Most interesting annual events in the US.
February 19, 2010 4:52 PM   Subscribe

What are the coolest/most interesting annual US events and festivals to attend?

I'm especially interested in ones with a lot of cultural relevance or local flavor. So far I've thought of:

Mardi Gras
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Burning Man
Sundance Film Festival
Boston Marathon
Memphis in May BBQ Festival
Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats
The "World's Largest Trivia Contest" in Stevens Point, WI
Kentucky Derby
The Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival
The Midnight Sun Baseball Game in Fairbanks, AK
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion to Grab Bag (70 answers total) 97 users marked this as a favorite
Bonnaroo is very cool.
posted by raisingsand at 4:54 PM on February 19, 2010

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, TN
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 4:56 PM on February 19, 2010

The Old Fiddler's Convention in Galax, VA. Or any well-established fiddler's convention.
posted by Commander Rachek at 4:56 PM on February 19, 2010

SXSW in Austin, TX.
posted by dogwalker at 4:57 PM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

The annual Oktoberfest in Cincinnati is a pretty huge draw around these parts (500k people a year). Good for those who enjoy beer and the chicken dance.
posted by deacon_blues at 5:02 PM on February 19, 2010

National Cherry Blossom Festival in DC (beautiful when the weather is nice)
Wild Pony Swim from Assateague to Chincoteague Island (VA)
Mummers Parade in Philly
St. Patrick's Day in Chicago, when they dye the river green
posted by sallybrown at 5:03 PM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and this thread might be of interest.
posted by sallybrown at 5:05 PM on February 19, 2010

NYC-centric ones:

Fleet Week
NYC Marathon
New Year's eve in Times Square
CMJ Music Marathon (kinda like SXSW)
The Puerto Rican Day and Columbus Day parades
posted by Ashley801 at 5:05 PM on February 19, 2010

The Pendleton Roundup.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:06 PM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

New River Gorge Bridge Day — October 16, 2010 - Fayetteville, WV
posted by netbros at 5:12 PM on February 19, 2010

Kerrville Folk Festival.
posted by adamrice at 5:13 PM on February 19, 2010

Ice Alaska (wiki): World Ice Art Championship, ice carving competition held in Fairbanks, Alaska. Single block, multi block, kids rides, mazes. You can watch the artists carve their sculptures, view them in the daytime, and view them lit up at night. It is freezing (often in the -20s Fahrenheit), but it is awesome.
posted by rhapsodie at 5:13 PM on February 19, 2010

Twins Day in Twinsburg, OH. I grew up near there and it is eerie to see twins from all over the world walking around.
posted by Falconetti at 5:15 PM on February 19, 2010

The Iditarod.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:19 PM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free 2.5-day music festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. It's in October.

Bay to Breakers is a foot race, also in SF. The organizers are apparently trying to discourage the more...interesting aspects (naked people running, floats, etc.), but they may not have much luck.
posted by rtha at 5:22 PM on February 19, 2010

Also- these are way more small scale/local than some of the other kinds of things you mentioned, but:

The Italian Catholic Good Friday/Easter processionals in Brooklyn.

The Mid-City New Year's eve Christmas tree bonfire in New Orleans. (Crappy video but the best I could find.)
posted by Ashley801 at 5:22 PM on February 19, 2010

Rhythm and Roots in Bristol, TN/VA.
posted by kimdog at 5:31 PM on February 19, 2010

Winter Music Conference / Ultra Music Festival
posted by infinityjinx at 5:36 PM on February 19, 2010

The Fourth of July festival in Ouray, Colorado is the best 4th celebration ever. There's a Jeep parade! And fireworks in the most beautiful mountain setting imaginable!
posted by iminurmefi at 5:37 PM on February 19, 2010

Eeyore's birthday in Austin.
NO Jazz Fest. Denton (TX) Jazz fest.
The Turky Testicle Festival.
posted by cmoj at 5:41 PM on February 19, 2010

Kinetic Sculpture races and related festivals in Humboldt County, CA
posted by carmicha at 5:43 PM on February 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Indy 500.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:43 PM on February 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

San Francisco's Pride Parade (and festival) is epic- only the Rose Bowl is a bigger parade, and I'd argue gay pride is a lot more interesting. It definitely meets your standards for cultural relevance and local flavor!
posted by tumbleweedjack at 5:55 PM on February 19, 2010

Bread and Puppet's season in Vermont.
posted by msali at 6:01 PM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance.

