greatest red neck parties in america
Okeechobee MudFest | Flickr/Shawn Slattery
Okeechobee MudFest | Flickr/Shawn Slattery
Travel

The Greatest Redneck Parties in America

If you’ve ever spent a summer anywhere in the wilds of America you have perhaps, at some point, found yourself at a party where someone accidentally set himself on fire. Or maybe dudes in cutoffs scaled a flaky shale cliff right over a river teeming with water moccasins and/or old tires. Full-strength Coors was the most potent beer on hand. Molly Hatchet and Garth Brooks played over blown-out truck speakers. Multiple people sported fading tattoos of Looney Tunes characters. Notably absent: sunscreen or sleeves of any kind.

To get a bearing on these uniquely American rituals, we reached a couple of Tennesseans who use first-person pronouns when discussing rednecks. The comedian Drew Morgan offered this theory: “Take a formula for pretty much what everyone hates, and that’s what makes a great redneck party.” At the heart of such a bash is a commitment to assertively -- nay, aggressively -- give a grand total of zero fucks.

“A redneck is someone who puts having a good time above all else,” says Corey Forrester, who along with Morgan is part of the WellRED Comedy Tour and co-author of The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta the Dark. “We like loud music and beer, and we take it seriously. I like to call it being giving-a-damn challenged.”

The comedians agreed that the best redneck parties are usually out in a field with a circle of pickup trucks, a bonfire, and way too much alcohol. Yet scan the map and you’ll find some much bigger annual events where brain cells and social norms routinely go to die. Yeah, a lot of them are below the Mason-Dixon Line, but as Southerners marvel when they drive around the North and West: There are rednecks everywhere. This year, swing by one of these bashes if you want to see them in their happiest native element.

Party Cove

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
What if Caligula kept a boat outside Branson?

On any government-sanctioned map of Lake of the Ozarks this little stretch of water found where Route 54 and the Grand Glaize Bridge passes over the water goes by the name Anderson Hollow Cove. But locals know it by a simpler, more descriptive moniker: Party Cove. Famously dubbed as the “oldest permanently floating bacchanal in the country,” by no less an authority on party barges than The New York Times, it’s a magnet for as many as 3,000 boat captains who cram in together to chug tallboys and make new friends on any given weekend when the temperature rises above 65.

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Hodag Country Music Festival

Rhinelander, Wisconsin
A slice of Dixie in the heart of Dairyland

Country music festivals likewise become regional draws for people who own more jorts than dress shirts. This one in Oneida County, Wisconsin, has become a convocation for country folk from all over, and shows that the upper Midwest can get just as hilljack as the Deep South. (Case in point: One attendee passed along a story of chatting up a cute blonde in the beer line who casually mentioned that she was third-generation Klan. So there’s that.) The festival brings big country names to the north -- Little Big Town and the Oak Ridge Boys are headlining this July. The four-day festival is also a camping affair, which brings with it all the dirt, drinking, and general debauchery one would expect, with a distinct Midwestern-country lean.

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Mullet Toss

Perdido Key, Florida / Orange Beach, Alabama
A beach bash too big for a single state to hold

This ain’t a celebration of party-in-the-back haircuts. This is people throwing raw fish across the state line from Florida to Alabama because, hey, kids gotta learn geography somehow. It started as a modest get-together on the beach behind the iconic Flora-Bama bar, and has grown to the biggest party on the Gulf Coast. Literally thousands of people come for day-drinking, fish throwing, the Mullet Man triathlon, and the hot body competition. Though, according to one frequent mullet tosser: “The only thing hot about those bodies is the hot messes they belong to.”

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Okeechobee MudFest

Okeechobee, Florida
Giant trucks, not much clothes, and a LOT of mud

No surprise that this flat, wet state knows from mudding -- a mashup of BMX racing and monster trucks, where boys from the parts of Florida where you don’t vacation put gigantic tires on souped-up pickups and drive through mud holes. You can find a good mudding party pretty much any weekend in Florida, but at this fest in Okeechobee it crescendos in a sea of mud, whiskey, regrettable tattoos, and the gentle roar of truck engines + Skynyrd. And there might be the occasional flashing from the Mudder Girls who come along, since why have a 15-foot-tall swamp buggy if it can’t untie a bikini top for you?

