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Mark your calendar for these fun-filled events held across the country in August and September.
9 Naperville, Illinois
The ninth annual Veggie Fest is here to prove that living meat-free is at last inching closer to mainstream embrace. The two-day event, held at the Science of Spirituality Meditation Center in Naperville (a suburb of Chicago), is expected to draw around 25,000 attendees to a family-friendly celebration of edible leaves, roots, pods, seeds, buds, and flowers. The sharp rise in the country’s vegetarianism, with numbers tripling in the U.S. since the 1970s, is largely attributed to recent, reputable research reporting that such a diet is healthier, promotes weight loss and maintenance, is better for the environment, and releases our pets from any fear that they’ll one day be baked, grilled, or sautéed. Veggie Fest, the largest affair of its kind in North America, serves up food demos with restaurant owners, chefs, and authors; an international food court; live music from some of the Windy City’s best bands; professional speakers discussing lifestyle, diet, and environmental issues; children’s programs with face painting, clowns, and crafts; and more than 100 vendor booths selling all sorts of goods. Admission is free, although event organizers appreciate if guests swing by the on-site blood drive truck to make a donation or bring nonperishable veggie items for a local food pantry.
15 Snoqualmie, Washington
Although the average American rides the rails less than 50 miles a year (according to a 2013 report in The Economist), it’s impossible to overstate the importance of railroads to our nation’s history and development. Thankfully, the tradition rolls on at Snoqualmie Railroad Days, which has laid tracks for family fun and locomotive adventures since 1938. The community event chugs along for three days through Snoqualmie Depot and the historic downtown area (where David Lynch once filmed lush exteriors for the cult TV series Twin Peaks). With an expansive model train layout, a living-history program, railway equipment demonstrations, a classic car show, and train rides pulled by one of the last working steam locomotives in North America, Railroad Days promises fun for the whole family. Northwest Railway Museum, which produces the event, gives visitors an insider’s look at the excitement of working railroads, illuminating the important role they played in shaping the character and culture of the Pacific Northwest. There will also be a pancake hosted by the fire department, 1-, 5-, and 10K fun runs, a parade, bountiful food and drink, arts and crafts, and wagon rides, as well as three stages of live mu-sic and entertainment to inspire plenty of caboose shaking.
We know, we know, all you need is love. But if you’re a die-hard Fab Four fan, you’ll also want to set out on the long and winding road for The Fest, a three-day extravaganza simultaneously celebrating its 38th year and the 50th anniversa-ry of the first stateside appearance of John, Paul, George, and Ringo (which some historians might argue is more important than the arrival centuries earlier of an errant Italian explorer). Held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, the toe-tapping, pulse-quickening event, which was endorsed by The Beatles themselves years ago, boasts live performances by Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Mike Pender of The Searchers, Mark Rivera (Billy Joel’s saxophonist, who also happens to be Ringo’s musical director), and guitarist Laurence Juber of Wings, among others. Liverpool, arguably the world’s best Beatles tribute band, delivers a rousing performance of fan-favorite hits, and Radio Hall of Famer Terri Hemmert, who hosts the nationally syndicated Breakfast with the Beatles show on Sunday mornings, will carry out the fest’s emcee duties. The exhibit floor will be packed with rare Beatles artifacts, art and photo exhibits, roundtables, trivia contests, dance parties, yoga workouts, autograph sessions, and more. If you can’t make it out to the Windy City this month, the Fest hits Los Angeles in October.
Borrowing this year’s theme from Stevie Wonder’s 1973 chart-topping funk anthem, “Higher Ground” (Till I reach my highest ground, no one’s gonna bring me down, oh no), the 32nd annual African World Festival gathers more than 150,000 guests in a celebration of culture, heritage, and history. Held from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. over three days at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History—so named for the late Motor City physician who, in 1965, helped establish the institution—the fest offers poetry, drumming, dance, educational installations, and interactive history lessons, as well as more than 150 purveyors of visual arts, handmade crafts, apparel, and accessories. Tea ceremonies, a traditional Moroccan wedding, three stages of live entertainment, and film screenings also delight guests. A highlight will undoubtedly be a roof-raising set by the Grammy-winning Clark Sisters, whose 16 albums reveal tremendous soul, warmth, and stunning vocal acrobatics.
16 New York City
At the ninth annual Jazz Age Lawn Party—hosted by Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra, the world’s premier Jazz Age dance band—you’ll be “borne back ceaselessly into the past,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald penned, by a West Egg extravaganza that would delight even his lovelorn millionaire, Jay Gatsby. Your time machine to the Roaring ’20s begins with a breezy ferry ride from either Brooklyn Bridge Park or the Battery Maritime Building to historic Governors Island, with its sprawling greens, century-old trees, fresh sea air, and Art Deco–flavored architecture. St-Germain provides the affair’s signature spirits, with legendary mixologists Julie Reiner and Andy Seymour presiding over the cocktail concocting, while East Village master chef Jimmy Carbone serves up the party’s good eats, including squab on toast, steak sandwiches, and shrimp rolls. Period tunes, dance lessons, Charleston contests, and Ziegfeld Follies–inspired performances, plus a photo booth, a classic car exhibition, and carnival games for flapperettes and junior gents highlight this indelible return to an exuberant, glamorous era.
