By Joe Carrel, Buffalo Exchange HQ
Coachella. SXSW. Burning Man. If you’re looking to spend a vacation floating amongst a sea of humanity, there are plenty of choices. If, however, you’d prefer to explore some events with more manageable crowds and all the quirky fun, have I got some suggestions for you!
THE GROUNDHOG DAY CELEBRATION in PUNXSUTAWNEY, PA (Feb 2nd) Anyone who’s seen the movie Groundhog Day has a good idea of the festive atmosphere that this small town can muster. Just like in the film, everyone gathers at Gobbler’s Knob to see that most famous weatherman, Punxatawney Phil, make his prediction of how much more winter we can expect. And that’s when the party begins.
THE WORLD ICE ART CHAMPIONSHIPS in FAIRBANKS, AK (Mar 1-27) Ice sculptors from 30 countries gather for this competition that has blossomed into a month-long event. Large, shockingly clear “artic diamond” ice blocks are harvested from an 80-foot-deep nearby pond and transformed into dazzling works of art. They even create a park with ice slides, an ice maze, an ice rink, and spinning cups.
THE KNOB CREEK MACHINE GUN SHOOT in WEST POINT, KY (April 8-10 & Oct 7-9) Let’s face it, sometimes you just wanna blow some stuff up. Fortunately, that simple desire is what this entire 3-day event is built around. Grab an Uzi, an AK-47, or heck, even an old school Tommy Gun and fire away at used appliances, abandoned vehicles, and even barrels of fuel with pyrotechnic charges attached. The highlight is the Saturday night shoot using tracer rounds that spectacularly light up the West Point sky.
THE WORLD’S LARGEST TRIVIA CONTEST in STEVENS POINT, WI (April 15-17) Who would have known from its humble late-60s beginnings that this contest would come to attract more than 12,000 players annually from around the world. Hosted by the student-run University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point radio station WWSP 90FM, questions are asked over the radio for the duration of this 54 hour marathon of trivia that has become anything but trivial.
THE FLORA-BAMA INTERSTATE MULLET TOSS in PERDIDO KEY, FL (April 22-24) No, not the hairstyle (though this event has taken place since that was popular) – we’re talking the mullet fish here. The admittedly odd premise is this: gatherers can toss a dead mullet over the Alabama-Florida state line to see who can get the farthest. Really it’s just an excuse to host the Gulf Coast’s greatest beach party, complete with fun activities, great music, and tasty food for all.
THE TUPELO ELVIS FESTIVAL in TUPLEO, MS (June 2-5) Slick back your pompadour and lace up those blue suede shoes, because it’s time to sing the praises of Tupelo’s native son, Elvis Presley. This festival attracts local, regional, and national artists, culminating in a hip-shakingly great Tribute Artist Contest. In addition to a rousing Sunday gospel concert, the events include a carnival midway, pet parade and beauty pageant. A bit random, yes, but in a 70s rhinestone jumpsuit kind of way.
THE SAN FERMIN FESTIVAL in NEW ORLEANS, LA (July 7-10) This is just like Pamplona’s “Running of the Bulls” – except for the tiny difference that instead of being chased through the streets (and possibly gored) by angry bulls, the 18,000 participants are chased by 400 roller derby girls armed with foam bats. This is simply part of the fun, Spanish-inspired festivities that flow for days through the streets of the Big Easy.
THE CHINCOTEAGUE PONY SWIM in CHINCOTEAGUE, VA (July 27) Nearby Assateague Island is known for the population of feral horses that live along its pristine beaches. To keep their numbers in check, each year since 1925 saltwater cowboys will round up a herd of these ponies and drive them across the Assateague Channel during slack tide. Up to 50,000 spectators come each summer to watch this truly unique sight.
THE TWINS DAY FESTIVAL in TWINSBURG, OH (Aug 5-7) Twins are said to have a special bond – so how about twins bonding with other twins? Each year, Twinsburg (population 17,000) welcomes nearly 3,000 sets of twins (along with triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets) to its friendly confines. This is the one party where, if you think you’re seeing double, you’re right!
BAT FEST in AUSTIN, TX (Aug 20) Come see the most impressive bat sighting this side of Gotham. Specifically, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from under the Congress Avenue bridge at dusk. In addition to this marvel of nature, gatherers can enjoy a bat costume contest & other bat-related activities while perusing the 75 arts & crafts vendors and listening to three stages of Austin’s famous live music.
OZTOBERFEST in WAMEGO, KS (late Sep) Head somewhere over the rainbow for this charming tribute to the merry old land of Oz. This event, hosted by the Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas, lets attendees mingle with characters, participate in a costume contest, and learn about life on the farm with Auntie Em. There’s even a Munchkin Land, full of activities for the kids. Click your heels twice and you’ll be saying, “There’s no place like Oztoberfest.”
THE WORLD’S LARGEST GARAGE SALE in WARRENSBURG, NY (Oct 1-2) As all seasoned garage sailors know, the hardest task is navigating the choppy seas of ill-placed cardboard markers en route to their intended destination (with fingers crossed that it was even worth the trip). Ah, but what if the garage sale went on for miles and miles and required no navigation? More than 100,000 shoppers each year find the garage sailing here smooth as they encounter a boatful of treasure.
SLEEPY HOLLOW HALLOWEEN in SLEEPY HOLLOW, NY (late Oct) What better place to get into the Halloween spirit than the setting for Washington Irving’s legendary tale of the Headless Horseman? The entire town gets in on the act with evening lantern tours through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (resting place of Irving & the crypt of vampire Barnabas Collins), the Gothic Revival Lyndhurst Castle for Jay Ghoul’s House of Curiosities, haunted hayrides, live music, street fairs and parades. Jack Skellington would certainly approve.
Here’s to fun and memorable adventures in 2016!