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Summer Fest-For-Alls

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

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BBQ Fest in Owensboro, Kentucky
Get sauced at the International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro, Ky.


More than 500,000 people show up every July 4th to be part of the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta. They come for one of the top 10 fireworks displays in the country; the North American Powerboat Championships, which is the largest inland regatta in the country; the world-class sand sculpting; Beach Burgh kids’ zone and more.

Folks who like to yell will like the P&G Riverfest in Cincinnati on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. As the massive crowds on the Ohio and Kentucky sides of the river wait for the Cincinnati Bell/WEBN fireworks, one of the largest displays in the Midwest, there’s a ”shout out‘ where each side is encouraged to out-yell the other. The event is an all-day extravaganza at Sawyer Point.

There are two events in Madison, Ind., that should be mentioned: The Madison Regatta, featuring 200-mph hydroplane racing along with vintage boats, an air show and fireworks is July 5-7. (This is the only Midwest stop for this type of unlimited H racing.) The two-day Madison Ribberfest, August 16-17, is an Indiana State Barbecue Cook-Off. and

May 23-27 brings the largest Beatles tribute festival in America to Louisville. Abbey Road on the River features 60 bands from 12 countries on seven stages for four days! That’s more mop-tops than you can imagine.

Festival-goers at the Owensboro, Ky., International Bar-B-Q Festival on the second weekend every May can experience the true meaning of man versus food in the Mutton Glutton, where they can sample barbeque until they can’t. There’s non-stop entertainment, including a youth stage, burgoo relay and keg toss competition. The major prize for the cooking competition is the Governor’s Cup.

The ”ultimate country music fan experience‘ may be the CMA Fest in Nashville, June 6-9, encompassing four days and hundreds of artists, from on-their-way-ups to legends. It’s country music’s biggest party of the year, with a main riverfront stage.

Then, in August, Nashville holds the Music City BBQ Festival, which combines more music and a barbeque championship, with professionals and amateurs competing for $20,000 worth of prizes. Attend the ”delightfully tacky‘ Swine Ball, where pig noses are encouraged, enter the hog calling contest and check out the music on the Grand Ol’ Porker Stage. There are cool car and hot bike contests, too.

The 10 days of events that make up the W.C. Handy Music Festival in Florence, Ala., have resulted in its winning numerous awards. It’s held at more than 200 venues throughout the Shoals the last full week of July. Riverside Jazz along the river is one of those. The music is a mix of big-name headliners along with local and regional talent.

The Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga is an internationally award-winning, nine-day music festival from June 7-15. Drawing some 650,000 fans, it has more than 100 bands with world-class talent playing a wide range of music on six stages. There are countless other activities, besides the music, for all the family.

There are two miles of public viewing along the river for what has become known as the nation’s largest Labor Day weekend firework show: the Boomsday Festival in Knoxville. Events start at 1 p.m. and end with the ”jaw-dropping fireworks,‘ accompanied a choreographed show of patriotic and contemporary music.

Shuckin’ and Jivin’ is the theme for the New Orleans Oyster Fest, June 1-2, which celebrates the oyster trade and the restaurants that fix them. Slurp some shellfish down prepared by the best seafood restaurants in town while listening to great New Orleans Music at Waldenberg Riverfront Park.

Buccaneers and scallywags are sure to show up for the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival from May 30-June 1. Landlubbers and swabbys of all ages take part in the torchlight parade (with 100 floats, marching units and boats), partake in pirate grub and grog, and try the Pirate Walk.

The oldest certified festival in Louisiana is the Morgan City Shrimp & Petroleum Festival, which emphasizes how those two industries work together. In the heart of Cajun Country, there’s the Cajun Culinary Classic, with zydeco, country and pop music, and more than 100 craftsmen displaying handmade items. It’s a four-day event over Labor Day weekend.

Known as the ”Pageant of Pulchritude,‘ the Galveston Island Beach Revue in Texas is a swimsuit contest dating back to 1920. It marks the kickoff of tourist season, with a contemporary and vintage inspired swimwear competition, along with a host of festival activities.

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