Bring your camera, and a big checking account balance. Remarkable cars, and persons, on quiet display.

And the last 4 Space Shuttle launches (all day time, all to the ISS, as now planned) are lining up reservations for motel rooms, big time, from Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach and Titusville, to Jacksonville, FL. End of an era, now, and no longer, sadly, annual.
posted by paulsc at 6:01 PM on February 19, 2010

Seconding Taste of Chicago, though I'd add Jazz fest, and seconding SXSW, though ACL Festival is amazing. The Bolder Boulder is also quite indicative, as well as the Iron Man, but it depends how much into sports you're wanting to go. Or concerts for that matter. As for film festivals, there's also Sundance Festival and Telluride Film Festival. Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade also comes to mind. Sports events finals do, too, although they move around.
posted by questionsandanchors at 6:04 PM on February 19, 2010

The Barbershop Harmony Society's annual convention can be a blast if you enjoy singing and/or listening to singing. It's always held the week of the 4th of July, and this year it's in Philadelphia . Here's a documentary that shows a bit of what the quartet competition is like. But there's also a chorus competition which is outstanding, with performances like this one from last year's winners. The real fun, if you like to sing, is hanging out in the convention hotel lobbies until all hours of the morning, where you'll never run out of people who will be thrilled to teach you tags and sing with you if you're willing.
posted by Balonious Assault at 6:05 PM on February 19, 2010

The Flora-Bama Interstate Mullet Toss.

Thrown during the last full weekend in April, every year, in an area of the Gulf Coast (affectionately and appropriately) known as the Redneck Riviera has a contest to see who can throw a mullet the furthest. Not the haircut, the invasive fish (though, you will see the haircut there, too).

This fish has been invading Alabama waterways, and it only seems appropriate to have an annual contest to try to throw them back into Florida.
posted by toxic at 6:14 PM on February 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ooh, let me be the one to add in some funky and offbeat events:

Gilroy Garlic Festival in California
Hollerin Contest in Spivey's Corner, NC
International Whistlers Convention in Louisburg, NC
posted by DrGail at 6:31 PM on February 19, 2010

I've only been to one Rainbow Gathering but I really did feel the love when people said, "Welcome Home."

I don't know where it's going to be this year but if you start looking around in May you should have a bit of notice. The big day is July 4. No fireworks. It's nice.
posted by mearls at 6:32 PM on February 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Broomcorn Festival in Arcola, IL.
The National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, TN.
The World's Biggest Garage Sale, Warrensburg, NY.
posted by Marky at 6:46 PM on February 19, 2010

University of Michigan vs. Ohio State in the Big House
posted by jasondigitized at 7:23 PM on February 19, 2010

Kutztown Festival
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:43 PM on February 19, 2010

Minnesota State Fair. Twelve Days Of Fun Ending Labor Day, in between the Twin Cities.
posted by ALongDecember at 7:50 PM on February 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Knob Creek Gun Range has a semi annual machine gun show. You can pay to fire "Quad 50's, mini guns, MG 42's, water cooled browning AK 47's and many others too numerous to mention." They even have flamethrower rentals.
posted by laptolain at 8:02 PM on February 19, 2010

