From Shakespeare in Oregon and sheep in Idaho to music in Texas and films in Colorado, somewhere in the shindig-loving West, there’s a festival to suit all tastes and partying predilections. If we could take a year off and travel across the country, hitting one after another, we’d be super-happy campers. Here are just some of the many stops that would be on our list.
NATIONAL COWBOY POETRY GATHERING
When: January 28 – February 2
Woo-hoo: The original cowboy poetry and music festival, “Elko” as this classic gathering is simply known, remains a pilgrimage in its 35th year. It’s six solid days of “poetry, music, dancing, workshops, exhibits, conversations, food, and fellowship, rooted in tradition but focused on today’s rural West.”
When: Season opens in March
Woo-hoo: The Beaver State does the Bard, with up to 11 plays a season, including works by Shakespeare and an electic mix of classics, musicals, and world premieres put on by theater pros in an incomparable setting in the foothills of the Siskiyou and Cascade ranges in the gorgeous Rogue Valley. This year opens with one of Will’s most popular comedies, As You Like It; running alongside it all season is the Broadway hit Hairspray.
Where: South Lake Union
When: July (dates TBA)
Woo-hoo: The largest street food festival in the Northwest invites you to “eat the streets.” That would be five blocks (more than150 booths) of street food and makers, a night market, and craft beer gardens with sides of live music and local DJs. It is the “ultimate outdoor summer dinner picnic.”
When: July 23 – 27
Woo-hoo: Besides the rodeo — declared the PRCA Midsize Rodeo of the Year since 2004 — there are historic parades (two of the state’s largest), a carnival, street dances, and free concerts, all celebrating the Deadwood gold rush that brought settlers to the Black Hills in 1876. The rodeo is the main attraction, but Mount Rushmore is less than 60 miles away.
When: August 15 – 17
Woo-hoo: Meet (and eat with) western TV and movie stars, watch films, enjoy the High Noon Parade, score celebrity autographs, and all in Utah’s Little Hollywood, where so many beloved westerns — from Drums Along the Mohawk and Stagecoach to She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Outlaw Josey Wales — were filmed.
When: August/September (dates TBA)
Woo-hoo: It’s all about the love of cinema when industry professionals and film enthusiasts gather in this quaint former silver mining camp in the San Juan Mountains for a weekend of movies. The titles are carefully kept under wraps, but come awards season, these are the movies you’ll have wanted to see. Besides film screenings, there are guest speakers, symposiums, discussions, and informal meet-and-greets.
ALBUQUERQUE INTERNATIONAL BALLOON FIESTA
When: October 5 – 13
Woo-hoo: People from all over the world head for ABQ in the fall to celebrate ballooning and see hundreds of balloons take flight in a mass ascension. Eyes skyward, too, for the Balloon Glow, Night Magic Glow, and gas balloon race; switch focus briefly for roving entertainment and festival food (breakfast burritos and local pinyon coffee!).
TRAILING OF THE SHEEP FESTIVAL
Where: Ketchum/Sun Valley/Hailey
When: October 9 – 13
Woo-hoo: Ranked one of the top 10 fall festivals in the world, this one’s all about the sheep — from sheep shearing and sheep camp cooking to sheepdog herding and championship sheepdog trials. Enjoy food (mutton and lamb), a “Sheep Jam!” concert, and Basque and Scottish dancers. What you absolutely can’t miss is the Trailing of the Sheep Parade, when a “wall of wool” featuring more than 1,500 fleecy creatures bleats its way en masse down Main Street.
AUSTIN CITY LIMITS MUSIC FESTIVAL
When: October 4 – 6, 11 – 13
Woo-hoo: Make the scene in the Live Music Capital of the World when eight stages and more than 125 performances fill Zilker Park in the Texas music Mecca with song. Besides nonstop music, there’s food, beer, and an art market. A VIP or platinum pass gets you all kinds of perks, including shaded lounge seating and express spa treatments all weekend.
When: Third weekend in October
Woo-hoo: Parade, Cowboy “Walk Down,” mustache and beard contest, bands, gunfighters, saloon girls, cowboys, storytellers, line dancers, horses, cars, floats — Arizona’s famous Western town pulls out all the stops in the name of preserving and celebrating its past and present.
STONE MOUNTAIN NATIVE AMERICAN FESTIVAL AND POWWOW
Where: Stone Mountain
When: November 7 – 10
Woo-hoo: This Georgia powwow, now in its 19th year, sees Native Americans from across the United States gathering to compete in dance and drum competitions. Enjoy music, storytelling, wildlife presentations, and an artists’ marketplace, along with demonstrations of “primitive skills” by educators teaching firemaking, basket weaving, hide tanning, cooking, and more.
Where: West Yellowstone/Yellowstone National Park
When: November (dates TBA)
Woo-hoo: Early winter cross-country skiing your thing? You’ll be among several thousand like-minded enthusiasts — novices and experienced racers alike — hitting this small community to kick off the Nordic ski season. Highlights include skiing clinics, competitive races, biathlon races, an indoor trade show, and kids camps. Note: Yellowstone National Park isn’t open during this time.
From the February/March 2019 issue.