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Summer Fest-For-Alls

Get out and enjoy the wide variety of warm-weather waterfront festivals in the Heartland.

The CMA Music Fest on the Cumberland River in Nashville.

The CMA Music Fest on the Cumberland River in Nashville.

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To get an idea of how popular waterfront festivals are, just Google the phrase ”riverfront days.‘ It yields almost 8 million results. Seems like virtually every community with access to a nearby waterway holds some kind of event on land’s end. These can range from small, several-hour celebrations to large, multi-week events. It’s almost impossible to list them all, but we’ve put together a sampling that we think captures the wide range of events in the Heartland region. Because what’s more fun that a festival? A festival offering a truly unique experience!

Minneapolis is home to one of the most unusual events anywhere: The literature for Northern Spark calls it ”a multidisciplinary festival modeled on a nuit blanche or ‘white night’ festival — a free, dusk-to-dawn participatory public art event throughout Minneapolis from the Greenway to the Mississippi.‘ More than 118 national and international artists create works that are ”familiar and beautiful and striking but different.‘ You can participate in events like swinging in a skyway with 20 strangers, or play capture the flag at midnight in neon face paint, or try out body pong. In short, on this June evening, Minneapolis becomes an all-night creative playground.

In 1922, Ralph Samuelson used a pair of barrel staves and a clothesline and invented water skiing in Lake City, Minn., so naturally that city celebrates Water Ski Days. On the last full weekend of June, there are three nights of entertainment, a grand parade, car show, carnival, 5K run, kickball tournament, a beer garden for relaxing and, of course, water ski shows.

Here’s a listing of the prizes awarded at this next small festival: best dressed, best hairdo, best name, best trick, best dog tales, and best lookalike between the owner and their dog. See all that on August 3 at the Dog Days of Stockholm (population 99). Held on the banks of Lake Pepin, the location was listed by the Huffington Post as ”the 2012 Prettiest Drive in the U.S.‘

The Port of Dubuque, Iowa, puts on America’s River Festival from June 14-16. A number of music headliners, from classic rock to country, highlight the music portion, while there are ”activities for all ages.‘ Besides the Cookie Monster and Elmo for the little ones, a Speak Your Peace booth focuses on nine tools of civility for kids and their parents. Other folks might enjoy the Big Dawg NASCAR Racing Simulator, motocross trick show, Dubuque Idol kids’ vocal talent show and DockDogs presentation.

A one-of-a-kind event is part of two communities’ celebrations: Port Byron, Ill., and LeClaire, Iowa. Together, they celebrate the annual Great River Tug Fest, where a 2,400-foot, 680-pound rope is stretched across the Mississippi and 10 teams of 20 men and one team of 25 women pull against each other. These tugs are not for sissies. For non-tuggers during the August 8-10 event, there’s a family night, music, fireworks, vendors, music, a run/walk and, to keep the spirit going, a Kids Tug — where they start training the next generation.

Davenport, Iowa, was home to the legendary jazz cornetist, pianist and composer Leon ”Bix‘ Beiderbecke. Since 1972, aficionados of his music have celebrated at the Bix Memorial Jazz Festival, this year on August 1-4. Thirteen bands will perform his specialized style of jazz at three venues inside and outside. Besides the performances, there are workshops, seminars, special events and an appearance by the Bix Jazz Society Youth Band.

One of the longest-running events on our list is the 51-year-old Burlington, Iowa, Steamboat Days. Name it musically, and they’ve got it at this six-day event: rock, country, pop, rhythm and blues, jazz, big band and oldies groups perform daily on two stages. More than 100,000 people show up annually. There’s a kid’s day, senior citizen’s day and Art in the Auditorium, plus a parade, fireworks, carnival and food fair.

Ottawa, Ill., holds two events catering to different crowds: Its Two Rivers Wine and Jazz Fest, July 7-9, features two dozen area wineries, outstanding jazz and a fresh Maine Lobster dinner. From July 27-August 5, the city hosts its Riverfest and Taste of Ottawa. For more than 20 years, this civic fundraiser has featured bands, paddleboat races, kids’ fishing tournament and the ”best fireworks in the area.‘ and

Peoria, Ill., offers a wide variety of fests. One of the highlights of the Steamboat Days Festival, June 13-15, is the 40th running of the Steamboat Classic Races, a series of internationally known 4K, four-mile and 15K runs.

No list of fun things to do on the Illinois River would be complete without the Redneck Fishing Tournament. Sponsored by the Boat Tavern in Bath, Ill., teams compete to land the most Asian carp in their boats. Contestants have come from around the world and ”fishing poles are not allowed; bats and nets are OK. Protective gear is highly recommended.‘ Bands, food vendors, chainsaw carvings and booths with everything Redneck are part of the fun. Plan now for the first Friday and Saturday in August.

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