From Rand McNally’s 2011 Festival Guide
Labor Day weekend, summer-vacation season’s last “hoorah,” sees many great festivals in equally great destinations across the country. Some let us celebrate the fruits of our labors, others simply let us celebrate—with music, culture, food, and drink—before heading off to work again. Here are a few of our favorite Labor Day festivals.
Top Festival Picks
Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff, Sparks, NV: Half a million hungry rib lovers can’t be wrong! They come to this event feast on about 100 tons of barbecued meat over the course of six days. Meanwhile, the nation’s finest barbecue mavens haul out their best recipes and fire up their grills in the best ribs contest. This is no ordinary cook-off either—judges hail from such esteemed institutions as the Culinary Institute of America. Other activities include a professional rib-eating championship; a running of the pigs; a kids’ area with lots of attractions; and top-name entertainment. Admission is free, servings are generous, and antacids are your own responsibility.
Detroit International Jazz Festival, Detroit, MI: Approximately three-quarters of a million fans flock to the Woodward Avenue corridor along the banks of the Detroit River, where 100 acts perform over four days. The event spills over to surrounding venues, including area hotels. Featured jazz greats this year include saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, and the Pat Metheny Unity Band. The Kid Bop area features jazz-infused children’s music, and the Jazz Talk Tent sees historians leading discussions on topics from the impact of hit recordings to the lasting legacy of top-tier musicians to the development of jazz and blues instruments.
Marshall County Blueberry Festival, Plymouth, IN: At one time Marshall County produced one-third of Indiana’s blueberry crop. While the area no longer produces quite so much of this fruit, its blueberry festival, which began in 1966, still attracts 350,000 visitors. Highlights include a hot-air balloon rally; vintage car show; fireworks; parade; concerts; and food, craft, and vendor booths. At the Blueberry Stomp 5- and 15-kilometer road races, the festival’s resident royal, Miss Blueberry, sprinkles blueberries across the starting line before the starter’s pistol is fired.
Nebraska State Fair, Lincoln, NE: It has all the family favorites: a midway with carnival rides and games of chance and skill, racing pigs, clowns, and stilt walkers who weave through the crowds. At the 4-H and Future Farmers of America agricultural exhibits, kids can “milk” a fiberglass cow or visit poultry-hatching, farrowing, or animal-birthing areas. Marketplace North has a display of detailed sand sculptures, and the grandstands host monster truck shows; tractor pulls; a demolition derby; and pop, country, Hispanic, and Christian concerts. There’s even more entertainment in the beer garden, which opens at 5 nightly, and at stages throughout the grounds.
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, Sonoma, CA: At wine estates throughout the Sonoma region, you can take a seat at chic lunches and dinners and chat with vintners in an intimate setting. The grand Taste of Sonoma County event features wine seminars, cooking demos, get-your-boots-dirty vineyard tours, tastings, and shopping expeditions. Watch local chefs face off in the fast-paced, fun Chef of Steel competition. At the zany Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction, winemakers perform irreverent skits, while you sip sumptuous wine and bid on lavish items—including international wine and culinary trips—while supporting a good cause or two.
Other Noteworthy Festivals
Cleveland National Air Show, Cleveland, OH: It’s eyes to the skies at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport thanks to feats of derring-do by the likes of the Navy’s Blue Angels and Leap Frogs parachuting team. On the ground, look for displays of planes, interactive educational exhibits, and food and beverage concessions.
Colorado Balloon Classic, Colorado Springs, CO: At this Rocky Mountain festival, dozens of balloons ascend each morning of Labor Day weekend. There’s also live entertainment, concessions, helicopter rides, and volleyball clinics.
Ellensburg Rodeo, Ellensburg, WA: Shine up your boots, don your cowboy hat, and ‘git’ ready for action at one of America’s top 25 professional rodeos.
Historic Festival at Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, CT: A modern racetrack is the backdrop for vintage, exotic, and historic race cars. In addition to a vintage auto show, there are races as well as a parade and a street fair.
Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival, Morgan City, LA: This festival features a huge shrimp boil, 5K race, musical acts, and arts and crafts displays. But the big event is the parade of decorated boats.
Muddy Frogwater Country Classic Festival, Milton-Freewater, OR: The highlight is a frog-jumping competition, but you’ll also find an assortment of other contests, kid’s entertainments, a harvest art show, craft vendors, and barbecue dinners.
New England Arts & Crafts Festival, Topsfield, MA: Over 200 booths showcase all kinds of crafts and all American made. There are also concerts, crafting demonstrations, and plenty of good food.
Virginia Scottish Games and Festival, The Plains, VA: Pipe and drum shows, traditional dancing, fiddle playing, border-collie herding, stone and hammer tossing, and more showcase Scottish culture in this Blue Ridge town.
Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival, Prairie du Sac, WI: Cow chips are the focus of this light-hearted festival, where competitors see who can hurl the dried patties the farthest (sorry, no gloves allowed). Also featured are arts and crafts vendors, music, and a parade.