This weekend, a sleepy little town of "750 friendly residents and a few soreheads," according to the town's welcome sign, has come to life, filled with craft and food vendors, musical acts and thousands of visitors.

The 44nd annual Atlanta New Earth Festival is today and Sunday in Atlanta, Ind., a town on Ind. 19, about 20 minutes north of Noblesville in northern Hamilton County.

The annual festival began in 1974 as a way to revive the town's business district. Many of the buildings downtown, which hadn't held shops since the 1930s, were restored to make room for future businesses. The first Atlanta New Earth Festival took place the first weekend in October. Members of the Atlanta Women's League served coffee from the doorway of Atlanta Town Hall, and they made and sold items at a craft bazaar and flea market inside Atlanta's old Post Office. Atlanta Servall Club had a fish fry in the town's shelter house. Arts and crafts people displayed their wares, from candles and hand-blown glass to macrame and pottery. There were antiques, paintings and handmade wooden items. And there was live music.

This weekend, the little town expects between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors, an annual estimate from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

The festival runs 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. In total, about 600 vendors sell arts, crafts and collectables, set up along Main Street and along the railroad tracks just south to the town's park.

There, at the park, an array of musical acts -- from Westfield teenage banjo player Jeremy Morris and Harvest Road Band to the Flying Toasters playing hits of the '70s -- will perform on an outdoor stage all weekend.

I have attended the festival in years past, visiting the hundreds of vendors while walking the streets of Atlanta. But I also remember visiting with Town officials as they readied for visitors.

Atlanta's deputy clerk Jennifer Farley, 55, Atlanta, told me how much work goes into organizing the festival. She sends out the vendor applications each February with a May 1 deadline for returning vendors who want the same spot.

She also told me how much the festival has a happy place in her heart. She and husband of 37 years, Fred Farley, had their first date at the festival in 1976, then in its third year.

On that visit, I also met Atlanta Utilities superintendent Andy Emmert, who lays out vendor spots, hooks up electrical services, and builds more than 300 trash boxes just days before the festival, then he made sure vendors got to their correct spots when they arrived.

Emmert, 47, Atlanta, told me that he has attended the festival since he was a kid, growing up here. "It was exciting. When I was a kid, there were 25 businesses in town; we had an O'Malia's here. The first festival was 20 vendors; now there are 600," Emmert said.

He said, "There are almost as many vendors here as there are people in town."

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