What events/festivals/gatherings/spectacles are worth experiencing?
February 21, 2018 5:54 AM   Subscribe

I love to travel, I love diversity, I love celebrations, and I love spectacle. My mission in the coming years: to regularly combine these into a melange of awesome. I'm looking for events that are unusual and full of people. They're probably extremely reflective of local culture, or of a particular sub-culture. A few examples:

For this purpose, I'm not particularly interested in music festivals, except maybe very small local festivals that feature a particular type of local folk music (or something else weird). It's also important that the event have enough people that it won't be weird for an outsider to be participating.

I'm in New Hampshire, so bonus points if they're within an 8-hour drive or so of my home base, but events all over the world would be welcome.
posted by nosila to Travel & Transportation (32 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
We love the Lanesboro Rhubarb Festival.
posted by lakeroon at 6:06 AM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Salon d'Agriculture in Paris is lots of fun. Wish I could go every year! Here's an article about it from the New Yorker.
posted by MelissaSimon at 6:13 AM on February 21, 2018

In rural Delaware (and at the beach) are the Scrapple Festival and the Sea Witch Festival.
posted by Pax at 6:29 AM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Coney Island Mermaid Parade might fit the bill. If you go, definitely take the subway to get there, because there's nothing quite like boarding a train full of merpeople in various states of regalia.
posted by halation at 6:33 AM on February 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

The Circleville (Ohio) Pumpkin Show is pretty darn awesome.

Much closer to you is Brattleboro's Strolling of the Heifers over the first weekend of June. The actual strolling during the Saturday parade is great and there is no shortage of dairy products to try in the park after the parade.

Speaking of dairy, I've never been but Lowville, NY has a Cream Cheese Festival every September.
posted by plastic_animals at 6:33 AM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

The smaller/weirder Mardi Gras parades (Krewe de Vieux, Chewbacchus, some of the Mardi Gras day revelry) are like this, and so is Mardi Gras in general if you stay away from Bourbon Street. Second lines are another option which happen just about every weekend in the spring. Or Super Sunday! Seeing Mardi Gras Indian suits up close and in person is amazing.
posted by MadamM at 6:34 AM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Come to Stampede! If you can't make it this year, the annual event always starts on the first Friday of July and runs for 10 days.
posted by angiep at 6:45 AM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bloemencorso Zundert, a parade of flower-covered floats that takes place annually in the southern part of the Netherlands. There are similar parades in other villages, but Zundert's is the biggest.
posted by neushoorn at 6:55 AM on February 21, 2018

The Mount Hagen Cultural Show in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea can't be missed. I have been to PNG several times for work in the '90s and have seen this a couple of times. Amazing drums and sing sings. It's very authentic. In the remote areas men still wear penis gourds and often the women are topless. There was a rumor that Bill Gates would come to the show in a helicopter.
posted by waving at 7:10 AM on February 21, 2018

It sounds like you might enjoy participating in a future Improv Everywhere MP3 Experiment.
posted by lakeroon at 8:09 AM on February 21, 2018

The Mummers parade in Philadelphia is extravagantly weird
posted by ananci at 9:09 AM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Really geeked about these answers so far! These all look like a blast. Not marking best answers because it's meaningless when they're all the best. :)
posted by nosila at 9:53 AM on February 21, 2018

The Common Ground Country Fair is the way I wish other agricultural fairs were. The displays of produce, animals and crafts are impressive and well displayed, the food is a lot more appealing and healthier, the music is varied with lots of short sets by local musicians and the contests are less internal combustion and more animal powered. It's immense, popular and close.
posted by Botanizer at 10:08 AM on February 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you like to geek out, you'll probably love Electromagnetic Field in the UK.
And if you want to see lots of Dutch people wearing orange, partying and turning the country into one big flea market, you should really come over and visit a major Dutch city on King's Day.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Quite far away from you (!) but Up Helly AA in Shetland is something else...
The entirety of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland (Well a lot of it, and not exactly obscure) becomes festival-like in August.

Where my mum is from in southern Louisiana there were a lot of sugar cane festivals and crawfish festivals that I remember as being awesome - fairground rides and seafood! Can't find many links though.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 11:30 AM on February 21, 2018

The Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Show in Cummington, MA. It's only a few hours from you, and it is The Destination for regional enthusiasts of...sheep and wool.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

To add: the MA Sheep and Wool Show has a sheepdog trial. This is deeply cool and something I am sure you will want to see. Also, it is a BIG event so you will not be out of place.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:57 PM on February 21, 2018

Response by poster: I'm answering my own question, because I just saw this on Facebook:
In Sardinia, the Carnival of the Mamuthones is a pre-Christian traditional ritual dating back more than 2,000 years. Monstrous characters boast thick hair, black faces and are burdened with the weight of 60 pounds of cattle bells hanging around their body.
This is a scary one!
posted by nosila at 1:38 PM on February 21, 2018

Melbourne has an annual Faerie Rade.

