Tuesday, September 29, 2020 Edition: U.S. & World | Regional

The Weirdest Festivals and Events in America. We Celebrate Some Strange Stuff.

From tossing a tuna at Australia’s Tunarama Festival to the Monkey Buffet Festival in Thailand, the world has no shortage of weird annual events. Some have well-known origins while others are subject to the creativity of whomever you ask. Arguably, racing with the bulls in San Fermin, Spain is a bit strange, but those not maimed, spindled, and mutilated from previous years willingly risk life and limb with an unbridled passion.

They may not be as big, and they will certainly never be as famous, but nobody needs to visit the annual world mud-wrestling festival in South Korea to find the quirky and unusual. People are people regardless of the worldly corner they hail from. We need little reason to celebrate things of no significant value and Americans are often the worst offenders. No one can fly a freak flag or party down for no apparent reason like a group of Americans celebrating nothing. It’s a badge of honor we proudly flaunt. Long may it wave.

The Idiotarod – Various Locations 

Our 49th state of Alaska “ain’t got nothing” on the lower 48. While they’re up there feeding their huskies and waxing sleds in preparation for the greatest dog sled race in the world, the Iditarod, some of us down here are WD-40’ing wheels. On grocery carts. Why would anyone outside of a Winn-Dixie employee do such a thing? Country music legend George Jones said it best with his 1958 chart-topping hit, “The Race Is On”.

That’s right. But it isn’t just one grocery cart race. “Idiotaroditarians” from many areas spend excruciating minutes in preparation for the year’s biggest relatively unheard of race. Teams consisting of five “idiots” literally tie themselves to ever-so-slightly modified grocery store carts and take off towards a finish line. Sound boring? It’s anything but. Trickery, tomfoolery, and sabotage are encouraged, and teams are rewarded for their ingenuity. Since there is no published rulebook, tossing a bag of marbles in front of an opposing teams cart or tripping one of them with a cane are considered fair play. Giving false route information is common.

This annual event takes place in major metropolitan areas and in adding to the fun the participants are in costume, which in itself can get crazy. Imagine a diapered astronaut, if you will. Known races are held in Ann Arbor, Asheville, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Iowa City, NYC, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle, St. Louis, Toronto, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Washington D.C.

There’s one more thing. Team members have been known to briefly untie themselves as they stop at pubs along the routes, which can stretch as far as four miles.
The Idiotarod   Various Locations
Humungus Fungus Fest – Crystal Falls, Michigan

Like a Rod Serling or Alford Hitchcock tale of giant creatures consuming entire populations, the Humungus Fungus Fest pays homage to a real-life monster in the form of fungi. One 1,500-year-old fungus consuming 37 acres. It’s a celebrated single, much larger than life, Armillaria gallic mushroom which is actually a series of connected separate plants, but let’s not spoil the fun.

For three full days festival goers eat pancake breakfasts, tube float down the river, shoot fireworks, watch a festive parade, play golf, throw horseshoes, smack softballs over the fence, race to finish a pie, attend ice cream socials, and drink lots of beer. All the fun leads up to the final most cherished event of the entire festival, preparing and devouring the revered 10 ft. by 10 Ft. Humungous Pizza, which residents claim is the largest of its type in the world.
Humungus Fungus Fest   Crystal Falls, Michigan
Tarantula Awareness Festival – Coarsegold, California

Most of us would hightail it the opposite direction at the mere sight of one of these hairy sharp-fanged creatures from Hades, but not the good people of Coarsegold, California. They embrace their presence with music, dance, food, poetry, crafts, and alcohol.

Each year around the end of October the eight-legged arachnid’s invade Coarsegold in overwhelming numbers in search of mates. Their annual return signifies as good a reason as any to throw down. Noted events include the hairiest leg contest, a tarantula hat dance, and a tarantula derby.

The main purpose of the festival is to educate visitors as to the importance of tarantulas in the ecosystem, but what better way to attract a crowd of fun-loving Americans than by throwing a party. By the way, tarantulas receive a bad rap. They’re harmless.
Tarantula Awareness Festival   Coarsegold, California
Hillbilly Days – Pikeville, Kentucky

Hillbilly Days are three full days of celebrating everything hillbilly. Would-be hillbillies and the real (and actual) McCoys mixed in with a spattering of Hatfields, all turn out for a rip-roaring good time and a look at Appalachian culture.

Highly skilled well-trained athletes turn out to compete in the coveted cornhole tournament in hopes their dreams won’t be dashed by defeat. Banjos, dulcimers, mouth-harps, guitars, washboards, jugs, mandolins, and spoons slapping knees, fills the air with the music of Appalachia’s heritage which is still alive and well today. Traditional country vittles, which may or may not be identifiable but taste great nonetheless, are served in heaping helpings, and if someone knows where to look or who to inquire of, a taste of moonshine might be in store.

Traditional hand-made mountain crafts and outrageously beautiful quilts are on display and for sale. A wonderful time is had by all, and because hillbillies have such huge hearts, all proceeds are donated to the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children.
Hillbilly Days   Pikeville, Kentucky
Honorable Mentions:
Roadkill Cookoff – Marlington, West Virginia

Mostly attended by locals with a few outside stragglers, the annual Roadkill Cookoff is exactly what the name implies. If it wasn’t found dead on the side of the road, it won’t be on the menu. Visitors show up for a taste of the unusual, even if they don’t know what it was prior to falling victim to an 18-wheeler or a four-wheel drive pickup truck. Of course, there’s live music to chew by.
Roadkill Cookoff   Marlington, West Virginia
Testicle Festival – Clinton, Montana

This is a “balls to the wall” celebration of bull testicles complete with a contest to see who can choke down the most of the chopped off manhoods in 4-minutes.  What better way to follow up the contest than with an underwear race? You guessed it. The pants come off and the race is on.
Testicle Festival   Clinton, Montana
Cooter Festival – Inverness, Florida

This festival gets an honorable mention simply due to its name. A cooter is actually a type of lake turtle common to the area. What were you thinking?  A costumed Sunny Cooter is the festival’s mascot, live music is ever-present, a cooter queen is crowned, there’s a cooter race where turtles zoom to a finish line, plenty of food is on hand, and the entire thing is wrapped up with a fireworks display.
Cooter Festival   Inverness, Florida
Americans will use any excuse to get crazy and have a party. Even if you don’t hit the road for a chance to take part, these weird and wonderful festivals will put a smile on your face.

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