Celebrate the zany
Across the country, weird meets wild at annual festivals
At some point over the next year, somewhere across the country, someone will play a game of horseshoes with a toilet seat, engage in a sword fight, eat a bowl of chili made with a fire ant, build a castle out of potatoes, or dress up their dog as an alien. And hundreds, if not thousands, of people will show up to watch or participate. We’ve highlighted a dozen wacky, weird, or otherworldly festivals happening throughout the year:
You can also attend a robot sumo wrestling competition, when computerized LEGO robots grapple in the ring; watch stop-motion animated LEGO films; or play LEGO bingo. Close to 1,000 exhibitors display their elaborate creations: train layouts, tall buildings, towns, futuristic battle scenes, and space displays, all made out of the small plastic bricks. This year, you’ll even see a
Take a hands-on class on historically accurate weapons like arming swords and rapiers, and meet blacksmith Jim Rich, who forged the knives carried by Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) in all three “Pirates of the Caribbean’’ films. The festival earned the Guinness World Record for “the most pirates gathered in one place’’ in 2009, when it drew 1,670 buccaneers. Help the festival reclaim the record this year (it was broken by England’s Brixham Pirate Festival in May).
“It started as a spinoff of the 1996 Olympic Games,’’ in Atlanta, says Larry Drew, East Dublin city administrator. “We all thought it would just fizzle out after a few years, but it’s been going on for 16 years now.’’
You’ll have a chance to sample rattlesnake, alligator kabob, funnel cake, and other “redneck fare.’’
“It’s self-regulating because there aren’t any Hiltons around and you have to like camping,’’ says festival chairman Steve Holloway. “We have just one general store, one restaurant, a bar, and a lodge.’’
Your campsite will overlook high mountains and the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River. When you’re not taking in the toe-tapping music, go whitewater rafting, fishing, or hiking in the wilderness.
You’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot what the locals claim is “the world’s largest mosquito,’’ a 26-foot-tall inflatable mascot named Willie Man-Chew that’s topped by a giant cowboy hat. While in town, visit historic plantation houses, a planetarium, and sandy beaches.
“We just decided we have to deal with them so we might as well have fun with them,’’ festival director Connie Fugler says of the stinging red ants.
This “wild and zany’’ event includes a chili cook-off, when participants create chili dishes that must contain at least one fire ant; a Tour de Fire Ant bike ride; a parade with people dressed as ants and other insects; a Fire Ant Roundup, when participants compete to get as many ants as possible into a one-gallon jug; and a “chicken-chunking’’ contest, when people see who can throw a packed rubber chicken the farthest. And don’t miss the fire ant mating-call contest, which is so popular that Governor Rick Perry entered one year.
“The whole reason for doing this is to keep our Southern heritage alive, and moonshining is a big part of Southern heritage,’’ says Debbie Barnwell, who organizes the event with her husband, Barney, on their family’s 100-year-old farm.
The event showcases the talents of local bluegrass bands and draws an eclectic crowd.
“We actually have federal agents that come, and we have preachers and doctors and lawyers and your average redneck person,’’ says Barnwell. “It’s not about the drink,’’ she adds. “It’s about the camaraderie, the music, and the stories.’’
“The story about the name is that farmers out in the field would open up their lunch boxes and see one and yell, ‘Whoopie!’ ’’ says festival organizer Patrick Myers.
The event includes a whoopie pie-eating contest for kids of all ages, a whoopie pie song contest, a 3K run so you can burn off some calories, and a chance to meet the official whoopie pie mascot, Sweetie Pie.
“Like potatoes are to the Irish, SPAM is to the Hawaiians,’’ says festival coordinator Karen Winpenny. “You can cook it with pretty much anything. I fry it up with eggs and rice, put teriyaki sauce on top, and eat it for breakfast.’’
If that doesn’t appeal, go to the festival and sink your teeth into SPAM fajitas, french fries, or musubi, which is fried SPAM wrapped in seaweed that’s served on a bed of rice. Proceeds from the festival benefit the Hawaiian Food Bank.
Mashed potato wrestling highlights the event, when participants grapple in thick potato goo and then get hosed off by the local fire department. You can fill up on all things potato, including pancakes, soup, sausage, dumplings, french fries, and Norwegian lefse, a type of flatbread.
Bring your pipe cleaners, tin foil, and glitter, and learn how to make alien headgear, visit the International UFO Museum, take in a flick during the Aliens in Cinema Film Festival, attend an ice cream social at the world’s only UFO-shaped McDonald’s, and shop for alien food and memorabilia at the Galactic Market.
Whatever you fancy, there’s probably a festival out there that celebrates it.
Kari Bodnarchuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.