The Kentucky Derby

Louisville, Kentucky
The sloppy, sunburnt infield of Churchill Downs is where the real spectacle happens

In the suites around Churchill Downs, people are wearing seersucker suits and frilly dresses and hats straight out of a royal wedding. But by the time of the Derby, the 12th race of the day, you and 80,000 of your friends in the infield are oblivious to the antebellum pomp in the grandstands. It’s the first Saturday in May and you’ve been drinking for nine hours straight. Your face and bare torso have ripened from a wintry pale to the color of smoked salmon. Little bits of shattered styrofoam cooler are in your hair. You’ve lost count of the bare boobs and the bad bets. You could swear you hit a $2 trifecta box at some point, and maybe that ticket survived amid the other paper bits in your ruined pants, but who knows. It rains, and you sprint toward a puddle. Like the 30-1 long shot, you’ve really just been raring to race in the mud.

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The World Championship Duck Gumbo Cookoff

Stuttgart, Arkansas
Hands down, the ass-slappingest place in America

The delta of east Arkansas is North America’s best spot for growing rice and, as it sits along a major migration path, attracting ducks. Hunters thus celebrate after every Thanksgiving with a duck-calling championship in Stuttgart, and with a gumbo cook-off that doubles as a mini-Mardi Gras. Teams do cook gumbo in elaborate, sometimes multi-story booths around this massive tent party, but the real attraction is drinking, live music, bead-swapping, and a distinct ritual: Teams print stickers and hand them out by slapping them (friendly-like) onto the bottoms of passers-by. By the end of the day, your butt is plastered over with stickers, your belly is full of lager, and you’ve sampled a dozen legit gumbos made with ducks the cooks shot themselves.

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HogRock Motorcycle Rally

Cave In Rock, Illinois
A three-day wilderness blowout celebrating the biker lifestyle

Cave In Rock is one nutty town. Though boasting a population of only 302 official residents, the southern Illinois village overlooking the Ohio River overflows every June as bikers swarm the dusty country roads for the HogRock Motorcycle Rally. Depending on who you ask, as many as 15,000 partygoers kick the pig on this adults-only three-day camping revelry celebrating all things red of neck. There are contests of the naked variety, a host of bands as devoted to power ballads as they remain to Aqua Net, and an appearance by someone who signs his 1040 as "Tommy the Fire Guy."

Bristol NASCAR races

Bristol, Tennessee
A debauched week before the speedway doors even open

Talladega and Daytona certainly bring the unrefined Southern noise when the stock cars come to town. But the hardest partying goes on in Thunder Valley. Some 160,000 people cram into this canyon surrounded by the mountains of eastern Tennessee with nowhere to go and nothing to do but party. So the mayhem spreads far from the walls of the speedway to become a makeshift city mayhem, a venerable Burning Man of Bud Light that goes on for a week or more before the races. “I’ve never been, but I want to,” Forrester says. “Somebody told me he saw people having sex on the infield while people stood around and cheered one time. I’m not sure if that’s redneck or just gross.”

Testy Fest

Clinton, Montana
A shameless celebration of all things nuts

Eating bull testes sounds a little (all right, a lot) disgusting, and if you’re going to base an entire festival around chowing on Rocky Mountain oysters, you might need a drink or 12 to get through it. Thus is the logic of the annual Testy Fest, where a bar called the Rock Creek Lodge becomes ground zero for a weekend-long bacchanal of balls. And not just cow balls either: One of the main events of the weekend -- alongside a wet T-shirt contest and an “Itty Bitty Titty” competition -- is the Big Balls Contest, wherein dudes bust out their set to be judged by a panel of women.

Alpha Psi Rodeo, aka Auburn Rodeo

Auburn, Alabama
In which cowboy culture devolves into Southern-preppy anarchy

Rodeos, even when they’re fundraisers thrown by fraternities, are another big draw for the lovably unrefined. But when part of the annual event is injuries sustained by people standing on top of their trailers so they can see said rodeo, then falling off those trailers -- because, well, Wild Turkey’s a helluva drug -- you’ve got the baddest redneck party on the circuit. “It’s an all-day drinking fest with a lot of people and what feels like no rules of oversight,” said one past attendee, who cited as a highlight making out with a 300-pound stranger in a pond filled with agricultural runoff. Apparently the trailer-topping injuries and possible long-term health consequences have tamed the event a little in recent years -- who would insure it? But even with fewer fistfights and broken legs, it’s still the rowdiest rodeo party in America.

