“It’s a festival where people compete to see who can toss a mullet the farthest.”
“Is it alive?” I inquired a tiny bit horrified.
“No. No. No, She laughs. “It’s a dead mullet.”
I was speaking to Nicole Stacey, a tourism rep from Pensacola. I’d asked if there were any unusual events in the city. (I was thinking something like a seaside Coachella.)
With the speed of a Jeopardy contestant, she replied, “Yes! The Florabama Mullet Toss!”
A first, I assumed she was kidding. She had to be kidding. Right? On the contrary, it’s not only for real; this crazy celebration has been drawing massive crowds for 30 years. What?!!
I got to thinking, Pensacola can’t be the only city with an off-the-wall ritual. It is America, after all.
I did a little research. Lo and behold, I learned that if you take an absolutely nutty idea, add live bands, good food, lots of beer, and enough laughter to make you snort, it’s bound to be a hit.
With that in mind, I bring you some of my favorite American events so goofy they’re great.
C’mon, you know you want to go.
(Please check event websites for updated information regarding postponements or modifications due to the pandemic.)
The Big Fish Fling
The Florabama Mullet Toss (April)
One day when Joe Gilchrist, co-owner of the Florabama Beach Bar, was out west hurling cow-chips (translation: dried cow dung) as one does, little did he know that it would lead to the 35-year-old Interstate Mullet Toss, the Gulf Coast’s greatest beach party.
Gilchrist, looking for something to attract customers to Florabama during the April shoulder-season, recalled the fun he had throwing dried poop, and decided to create an event with a Florida twist. Instead of cow chips, why not toss dead mullets?
Initially, it started as a shindig for 50 friends. Today, fans of fish flinging (a total of 1500 – 2000 mullets over three days) come from far and wide to see who can toss a carcass the farthest. (The record-setting distance is 189 feet 8 inches, set in 2014.) Not to mention rocking to live bands on five stages, eating food from three restaurants, and enjoying plenty of fun and sun.
Suds on the Run
The Stueart Pennington World Championship Running of the Tubes (June)
Grab your terry robe, water gun, and fuzzy slippers and head to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to cheer on competitors of the 15-year-old Stueart Pennington World Championship Running of the Tubs. It’s a kookie celebration rooted in the city’s heritage as a top destination for visitors eager to indulge in the therapeutic effects of the town’s 47 naturally occurring thermal springs. Stueart Pennington, a local businessman who passed away before the race launched, came up with the tub idea, and his family oversees the festivities.
Here’s how it works: Five-person costume-clad teams push equally festooned bathtubs down Bathhouse Row, where six historic bathhouses erected in the early 1900s still operate.
Team captains sit in the tub filled to the brim, and when they cross the finish line, there must be at least 10 gallons left. The other teammates: a Bath Towel Attendant, a Bath Mat Attendant, a Soap Attendant, a Loofah Mitt Attendant must carry their namesake bath product in one hand while making sure to keep the other on the bathtub at all times during the race. Each team runs separately, and the fastest time wins.
Spectators are highly encouraged to join in the fun by dressing up and carrying their favorite water fight paraphernalia. Good-natured battles will inevitably break out.
The Great Outhouse Races (February)
You may have thought people age out of potty humor after elementary school, but I’m here to tell you, for some, it never dries up. It becomes an event. Multiple cities across the country have turned outdoor poop palaces into fun-filled water closet competitions.
In February, the Sapphire Valley Resort in North Carolina hosts the Great Outhouse Races, turning its shallow-sloped bunny hill into a lavatory showdown on skis.
Each creatively adorned outhouse––past themes like “Who Cut the Cheese” and “Redneck Wishing Well”––must have a seat, at least one hole, plus a roll of toilet paper or alternative wiping tool.” (One year, a team used a Sears catalog.)
Teams consist of three people––two to push until gravity takes over, and one commode king or queen to sit on the throne. Outhouses race down the slope two at a time to the finish line while flanked by cheering fans. Wipeouts are common, lending a NASCAR vibe to the high jinks.
Other Outhouse Races––Yes, there’s more than one––are in Alaska, as part of Anchorage’s Fur Rendezvous “Fur Rondy” Winter Festival in February, in Michigan during the Yale Bologna Festival, and as World Championship Outhouse Races in Virginia City, Nevada.
For a more low-key approach, the November Elk Falls Outhouse Tour in Kansas invites visitors to vote for their favorite kooky latrine after perusing the opponents on a self-guided tour.
Aquaman be Damned
Coney Island USA Mermaid Parade (June)
During the summer in New York City, weekend parades are a dime a dozen. But New Yorkers know that the nearly 40-year-old Mermaid Parade is a “must-see.” Coney Island USA, an arts not-for-profit, organizes the June festivities to commemorate the beginning of each season as well as celebrate, according to the website, “…ancient mythology and honky-tonk rituals of the seaside.”
The revelry is a mix of elaborate floats, antique cars, and hundreds of enthusiastic partygoers with creativity on steroids donning extravagant, handmade costumes worthy of an Aquaman sequel. The procession culminates on the beach, where there are costume awards and the following year’s King Neptune and Queen Mermaid are chosen.
For $200, wannabe judges can purchase the honor and receive a seat on the judge’s viewing stand, complete with a “Judge” t-shirt.
Balls to the Wall Fun
The Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry (March)
Are you looking to have a ball? How about two? Twelve?
The Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry in Virginia City, Nevada, has got you covered with all the bull testicles you can swallow. Yum!
The fry began 30 years ago to celebrate the area’s Basque roots and has grown into a massive culinary block party. Ten to fifteen cooks battle for the coveted title of “Best Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry Cook in the West.” Whoever serves up the tastiest testes––whether fried, breaded, smoked, or barbecued––wins the recognition along with a cash prize.
