16 Under-The-Radar Summer Festivals You Can’t Miss
There's much more to summer festivals than standing in front of a stage in a muddy field, surrounded by glow-stick-laden teenagers with $10 pizza slices in hand -- not that it doesn't have its place. There's a whole spectrum of en-masse shindigs to check out, from food, music, and culture to all the weird stuff we couldn’t quite categorize (you'll see). We've compiled a list of 16 kickass under-the-radar gatherings that will amplify your summer, increase your good vibes, and not one of them necessitates wearing a synthetic flower crown. Get ready.
Priorities people. There's really nowhere else to start charting your festival calendar than with foods so awesome that whole festivals are dedicated to them.
The Gilroy Garlic Festival
July 24-26 in Gilroy, CA (address and info)
Yes, lovers and lovers of garlic need not be two separate groups of people. You can have it all at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, confident that any special someone who catches your eye at the free garlic ice cream stand is down to hang, stanky breath and all. Stroll down Gourmet Alley, the epicenter of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and witness the ceiling-high flames of the pyro chefs as they cook up garlic-infused goodies like scampi and calamari.
Don’t Miss It: This year’s theme is “For The Love of Garlic,” and one special couple will be selected to tie the (garlic) knot, complete with garlic bouquets and even a hefty honeymoon package. All they have to do is share how garlic brought them together.
The Austin Ice Cream Festival
August 8th in Austin, TX (address and info)
The crumpled dollar, limp with nervous hand-sweat, the fading jingle -- it’s time to put the pain of missing the ice cream truck in the past. At the Austin Ice Cream festival, everyone gets a cone, even the people who call sprinkles “jimmies.” And it’s not just ice cream -- the festival boasts a comprehensive list of frozen treats like popsicles, sherbet, froyo, and frozen custard, not to mention a petting zoo, contests, and live music all day. Even better, proceeds from the festival go to charities like the Austin Children’s Shelter.
Don’t miss it: Who’s taking home THE SPOON? Think violent competitiveness is reserved for Dance Moms and eBay bidders? Think again. The cutthroat underbelly of the ice cream world is put on full display with the popsicle stick sculpture contest and the homemade ice cream contest. Don’t miss ‘em.
July 25 - 27 in Whiting, IN (address and info)
The humble Eastern European pierogi has brought the people of Whiting, Indiana, 21 years of joy thanks to Pierogi Fest. Moved by a bite of the savory potato-and-cheese dumpling encased in a warm pocket of dough? Then feel free to hug Mr. Pierogi, the fest’s mascot who feeds off of the love of the 200,000 guests in attendance, much like they feed off of the collective joy well-made sauerkraut filling can bring.
Don’t miss it:
There is of course a parade, Pierogi toss, and a Pierogi-eating contest -- the latter being a much better use of the dumpling than chucking it through the air. Don’t miss The Mr. Pierogi Songfest, where Mr. Pierogi himself, along with his Pieroguettes (Miss Potato, Miss Cheese, Miss Mushroom, etc.) sing and dance to hits like “Anything you can eat, I can eat more of.”
The Potato Days Festival
August 28-29 in Barnesville, MN (address and info)
Between the small town hospitality of Barnesville, Minnesota, and the starchy perfection of nature’s most precious gift to us -- the potato -- the Barnesville Potato Days Festival is a weekend perfect for the young, the old, and the hungry. Any activity you’ve ever wanted to do with a potato will be covered (except for that one, come on now). They have any festival’s standard parade and street fair, sure, but you’ll have a hard time finding mashed potato sculpting, potato sack fashion, and potato-car racing anywhere else.
Don’t Miss it: Potato. Wrestling. The leftovers are fed to cattle so there’s no food wasted! This might be how we want to go -- in a giant vat of buttery mashed potatoes.
The Woodward Dream Cruise
August 15 in Detroit, MI (address and info)
There are a lot of things those pesky baby boomers have given us that we’d like to give back, but their sweet, sweet rides are not one of them. In the very same metro-Detroit area that gave way to the rise of American automobile is the Woodward Dream Cruise, one of the biggest celebrations of the classic automotive engineering of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and beyond. Classic muscle cars, street rods, custom and collectors’ cars cruise down Woodward Avenue, passing through nine different neighborhoods, which each have their own celebrations under the umbrella of this festival. You can even see cars from different countries -- some of which don’t even exist on the map anymore (whaddup USSR).
