The Wackiest Festivals in the U.S.
Everyone loves a good festival. Music festivals, food festivals, summer festivals, holiday festivals—and the list goes on. The reason for celebrating often varies, and some reasons may be so bizarre that you just wouldn’t understand unless you were a local. We’ve put together a list of the most “unique” festivals around the U.S., throughout the year, bringing you new levels of fun, food, and weirdness you never knew existed.
Garlic Festival – Gilroy, CA
Garlic lovers, rejoice! There is a festival (and a town) just for you. Gilroy, California, just east of the Santa Cruz Mountains, is known as the Garlic Capital of the World. Every summer, locals and visitors from across the country come together at the Gilroy Garlic Festival to celebrate all things garlic. Don’t be surprised to see some familiar faces, too. Celebrity chef, Giada de Laurentiis and “Master Chef” winner, Shaun O’Neale will be there this year, dueling in a garlic-themed cook-off.
In addition to a celebrity chef cook-off, you can pass by “Gourmet Alley” to taste garlic-laced dishes. And once you’ve reached garlic overload, head to one of the three stages for live music, including jazz, rock n’ roll, country, blues, reggae, and swing genres. There’s also a children’s area with arts and crafts, face painting, rock climbing, and more. All of this for $20 if you’re over the age of 16; $10 if you’re between the ages of 10 and 16; and free for children under 10! The festival runs July 28th through July 30th this year.
Frozen Dead Guy Days – Nederland, CO
Don’t let the name fool you—this festival is actually very lively! But with a nickname like “The Most Frigidly Fun Festival,” you will want to bundle up so you don’t end up like the main attraction.
Each March, Nederland—a small town west of Boulder, Colorado—hosts Frozen Dead Guy Days, a three-day celebration dedicated to a man named Bredo Morstoel. And who is Bredo Morstoel, you ask? Long story short: He is a deceased Norwegian man frozen in ice in Colorado (known as “Grandpa Bredo”), cared for by a self-proclaimed “Ice Man” and his group of volunteers. These volunteers have made a promise to Morstoel’s grandchildren (living in Norway) to keep his icy tomb, well, icy. Each month they pack 1,600 pounds of dry ice around his sarcophagus and throw a festival every March in his honor. (You can read the whole story about Grandpa Bredo here).
This phenomenon has become a main attraction in the town of Nederland, as well as the focal point of the Frozen Dead Guy Days festival. Accompanying Grandpa at the festival is a bevy of outlandish activities, including coffin racing, a parade of hearses, icy turkey bowling, snowy human foosball, an Ice Queen & Grandpa costume contest, frozen salmon tossing, a silent disco, and much more. If you need a little liquid courage to get in the spirit, wet your whistle at one of the three tents featuring craft brews and local distilleries, as well as live music and food vendors.
San Fermin Festival – New Orleans, LA
You’ve heard of the San Fermin festival—The Running of the Bulls—in Pamplona, Spain, but have you heard of the San Fermin festival in New Orleans? While both revolve around the same concept, one is just a bit more unique (and possibly scarier) than the other, but you can be the judge of that.
Every July, tens of thousands of revelers scurry through the streets of New Orleans, draped in white garments with red scarf accents. Their goal is to avoid contact with a gang of roller skating women dressed head-to-toe in red clothing and costume accessories, armed with foam whiffle ball bats. These ladies are known as the “RollerBulls,” a group of skaters from derby teams all over the world. The race is all in good fun and supports the local charities that host the event each year.
The entire festival kicks off the night before the race with a celebration, called El Txupinazo (pronounced choo-pin-AHT-so), full of live music, an open bar, fare from local restaurants, and a live charity auction. Following the race is La Fiesta de Pantelones, which translates to “the pants party”—but, the party has nothing to do with pants. Bull-racing attendees show up in their bull-racing gear, and party-goers are encourages to dress similarly. The day after the race and pants party, everyone is invited to “El Pobre di Mi,” (poor me) a recovery brunch with delicious food and live entertainment.
This year’s San Fermin is over, so make sure you plan ahead for next July.
Lebowski Fest – Nationwide
If you’re a fan of “The Big Lebowski” and haven’t heard of this, you better start making travel arrangements! Luckily you may not have to travel too far, as this festival is held in more than 30 cities nationwide.
According to the official Lebowski Fest website, Louisville, Kentucky is home to the first ever Lebowski celebration in October of 2002. Since then, it’s been held in cities all over the country, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Austin, Milwaukee, and Seattle. Even actors from the movie have made appearances at a few of the festivals, including Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore—although the festival has no affiliation to the creators of the film.
And while no two cities celebrate exactly the same, there are a few things you can count on at any Lebowski fest—a screening, live music, and, of course, bowling. If this sounds like something right up your alley (pun intended), the next celebration is in New York City on August 3rd and 4th.
Humongous Fungus Fest – Crystal Falls, MI
Once crowned the oldest and largest living organism in the world, the Armillaria bulbosa fungus—with a mass that spans 38 acres and weighs an estimated 200,000 pounds—is the center of this annual celebration held in Crystal Falls, Michigan. Discovered in 1988, scientists speculate the gigantic fungus has been around for somewhere between 1,500 to 10,000 years. While this all sounds like quite the sight to see, you can’t actually see the fungus, because it grows underground. But this doesn’t stop Crystal Falls residents from having some fun!
The Humongous Fungus Fest spans three days full of fungi festivities each August, attracting locals and tourists alike. Commencing on August 4th this year, the fest features a city-wide rummage sale during the day, and in the evening, the fungus-themed fun officially begins with a parade through downtown Crystal Falls. Following the parade is a three-day tournament full of horseshoe, volleyball, golf, and buckboard (whatever that is). If the tournaments aren’t enough to spark your interest, the 10 ft. by 10 ft. pizza should do the trick! On Saturday, festival-goers can watch the making of a massive mushroom pizza before sinking their teeth into a hefty slice. For dessert, bite into a slice or two of pie at the Pie Social, join or watch a Mr. Fungi “Beardy” Pageant, and dance to live music. Locals typically finish out the night with a trip to the bars. The festival closes up on Sunday with a wrap-up of the tournament.
Pug Fest – Milwaukee, WI
Each May, pug lovers come together at the annual Pug Fest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Because really—who can resist those lovable, squishy faces? The festival is for pugs and their humans and has activities to satisfy both. The first day of the festival, take a mini bus tour of Milwaukee and land at the famed Harley-Davidson Iron Horse Hotel for a “Yappy Hour.” Continue on to the “Get-Together Party” at the Comfort Suites Conference Center to purchase raffle tickets and pet-friendly merchandise. All proceeds from the raffle are donated to pug rescue shelters.
On day two, pugs get to relax at a puppy spa with grooming services, like nail trimmings. The little critters can also get their pictures professionally taken with their owners, or speak with their owners via an animal communicator. The special treatment is sure to make up for the costume contests that ensue. The contest is typically made up of three categories: Ready-Made Costumes, Hand Crafted Costumes, and Float & Buggy Costumes. And to conclude the festival, the pugs let off some steam in a competitive Pub Race. How cute!