Unusual festivals offer chance for unique fun and entertainment


A queen at the Virginia Renaissance Faire
Photo/Sherry Miller Loy

By Victor Block

In Gilroy, California, people line up to purchase watermelon, ice cream and chocolate, all of which are laced with fresh, pungent garlic. Underwater divers off Florida’s Looe Key are serenaded by sounds ranging from a song sung by the Beatles to the high-pitched call made by humpback whales.

These disparate scenes have one thing in common. They’re three of countless fairs and festivals that are held throughout the year and around the country which focus on and celebrate a variety of animals and art, food and fun and other themes.

Take that crowd of garlic lovers. For 35 years, the Gilroy Garlic Festival has been one of the largest gatherings of foodies in the United States. Like most fairs based on a theme, this one includes its share of entertainment, music, arts and crafts and other attractions. And like many, it raises money that is donated to charities and non-profit organizations.

The festival provides an opportunity for those who attend to indulge in their love of garlic and their belief that it is under-used in recipes. Along with opportunities to nosh on the tasty treats, there are competitions for professional chefs, and a Great Garlic Cook-Off contest for amateurs. For more information, log onto gilroygarlicfestival.com.

Food, sort of, also is the focus of the somewhat grossly named Roadkill Cook-Off in Marlinton, West Virginia. Where else would you be asked how you prefer deer sausage, squirrel gravy over biscuits or teriyaki-marinated bear prepared? The entrees haven’t actually been killed on a road but they’re on the menu as a tribute to the large number of their cousins who were. For more information log onto pccocwv.com/roadkill.

One guess what the feature attraction is at the annual Great Texas Mosquito Festival in the town of Clute, about a 45-minute drive from Houston. It transforms a summer nuisance into the star attraction.. When they’re not competing in mosquito calling and mosquito legs contests, participants hang out with Willie-Man-Chew, the festival mascot. Billed as the largest mosquito in the world, he (or she) stands 26 feet tall, sports an oversize cowboy hat and boots, and has a proboscis that would be the envy of any self-respecting mosquito. For more information, log onto mosquitofestival.com.

The schedule of activities at most festivals includes music of some kind, and there are others at which dulcet sounds are a, if not the, major attraction. Those divers and snorkelers off the Florida coast are participants in the Lower Keys Sanctuary Underwater Music Festival as music and other sounds waft down from above.

The sea-focused playlist includes melodies like the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and the theme from “The Little Mermaid.” Participants are encouraged to wear appropriate costumes, and some pretend to play whimsical underwater instruments made by a local sculptor. For more information log onto lowerkeyschamber.com/festival.php.

There’s also a long list of events that don’t fit easily into categories. In 1947, an object crashed at a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico that the Air Force ever since has insisted was a weather surveillance balloon. Even so, a persistent group of people have clung to the belief that the accident involved an extraterrestrial spaceship, whose occupants were recovered by the military which has engaged in a cover-up.

For years, the area has been the go-to destination for those who cling to the belief that our planet has been visited by aliens. Among activities are a costume contest, “alien chase,” and presentations by authors of adult and children’s books about UFOs, paranormal experiences and earthlings who recount being abducted by visitors from outer space. For more information log onto ufofestivalroswell.com.

Anyone who’s a fan of the “Game of Thrones” hit TV series will feel at home dropping by one of the Renaissance Fairs that are held in a number of states. Many of these make-believe settings seek to replicate life during the reign of British royalty. The usual order of business includes an abundance of period costumed entertainers and fair-goers, musical and theatrical acts, and stands selling art, handicrafts and food. Efforts to persuade members of the audience to participate in the fun and frivolity are usually part of the scene. To see a list of Renaissance Fairs log onto

If none of these fun festivals has appeal for you, fret not. An Internet search will reveal a virtual a-to-z list of alternatives, including a Bigfoot festival, National Hollerin’ Contest, kinetic sculpture race and events that honor chickens, lentils, tarantulas, turpentine, dancing and much more.

Playing sculpture guitar at the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival Photo/ K. Walker
Playing sculpture guitar at the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival
Photo/ K. Walker