Don’t miss it: The city of Ferndale boasts an Emergency Vehicle Show (followed by a Lights and Sirens Parade) where you can watch classic and custom versions of police, fire, ambulance, and other emergency vehicles cruise down the street.
July 23 - 25 in Decorah, IA (address and info)
If you’ve never partied like a Viking, have you ever truly partied? With roughly 50,000 thousand people in attendance, many of Scandinavian origin, you could split some lefse with a descendant at the 49th annual Nordic Fest. With the Grand Parade’s traditional bundan dress, Scandinavian eats, and folk art demonstrations like knife making and woodworking, Valhalla won’t feel too far away.
Don’t Miss It: Check out the various Viking Sports games like the rock throw and the canoe race. Is this what Thor feels like all the time?
San Fermin in New Orleans
July 9 to 12 in New Orleans, LA (address and info)
We have a theory about New Orleans; everything you do there is automatically 1,000 times more fun than anywhere else -- thought not getting gored by a bull is admittedly setting the bar pretty low. That's right, the Big Easy has it's very own San Fermin bull run just like the one in Pamplona, Spain (sort of). Instead of being chased by angry bulls down the Latin Quarter of Pamplona, you're chased by very motivated roller derby women wearing bull horns and carrying bats through the French Quarter. Children under 10 must use the sidewalk. Eleven-year-olds are fair game.
Don't Miss It: The bull run isn't the only event during this four-day festival. Catch the free concert and cocktail event the Fiesta de Pantalones after the bull run, and be sure to dress in the Pamplonese all-white outfit which includes a bit of red flair around the neck and waist. Ole!
The Underwater Music Festival
July 11 in the Florida Keys, FL (address and info)
Florida might be responsible for some weird stuff sometimes, but we have to admit, we like its style. At the world’s third largest coral reef, and the US’ only living reef, off the mainland is the Underwater Musical Festival, set up to alert divers and snorkelers of the importance of responsible recreation and reef protection. Sponsored by 1 Radio, music from the station is pumped through special speakers attached to the bottom of boats for divers and snorkelers to groove to.
Don’t miss it: There’s more to this than simply dancing under water. People dress up in costume and “play” instruments like giant conch shells and fish bone xylophones and yeah, mermaids might not be good at a two-step but their hips don’t lie.
The Hopscotch Music Festival
Sept 10 - 12 in Raleigh, NC (address and info)
Under no circumstances can someone say, “I heard them before they were cool” without sounding like a jerk, but the Hopscotch Music Festival might have us granting some exceptions. Not only is this an underground music festival that tries to make sure all fans of all genres have solid options to jam to -- metal, indie-rock, rap, folk, electronic -- but a lot of the performers are local to the Raleigh music scene. The festival, now in its sixth year, spans three days and features 160 acts across 13 venues, not to mention all the parties and this year’s inaugural Hopscotch Design Festival.
Don’t Miss It: Be sure to check out the Sitework art exhibition at Hopscotch, featuring art and photography that links the relationship between contemporary art and independent music.
Wheatland Music Festival
Sept. 11 - 13 in Remus, MI (address and info)
By the time Labor Day’s a tiny dot in the rearview mirror, it’s clear we’re all gunning towards winter at breakneck speed. But the people of Remus, Michigan, savor the last of the summer breeze by camping under the stars and grooving to back-to-basics bluegrass. And they’ve been doing it since 1974 at the first Wheatland Music Festival, a venerable Midwest institution of tie-dye shirts and good vibes. The three-day jam fest is dedicated to showcasing and preserving the traditional-music scene in Michigan fostering a love for “roots” music of all types -- folk, Americana, gospel, Celtic, blues, acapella, rockabilly, and more.
Don’t Miss it: There’s a lot more to the Wheatland Music Fest than just performances. Catch workshops, demonstrations, and seminars on how to play the mandolin, fiddle, or accordion, or learn how to clog dance!
Electronic Sriracha Festival
August 30th in San Jose, CA (address and info)
Everything’s coming up Sriracha these days. What’s next, a record deal? Sriracha on Ice? (We’d go.) This Labor Day weekend, the city of San Jose is throwing the first Electronic Sriracha Festival, with three stages of Electronic Music and over 120 Sriracha-infused dishes to fuel those hot dance moves with something extra spicy.
Don’t miss it: Not only are there 24 DJs and musicians ritualistically performing at the altar of our favorite rooster sauce, but there’s also a screening of the documentary Sriracha and a book-signing and Q&A by the author of TheSriracha Cookbook (a kitchen staple).