Gay Pride Parade in SF
Bumpershoot in Seattle

Er. You've got anything else I could think of listed already.
posted by chairface at 8:26 PM on February 19, 2010

posted by headnsouth at 8:34 PM on February 19, 2010

I'm of the opinion that Coachella, Sasquatch and other similar mega-mainstream concerts actually kind of suck. There's at least an 80 percent chance that the weather will be awful. There's a 100 percent chance that the entire event will be overpriced, overly commercial, and much more about being seen by other trendy members of the upper middle class than about listening to the musicians who have turned out for the event.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:39 PM on February 19, 2010

Maker Faire always interests me!
posted by Swisstine at 8:40 PM on February 19, 2010

Maker Faire
posted by Swisstine at 8:41 PM on February 19, 2010

In the DC area:
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Washington Mall is really cool. It's free, runs for about two weeks not long before the Fourth of July, and usually features a country, a U.S. state, and a third theme - which could be a region within the U.S., a geographical feature elsewhere in the world, a cultural group, or just about anything else.

I also have really enjoyed the Fourth of July celebrations I've had on the Mall or at the Capital building. Every kind of American you imagine shows up with picnic blankets. Some people bring food, some people buy it. People play music on battery-operated radios or boom boxes. When it gets dark, there's an incredible fireworks show. If it's really hot, you can walk over to the Canadian Embassy and get drenched by the fountain-walls.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:47 PM on February 19, 2010

Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC.
posted by chiababe at 8:54 PM on February 19, 2010

I had a lot of fun some years back at the National Storytelling Festival
posted by tdismukes at 9:13 PM on February 19, 2010

Salmon Days Festival in Issaquah (Seattle). Oh dear god there is so much delicious Salmon. All types of Salmon. Fresh, deliciously cooked Salmon that just melts in your mouth.
posted by cashman at 9:14 PM on February 19, 2010

Here's an odd one: The Hemingway Look-alike Contest, Key West.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:22 PM on February 19, 2010

Ground Hog Day in Punxsutawney, PA

The Terlingua Chili Cookoff (TX)
posted by mattbucher at 10:20 PM on February 19, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, lots of great ideas. Thanks everyone!
posted by EnormousTalkingOnion at 12:32 AM on February 20, 2010

The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival is nine kinds of awesome.
posted by po at 2:09 AM on February 20, 2010

Julyamish is the largest powwow in my area (Spokane, Washington). Spokane used to have their own powwow where they would give away salmon and fry bread to all guests, a kind of potlatch, but that is off and on these days. If you can get to a nearby powwow or potlatch, omg, America at its best.

If you have never been to a barter fair you have to go. I recommend the Okanogan Family Faire.
posted by cda at 7:09 AM on February 20, 2010

Definitely the Sumter Iris Festival. It's one of the few places in the world that has all eight species of swan. The gardens also contain millions of Japanese Irises.
posted by bobber at 7:32 AM on February 20, 2010

Border Days is Idaho's oldest rodeo. 4th of July weekend of course. Two more words; rodeo queens.
posted by okbye at 8:06 AM on February 20, 2010

Yarmouth Clam Festival in Yarmouth, Maine in July. Don't miss the Friday night parade.
posted by Sukey Says at 8:38 AM on February 20, 2010

Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Lots of world class live performances are scheduled.
posted by snowjoe at 9:16 AM on February 20, 2010

Baltimore has Artscape, a weekend of uniquely Baltimoranic art and quirk (and there's a fab underground music fest that usually runs concurrently).

I'm going to second ethnomethodologist that you peek over the border at canada, especially for the Montreal comedy festival Just For Laughs.

