Hit the Road, Jack-o'-lantern
Our wacky city is known for over-the-top immersive art, but this one takes the pumpkin pie. Pumpkin Nights have fallen on Austin again, with the second annual Halloween installation returning to Pioneer Farms.
About 5,000 pumpkins — some real and some plastic — are loaded into the historical Northeast Austin farmstead for a multitude of purposes. Many are carved and arranged in fanciful scenes, like a gnome forest, strung overhead for even more magical perspective, and many completely intact, lined up for photos or just appreciating their gourd-given fall beauty.
It’s not just a pile of pumpkins to look at. Pioneer Farms is a small village with houses, fields, and even a general store. The space is utilized cleverly, bringing the recreated historic town square to life with fire performers, face painting, live pumpkin carving, and food from local vendors such as South African Food Affair. Most nights appear basically the same on the schedule, but a tarot reader visits on Mondays and Thursdays.
Once visitors enter the half-mile winding path, the visual effects are the main show, augmented by colorful lighting, soundscapes, music, scented fog, and more creative touches. The path transports visitors through worlds that maintain a surprising amount of separation from each other, making them feel all the more immersive. Halfway through, an open field is transformed into a pit stop for yard games.
It's a little spooky and a lot playful, a good mix for a true all-ages event. Although on the surface it’s for families, visiting with friends doesn’t feel silly. The drama is undeniable, and the art embraces kitsch as well as it does the truly spectacular and mind-bending.
Pumpkin patches are not a new concept and neither is this; conceived in 2016 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, this is one of an emerging generation of super-involved jack-o'-lantern experiences often found in the Northeast, where fall and Halloween are aesthetic commitments that transform small towns.
This particular collection is unique in its traveling scale, having also visited Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and more. The semi-rural communities with their own permanent traditions have a wonderful charm, but cities like Austin and Dallas — the two Pumpkin Nights destinations for 2022 — can support a sudden caravan of pumpkins rolling through, without spending a significant portion of tourism planning on making it happen each year.
Tickets (starting at $14, kids under 3 free) for Pumpkin Nights in Austin and Dallas are available at pumpkinnights.com. Reservations start in 30 minute increments starting at 6 pm, but once in, visitors can stay for any length of time. The installation is open now through October 30, every day except Tuesdays.