The Greeley Blues Jam
June 12 in Greeley, CO (address and info)
There are a few ways to learn how to play the harmonica -- living on the road as a boxcar hobo, getting thrown into an old-timey jailhouse -- but the Greeley Blues jam is probably the most fun. With a motto like “Ain’t nothin’ but a party,” this all-day jam-fest features three stages of blues so soulful your heart will hurt, but it’ll hurt so good. One of the stages -- Blues 101 -- is reserved for learning about the music that served as the foundation for most of today’s jams, and yes, learning the basics of the harmonica.
Don’t Miss It: The night before the Blues Jam, Downtown Greeley has a free show at the main plaza featuring a blues band all the way from Poland -- the Boogie Boys -- and live acts playing at 16 different local bars. Put your bar-hopping shoes on.
Annual Jake The Alligator Man 75th Birthday Party & Car Show
August 7-8 Long Beach, WA (address and info)
There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break this down. Jake the Alligator man is the legend of the half-man, half-alligator discovered in a Florida swamp, whose mummified body is on display at Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach, Washington. And as one does with the presence of a half-man, half-alligator, the mummified husk was appointed the town mascot. So every year, Long Beach celebrates Jake’s 75th Birthday (yes, he doesn't age) with a Burlesque Bachelor Party, a pageant to choose “The Bride of Jake,” and an all-ages, all-day birthday party that includes live music, a bounce house for the kids, a police-escorted cake parade, and also a Car Show thrown in there real quick, because why not?
Don’t Miss It: This year’s theme is Sea Monsters & Sea Hags, which will make for quite the Burlesque Show on Friday. It features dancer Nina Nightshade and “the original sea hag herself,” host MeduSirena -- a fire-eating mermaid. Surely you know a couple already.
July 29 - August 2 in Clinton, MT (address and info)
We're sorry, but testicles aren't food. That doesn't mean they don't deserve a festival, however, (everyone does say they need, uh, more attention). The 33rd Annual Testicle Festival is more than just noshing on deep-fried bulls’ testicles on a hot summer day (maybe with ketchup? Mustard? Hot sauce?). This 21-and-over event features all the trappings of a ball-less festival (as… eunuch as those are) like local tunes, contests, and priceless memories you’ll be nuts not to cherish forever.
Don’t miss it: Eating balls is not a spectator sport. Sign up for the testicle-eating contest. It’s one of many, like the wet t-shirt contests (appropriately enough there are two), and, if you’re secure enough to drop trou for your goods to be judged by a rowdy audience, there’s The Big Balls contest. God Bless America.
Roswell UFO Festival
July 2 - 5 in Roswell, NM (address and info)
Because Mars is disappointingly empty save for its sparse robot population, we turn to an other-worldly event a little closer to home. Over three Earth days, the Roswell UFO Festival celebrates the mysteries of the infamous 1947 crash of what the military would like us to believe was a “weather balloon” -- though we know better. Pay homage to the little green men our government doesn’t want us to know about by dressing up in their likeness (or maybe in a tinfoil hat) for events like the Alien Chase 10K run, the Costume Contest, and the Light Show Parade. There’s also a Pet Alien Costume Contest for Fido to join in on the fun. The Roswell Museum and Art Center’s Planetarium will also host talks, telescope viewings, and even a Lights And Music dance party on its premises.
Don’t Miss It: The Fourth of July Fireworks will no doubt steal the show, but it’s the Light Show Parade the night before that will be remembered after the festival’s over. People trick out floats in colorful lights to look like alien-spaceships while the revelers from the costume contests show off their extraterrestrial looks.
Sept. 19-20 in Point Pleasant, WV (address and info)
Whether it was a military experiment gone wrong, an alien, or just a giant bird -- make no mistake -- the city of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, was terrorized by something in the late 1960s, and they won’t let us forget it. The legend of Mothman, immortalized by a book and “loosely based” film (the townspeople don’t seem to be a fan, sorry Richard Gere), lives on through the Mothman Festival. The two-day event includes vendors selling Mothman gear and local eats, a Miss Mothman Pageant, and a busy day at Mothman Museum, which transports visitors to the events that inspired the legend.
Don’t Miss It: Take the hayride, which passes through the “TNT”’ area, the old WWII munitions plant where the Mothman sightings were most prevalent 40 years ago.