16 Portland, Oregon
You can thank Ohio journalist Myron Scott for first coming up with the idea, in 1934, that homemade vehicles could be corralled for a high-stakes race that he dubbed the soapbox derby. Sixty-three years later, Paul Zenk, a Portland entrepreneur, launched the PDX Adult Soap Box Derby, firing the starter’s pistol on a Northwest edition of the DIY drag race by luring six contestants to the top of volcanic Mount Tabor. This year, the 18th annual event features up to 42 competitors racing three at a time while approximately 10,000 spectators picnic and gawk at the machines as they desperately hurtle along at breathtaking speeds. According to event guidelines, each vehicle must weigh no more than 500 pounds, be outfitted with brakes and a horn, run solely on gravity, and cost less than $300. (Which probably sounds like your first actual car, right?) The perilous 0.7-mile course is a thrilling combo of straightaways and curves sure to amp up the heart rates of the competing daredevils. The first race gets started at 10 a.m., and a 30-minute intermission at 1 p.m. features a dynamic performance by the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers, accompanied by baton twirlers.
23 Austin, Texas
“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat, how I wonder what you’re at,” the Mad Hatter once daftly rhymed in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But the denizens of Austin know exactly where to find Tadarida brasiliensis, otherwise known as the Mexican free-tailed bat: beneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. From March through November, the nocturnal mammals who reside there—more than 1.5 million of them—take nightly flight to sate their hunger, devouring a collective 250 tons of moths, crickets, mosquitoes, and grasshoppers along the way. The 10th Annual Austin Bat Fest, an offbeat affair that proudly realizes the city’s unofficial mission of “keeping it weird,” finds thousands of Austinites celebrating the critters, which can, in a single night, fly 250 miles at heights of up to 10,000 feet. Come early for the costume contests, 10 bands on two stages, children’s activities, more than 75 arts and crafts vendors, and tasty vittles. The main attraction—the feeding flight—typically takes off around 7 p.m. and lasts up to an hour, weather permitting. Fun fact: According to fable-meister Aesop, bats are nocturnal because they’re delinquent on a large debt owed to a bookie who only keeps daylight hours. And that’s no guano.
Magic City lays claim to having the largest Cuban-American population in the U.S., and the 16th annual Afro-Cuban Dance Festival celebrates the island culture’s propensity for sultry hoofing, elegant pas de deux, and vigorous boogieing. Produced by Ife-Ile—the premier cultural organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Afro-Cuban culture through the performing arts—the three-day festival glorifies “the rhythm of the island,” as Gloria Estefan proclaimed in the 1985 hit “Conga,” with a variety of panels, lectures, workshops, and performances from experts on fancy footwork. The Koubek Center, part of Miami Dade College, offers up a Thursday evening “Fusion Works in Dance” panel discussion followed by a performance by Ife-Ile musicians. A sensual, full-flavored Friday evening street fair in Little Havana raises the heat with mouthwatering morsels, mojitos, arts and crafts, and the chance to learn the conga, rumba, cha-cha, bolero, danzonete, habanera, and other steps from a spate of movement maestros. The hip-shaking gala concludes Saturday evening with an all-star performance choreographed by award-winning dancer and festival founder Neri Torres. According to the infinite wisdom of the 2004 film Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, dancing is about “being exactly who you want to be in [the] moment.” In Miami, you might discover who that is.
30 Louisville, Kentucky
A much loved Labor Day weekend tradition, the ninth annual Four Roses Kentucky Bluegrass & Bourbon Experience celebrates the Bluegrass State’s musical heritage with three days of power-house performances—not to mention ample pours of a spirit rumored to flow as freely through Kentucky as water itself. Held at Louisville’s Water Tower Park, the toe-tapping jamboree gathers the best purveyors of a musical style known for its Appalachian roots, rapid tempos, overlapping melodies, and soaring use of banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, and upright bass. Though this year’s lineup was not announced at press time, be prepared to work up a sweat as you buck dance, flatfoot, and clog your way to musical bliss. Southern cuisine from barbecue to burgoo is on hand to satisfy your appetite, while the Bourbon Experience tent provides the perfect place to cool down and quench your thirst. This Commonwealth favorite also puts up a play area for children with bounce houses and abundant activities, while casual shoppers will enjoy an expansive marketplace of arts and crafts from across the state.
5 Reno, Nevada
Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s—more than 100 wildly colorful hot air balloons! Storming the September skyline over Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, the 33rd annual Great Reno Balloon Race is the world’s largest free-admission hot air ballooning event. Attracting more than 110,000 spectators each year, this three-day extravaganza merges our nation’s passion for flying with its mad obsession over wacky competitions. Each day, qualified pilots head skyward around 6:45 a.m. and steer over targets marked with Xs on the ground, which must be tagged with beanbags hurled from the baskets. The pilot who racks up the most points over the duration of the contest is named champion and wins a
In 1942, legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov introduced the Three Laws of Robotics—a robot may not injure a human being, a robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, a robot must protect its own existence—and pop culture was never the same. At Robothon, a thrilling annual contest between dozens of amateur-built robots at Seattle Center Armory, you can see for yourself how far Asimov’s laws have been bent. (Hint: probably more than in Bicentennial Man but less than in Transformers: Age of Extinction.) Produced by the Seattle Robotics Society, this free event features a wide and wacky range of competitions—some of them combat-related—with a few strict guidelines for bots: no flying, no combustion engines, and no projectiles. In the Robo-Magellan event, autonomous robots must navigate a 1,000-foot obstacle course, while the Mini-Sumo contest finds two robots duking it out in a sumo ring, with points scored every time one is knocked from the circle. It’s sure to be a delightful, eccentric day for families, tech geeks, and sci-fi fans alike.
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