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World Championship Punkin Chunkin

Bridgeville, Delaware
Where backyard engineers meet to blow up squash

Rednecks have an earned reputation as ignorant, but their ingenuity, too, can become the stuff of legend. So what happens when you combine a spirit of shit, I can do that with actual engineers? An only-in-America party each November that assembles an artillery line to shoot or (literally) catapult pumpkins across a mile-plus-long open field. Some of the trebuchet machines use torsion -- a medieval technique of tight-winding rope to collect energy, then releasing it in a violent flash -- to launch the pumpkins. Others blast the squash out of bus-length compressed air cannons. If the force doesn’t shatter the pumpkin into a spray, it can blast the thing upwards of 3,000 feet away.

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Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Sturgis, South Dakota
The biggest biker gathering in America, or maybe anywhere

In early August, the population of South Dakota basically doubles as 700,000 bikers roll into the tiny Black Hills town of Sturgis -- spilling over into nearby Spearfish, Deadwood, Lead, and Belle Fourche -- for America’s biggest rally. Riders fill the bars, streets, and every hotel room and campground for a 100-mile radius as the sounds of revving engines shatters the normally placid area, and it’s just incredible. While bars like One Eyed Jacks and the Full Throttle Saloon get jammed, the legendary Buffalo Chip becomes ground zero: road house, campground, and concert stage (Skynyrd! Ozzy! George Thorogood! Uh... Blink-182?). The streets flow with booze and food carts. You’ll probably see a bike burn out inside a bar. You’re definitely going to see scantily clad people -- some who should be, some who shouldn’t -- and a couple of fights. And when you leave, you’re very certainly going to smell like gas and grit as you deal with a minor case of tinnitus.

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

Jacksonville, Florida
The country’s ultimate college football tailgate

Ask anyone who went to the University of Florida or the University of Georgia about their best college stories, and most of them will begin with, “That time we went to Florida/Georgia... ” The students and alumni from these huge state universities treat this annual matchup like a mini-spring break, where Jäger pulls for breakfast are more common than cereal. Bars in Downtown Jacksonville become a nonstop chorus of “It’s great... to be... ” and “S-E-C” chants, with alumni in their 60s doing shots with kids who are DEFINITELY of legal drinking age. “The SEC is the most redneck conference in football, and this game is literally thousands of people hammered, grilling gator tails,” says Forrester. “As much as Florida and Georgia hate each other, they get along because they wanna share beer and share meat. But once kickoff starts it can get pretty violent. Because they hate each other.”

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Zwolle Tamale Fiesta

Zwolle, Louisiana
Thousands of tamales and one infamous bog

Ostensibly this annual celebration of Zwolle’s Spanish and Native American heritage seems like a pleasant civic party. There’s a 5K, a beauty pageant, a parade, tamale judging, children’s programs. Typical sweet stuff. Then there’s the mud bog. The mud bog might be the biggest mudding celebration outside of Florida, where good ol’ boys in Jeeps-on-steroids clamber through the Zwolle mud bog at high speeds and even higher decibels. An afternoon drinking on the back of one of these trucks, tamale in hand, will have you completely forgetting this fiesta is supposed to be some kind of Spanish cultural fair. Though it is no doubt a cultural experience.

Okie Noodling Tournament

Pauls Valley, Oklahoma
For hand-to-face combat between enormous catfish and rednecks

The biggest, ugliest animal in any given lake in middle America is almost certainly a blue or flathead catfish. They get enormous -- 40, 60, maybe 80 pounds -- and hunker in nooks around stones or trees, growing till their bottom jaws are big enough that you can grab ‘em like handlebars. Hence is born the dangerous, manly art of hand-fishing, called “noodling,” which in turn begets a June street party in central Oklahoma. Contestants get a single day to find, noodle, and drive a catfish from anywhere in the state to the weigh-in at Pauls Valley. There a massive crowd awaits, killing time with dunk-tank handfishing demonstrations and Christian-tilting rock bands and barbecue and a noodle-eating contest. Around dusk pickups idle down the main drag with live monster fish sloshing in galvanized metal tubs, and triumphant, farmer-tanned noodlers pick at fresh fish-fight cuts that next year they’ll show off as gnarly scars.

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