Other comedy events: The SF/US Sketchfest, Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest and finally if you like PBR, naked punk rockers and mudwrestling mosh pits, go to Best Friend's Day in richmond VA. It doesn't get anymore local flavor than that.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:38 AM on February 20, 2010

Mike the Headless Chicken Festival.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:22 AM on February 20, 2010

I can't believe no one's mentioned the Oregon Country Fair. I've never been and don't expect to, but I've heard it's like a mellower, crunchier Burning Man for the generation of hippies before us.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:26 AM on February 20, 2010

this is what the green is for . . . you want to visit trenton, new jersey in the summer and in the winter.

okay, . . . stop laughing now.

winter? patriot's week. watch the critical battles of the revolutionary war get re-enacted johnny-on-the-spot, as it were. watch general greene and general washington trap cornwallis in a vise . . . and then keep cornwallis from crossing the assunpink creek. oh, and the capitol steps, among others, will be in town . . .

summer? art all night. we move into a refurbished old roebling iron rope factory (makers of the cables that hold up the brooklyn and golden gate bridges), fill it with art, music, people, food, drink, and what not, and we stay there for 24 hours. from 3pm on saturday until 3pm on sunday. they do this in pittsburgh, too, but ours is more interesting. 'cos it's in joisey . . .

c'mon out. you'll have adventures that will turn into memories that no one on your block can match . . .
posted by deejay jaydee at 11:12 AM on February 20, 2010

I vote for state fairs. I've only ever been to the NC State Fair, but it was epic. Every possible type of person was there, from professors to motercycle gang members. And if you've never eaten a fried Snickers bar before, do it!
posted by pecknpah at 11:27 AM on February 20, 2010

Mackinac Bridge Walk
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:32 AM on February 20, 2010

The Doo Dah Parade in Pasadena, CA -- like the Rose Parade, but weird!

When I went to New Orleans a few years back, it turned out to be the weekend of Satchmo Summerfest, which was a lot of fun with lots of good music and food. We also stumbled upon the White Linen Night, where everybody gets dressed up in their white linens to stroll around the warehouse district, drinking wine and looking at art at all the open galleries, and oddly enough, the children's museum. It was vaguely surreal, but definitely an interesting cultural counterpoint to the Summerfest.
posted by KatlaDragon at 12:44 PM on February 20, 2010

The Superbowl, The Indianapolis 500, and the Triple Crown are very large, very American sporting events.

Every four to eight years, the Presidential Inauguration in DC comes to mind, as well.
posted by talldean at 1:30 PM on February 20, 2010

Mardi Gras

I'd definitely replace that with New Orleans Jazz Fest.
posted by justgary at 1:43 PM on February 20, 2010

RAGBRAI - A one week, 400+ mile bike ride across Iowa.
posted by hobu at 8:45 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Ann Arbor Art Fair is pretty cool.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 1:52 AM on February 21, 2010

RAAM is a yearly, transcontinental bicycle race that takes between one and two weeks.
posted by talldean at 5:50 AM on February 21, 2010

The Maine Lobster Festival perhaps? Full disclosure: I've never been.
posted by prufrock at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2010

HONK! — Festival of Activist Street Bands - Somerville, MA, October.
Coney Island Mermaid Parade - NY, June.
posted by enfa at 7:07 PM on February 21, 2010

Cows on the Concourse in Madison Wisconsin. I love this question.
posted by msali at 6:57 AM on February 22, 2010

My hometown's July 4th Parade. Okay, yeah, it's a July 4th parade in the middle of freakin' nowhere in Eastern Connecticut. But it is pull-out-the-stops gloriously small-town goofy.

See, they use radios instead of marching bands. That's kind of the point -- my high school didn't have a marching band, so we never had parades. And one local woman just got fed up with the lack of parades and took it upon herself to make one -- by getting the local AM station to broadcast a couple hours of John Philip Sousa albums one year, and getting all her friends to show up with portable radios in hand and in costume. So they all showed up, sychronized their radios to the local station, cranked the volume, and marched up Main Street.

This has been going on for 24 years now, and has expanded to a 5-hour event, all the music still provided by radio. (The parade once was contacted by a Venezuelan marching band asking to be in the parade, and the coordinators hemmed and hawed and then finally said, "uh, YOU can come, but your INSTRUMENTS can't -- see, here's the thing...." apparently the Venezuelan band still showed up, without their instruments, and had a fantastic time.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Southern Decadence in New Orleans.
posted by Night_owl at 7:25 PM on February 25, 2010

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