Also how interested are you in Pride-related events?
posted by divabat at 3:24 PM on February 21, 2018

I forgot the mid-September Mothman Festival along the Ohio River in Point Pleasant, WV. A couple of weeks later on the other side of the state is the Roadkill Cook-off in Marlinton.
posted by plastic_animals at 4:26 PM on February 21, 2018

The Feast of Señor y Virgen del Milagro in Salta in northwest Argentina. The main days of the feast are 13th-15th of September, but although the procession and church service are impressive, the real stars of the event are the groups of pilgrims making their way to Salta during the weeks before the feast, many on foot, sleeping out of doors. About a week before the feast I took a bus from Salta to the lovely village of Cachi, up in the Andes, and at the main mountain pass on the stunning route, there was a little city of support-trucks, and lines of pilgrims threading their way down towards the pass on all sides. It was pure chance that I was in the area at that time, and I've never seen anything like it. There's enough to do in the area to justify the trip, even without the pilgrims.
posted by kelper at 1:04 AM on February 22, 2018

Response by poster: divabat - the Montreal Pride parade has been one of my favorite such events. So, definitely interested.
posted by nosila at 5:09 AM on February 22, 2018

Artscape in Baltimore is America's largest free arts festival, attracting 350,000 attendees over three days. Artscape features 150+ fine artists, fashion designers and craftspeople; visual art exhibits on and off-site and performance art and music too. There is something for everyone. It is in July every year (20-22nd this year) so it is pretty hot and humid but it doesn't stop people at all. It has all kinds of art and people watching is fun too.
posted by maxg94 at 6:18 AM on February 22, 2018

Burning Man - last week of August through Labor Day weekend - Black Rock Desert, Nevada - annual gathering in the western United States at Black Rock City – a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada, approximately 100 miles north-northeast of Reno. The late summer event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles: "radical" inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace. The event takes its name from its culmination, the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden effigy ("the Man") that traditionally occurs on the Saturday evening of the event.

Houston Art Car Parade - mid April, Houston TX - an annual event in Houston, Texas, featuring a display of all types of rolling art. The first and largest Art Car parade in the world, at any given parade spectators will see cars, bicycles, motorcycles, roller-skaters, and many other types of motorized and human-powered vehicles all decorated in various themes.

Folsom Street Fair - end of September, San Francisco CA - an annual BDSM and leather subculture street fair held in September, that caps San Francisco's "Leather Pride Week".
posted by Ardea alba at 6:53 AM on February 22, 2018

The annual blessing of the animals at St. John the Divine here in New York
posted by Julnyes at 10:01 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love this question! My answer would be Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Seville, Spain. It's a weeklong celebration leading up to Easter, (although I only went for Thursday-Saturday). Picture thousands of hooded and robed figures inching their way down narrow old streets by candlelight, accompanied by massive religious effigy floats and mournful brass bands. Staying up all night to follow the processions was one of the most incredible things I've ever done. If you're into photography, it's a dream. You definitely wouldn't be the only outsider--neither my partner or I are Catholic or Spanish and no one gave us a second glance. If you're still not convinced, check out these photos.

Bonus two that I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to visit, but would make the trip if I were nearby:

1. Light City in Baltimore (April): Free arts and music festival centered around light-based installations. It's a lot of fun to walk around.
2. 24h vélo de Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium (October): Equal parts bike relay race, university student street party, and beer festival, it's allegedly the second-largest beer event in Europe after Oktoberfest. I went while studying in Brussels and have fond memories of the train down being crammed full of drunk students in ridiculous costumes (like the guy across from me in a bunny onesie). Aside from the race, there's live music, dancing, and a whole lot of drinking. The race itself was actually IMO the least interesting part, although they do deck out the bikes in very elaborate, almost parade float-like, decorations.
posted by bonifate at 10:17 AM on February 22, 2018

Make the trek for Eeyore's Birthday in Austin! It checks all the boxes: unusual, full of people, weird costumes, local culture.

And, though this certainly isn't close to Texas, I celebrated Holi in New Delhi last year, and it was incredible. I absolutely recommend it.
posted by edgybelle27 at 6:05 PM on February 25, 2018

Very far from you, but the most interesting event like this I ever participated in was the Kumari Jatra, which is the festival in Kathmandu celebrating the Kumari Devi, a preteen girl who is believed to be a living goddess.
posted by lunasol at 9:07 PM on February 25, 2018

Oh, please march in the Greenwich Village Halloween parade!
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:19 PM on February 25, 2018

JoCo Cruise.
posted by sirshannon at 6:59 AM on February 28, 2018

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