcriptionist of 30 years, is executive director of the Reins of Grace. The riding center has two new Gypsy Vanner horses this year.

Farmfest tickets are $30, $15 for ages 13-20, and free for ages 12 and younger, with $75 maximum per family, at Tickets include a hog roast and beer. About 400 people annually attend.

While Riggins returns as headliner and Kokomo's Branded Bluegrass band returns, also, a new music opener this year is Tyler Robling, a local guy who plays some cool rock and country mix and who is a music service leader at HeartPointe Church in Sheridan.

The fundraiser brings in between $11,000 and $13,000 annually for Reins of Grace, which built an indoor arena in 2014 thanks to donations. "The cool thing is that 100 percent raised goes to Reins of Grace," Al Peterson said. Costs of putting on the event comes in the form of donations, as well.

He said, "Personally, it's obvious to me that the Lord is involved. He threw together a few country folks with hearts to serve, and just look at what he has made."

Festival goers can also get up close to therapy horses and goats, hear families' stories of their journeys with equestrian therapy and watch a video on Reins of Grace.

What else happens at Farmfest? You can ride a 50-foot slip-n-slide, but you'll need to bring a change of clothes and a towel. You can ride a big tire swing, jump on a trampolene or play on a playground. You can play Chicken Poop Bingo. And you can throw money in the toilet, literally, for a good cause.

Also, bring your lawn chairs and your musical instruments. If you like to jam, or just sit in on a jam, stick around for jam sessions in the old barn late into the night.

Contact Betsy Reason at