Since the party usually takes place on St. Patrick’s Weekend, you’re guaranteed a touch of the Irish with costume contests and plenty of beer. Don’t forget to wear green!
The Deerfield, Michigan Testicle Festival, also in March, began 70 years ago when a local farmer fresh from de-balling his cattle would take his nuts to the Deefield Tavern to fry up for the locals. Who knew they’d be so popular? Over the years, crowds grew to nearly 2,000 (twice as much as the city’s population), and in 2001 when the tavern closed, the American Legion Post 392 took it over. Traditional ball connoisseurs will appreciate the Legion’s classic breaded and fried preparation served with gizzards, baked beans, coleslaw, and a roll.
In Huntley, Illinois, the town has put a 40-year spin on the whole cajones concept. In November, a week before Thanksgiving with the Turkey Testicle Festival (I didn’t even know they had them). The Parkside Pub keeps it simple with deep-fried, bite-sized rocks, plenty of brewskies, and “tons of live music.”
Calling All Shrekheads
Are you a fan of the Oscar award-winning animated classic Shrek? You’re not alone. Fans in Madison, Wisconsin, have come together every July to celebrate the big green ogre since 2014.
It started when Wisconsinite, Grant Duffrin, saw a post regarding a Shrekfest on Facebook. Delighted, he corraled some friends to attend but soon learned it was a hoax. Disappointed but inspired, Grant and his friends elected to “highjack” the concept and throw it themselves under the umbrella of 3GI, an arts group they created. A real grass-roots initiative, the first Shreckfest attracted about 50 fans, but by 2019, it had grown to nearly 300.
The event is free to all and has become America’s Shrek Mecca or “Shrekka.” The revelry includes food and drink, as well as costume, roar, and onion eating contests.
When night falls, there is an outdoor screening of the film. According to the Shreckfest site, the aim is to “Create a place where it’s okay to be weird, to be different, to be yourself, and to hang out with others who feel the same way.”
Sounds good to me!
For a Gooey Time
Shrek isn’t the only film bringing party people together year after. Since 1999, the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, PA, hosts a three-day (Friday – Sunday) Blobfest in July to commemorate the scenes filmed there for the original 1958 classic The Blob. There are multiple movie screenings and other sci-fi favorites, with audience participation ala The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Outside, a street fair, live music, costume contests for celebrants dressed as the Blob, science fiction characters, or donning 50s-style dress––keep the proceedings lively.
An event staple is “The Shorty Awards,” showcasing “family-friendly” short films three minutes and under from aspiring filmmakers. Categories include Over 18, Under 18, Best Animated Short, and Fan Favorite.
Probably the most highly anticipated spectacle of Blobfest is the Friday night re-enactment of the ‘running out’ scene. Three hundred fifty wannabe actors who buy tickets in advance will test their acting chops by dashing out of the theater screaming bloody murder, just like they did in the original.
Twins Days Festival
What could be more apropos than the Ohio town of Twinsburg than hosting an annual Twins Days Festival? It debuted in 1976 during the bicentennial in honor of identical twins Aaron and Moses Wilcox, who founded Twinsburg in 1823.
Since then, over 77,000 sets of twins and multiples have attended from around the world, earning it the moniker of “Largest Annual Gathering of Twins in the World” by the Guinness Book of World Records.
The first night is a “twins only” affair with a wiener roast and the crowning of a royal court. One pair of lucky twins will each receive a $1000 scholarship toward school college expenses. To be considered either of these honors, twins must have attended Twinsfest three out of the last five years.
Kicking off two days of public merriment include a “Double Take” parade followed by musical performances, plenty of good food, twin talent shows, twin costume contests, twin volleyball tournaments, petting zoos, and a 5K race benefitting Melanoma.
Researchers drawn to the sheer number of doublets and multiples have a section all their own called the “Research Plaza,” where interested participants fill out surveys, take photos, or provide DNA samples depending on the studies conducted.
Battle of the Brawn
Tug Fest (August)
Join over 35,000 cheering observers at Tug Fest and carnival to watch 11 teams from two states harness their collective brawn in an epic Tug-of-War across the Mississippi River. For nearly 35-years, Port Byron, Illinois residents have faced off against the folks in LeClaire, Iowa, in “The Tug,” pulling on 2700 feet of rope weighing 680 lbs. Whichever city has the most team wins is the champion.
The prize is a coveted “Alabaster Eagle in Flight” trophy (eagles hunt on this section of the river in winter), but some may argue it’s the year-long bragging rights that bring people out. So far Illinois, has 22 victories, Iowa 11.
A Very Cool Party
Frozen Dead Guy Days (March)
What happens when a Norwegian man’s relatives place him in an ice-encased aluminum casket in a Nederland, Colorado Tuff shed? Frozen Dead Guy Days, of course.
It’s a long, complicated story with many twists and turns but suffice it to say Bredo “Grandpa” Morstoel, who died in 1989, awaits a future reanimation, but in the meantime, the eccentric folks in Nederland, two hours northwest of Denver, whoop it up each year in honor of their famous local corpsecicle.
Dubbed the “Cryonics’ first Mardi Gras” by Morstoel’s grandson, the three-day frosty fantasy is a tongue-in-cheek salute to the coming of Spring.
A Blue Ball kicks it all off on Friday night with the crowning of the Ice Queen and Grandpa Bredo. Over the next two days, there are events like the hearse parade, coffin races, frozen turkey bowling, snowy human foosball, frozen t-shirt contests, and a costumed Polar Plunge. If it can take place in the cold, you’re likely to find it here.
More to Come
If you know of a crazy annual event that should be included in this story, please let me know in the comments. I plan to add to this post as I learn more.
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