The festival circuit is a reliable source of tunes, booze, fun and mayhem with friends. Often you’ll find yourself living in a tent, or a stranger’s tent for that matter, for a few days so that you can completely immerse yourself in that festival spirit.
And your choice of festival can sometimes say a lot about a person. A wine festival out in grape-growing country means you are a proper grown-up, a sun-soaked festival on the sand is for the beach bunnies and a rocking music festival for three days in the middle of nowhere means you are wild and crazy. But, if we’re being honest, despite the fun times getting down and dirty in a field somewhere, they can all sometimes get a little bit repetitive. Maybe you’re ready for a little strange in your life? Now is the time to shake things up a bit and step out of your comfort zone into a fully-fledged festival of the weird.
Well, we’ve got a treat for you. We’ve gathered the best of the offbeat but still fabulous festivals worth seeing, from tossing-tuna in South Australia to racing beer-can boats in Darwin. The strange happenings aren’t just occurring Down Under – there’s a temple in Tokyo where sumo wrestlers do their best to make babies cry and there is an entire festival dedicated to
a headless rooster in the States.
These tripped-out, messed-up get-togethers are a great excuse to go on a road-trip to somewhere you wouldn’t normally have any cause to explore. Or maybe book your next adventure somewhere further afield. It’s a safe bet that you’ll come back with some cracking Facebook photos and meet some pretty unique characters along the way. After all, sitting around in a resort is fine, but it’s the weird shit that you remember most from your travels.
For example, if you’re heading through America’s deep south, why not stop off at the Redneck Games to try your hand at toilet-seat horsehoes?
So, if you are beginning to feel that going to one festival means that you’ve seen them all, we can guarantee you ain’t seen nothing yet. Now, where’s my partner for this year’s wife-carrying world championships?
The Redneck Games
It all began in 1996 when, in the lead-up to Atlanta, Georgia hosting the Olympics, a lot of snide comments were being made about rednecks taking over the Games. And so, rather than allowing themselves to be the butt of one big international joke, the rednecks got together and put on their own Games, which were remarkable successful and have since grown into an annual event paying tribute to Dixie in all its glory. There are some bizarre events, including the Hubcap Hurl, the Bobbin’ for Pig’s Feet Fest, and Redneck Horseshoes – in which toilet seats are the objects thrown. But it’s hard to go past the terrible beauty of the Mud Pit Belly Flop contest (main image) or the breathtaking aesthetics of the Armpit Serenade.
‘Obby ‘Oss Celebrations
Nobody is quite sure of this festival’s origins but the theory is that it is related to ancient fertility rituals welcoming the summer. On May 1 every year, in Padstow, Cornwall, two clotch-covered hobby horses – or ‘obby ‘osses – emerge from their stables, in this case local pubs, and parade through the streets with hundreds of followers in tow. This is where things get weird and not in a good ‘Mr Ed can talk’ way. The horses make beelines for every woman they pass and pull them under their cloaks to smother them with coal. Even though the horses look a bit freaky with red eyes and snapping teeth, it is considered good luck for the ladies. At midday, the horses meet at a maypole and dance together. Told you it was weird, right?
The Camel Cup
It began as a bet between mates in 1970 and is now the outback’s most popular yearly festival. Australia currently has the world’s largest population of wild camels, so the obvious thing to do is race them. This year on July 14, Arunga Park Speedway in Alice Springs will come alive with belly dancers, food stalls, entertainment and more camels than you could poke a hump at. The main event is the XXXX Gold Lions Camel Cup but punters can get in on the action and win some cash by racing rickshaws in the centre of the arena. It gets weirder with the ‘Imparja Television Honeymoon Handicap’, in which grooms race camels halfway around the track, the camels then drop to pick up the dolled-up ‘brides’ and continue on to the finish line.
Ivrea Orange Festival
Once upon a time, centuries ago, there was an evil Count who tyrannised the poor people of Piemonte. Eventually they rose up against him – he was beheaded and his guards stoned to death. These days, during traditional carnevale, which is 40 days before Lent, the town celebrates with a festival re-enacting the battle. Stones are replaced with the town’s surplus oranges and the guards are now clowns on chariots. The most exciting part of the festival is getting among the battle and throwing your share of juicy oranges at everyone else. If festival folk want to avoid a bruising but still see the action, then they don a long red hat or ‘berretto frigio’, which means they are not throwing oranges and cannot be harmed. Where’s the fun in that?
Beginning on Australia Day (January 26) every year, this festival celebrates the local seafood industry in South Australia. There is a delicious menu featuring local produce, and wines, musical entertainment and wholesome beach volleyball. There’s also a massive paella that cooks all day and fills the air which the delicious smell of seafood. It all sounds very civilised, very genteel, and not particularly weird at all. But, on the last day of the festival, finals are held to determine who can toss a tuna fish the furthest. So far, the record stands at 37.23 metres set by ex-Olympic hammer-thrower Sean Carlin. We’re not quite sure what the tuna did to anger the locals or what it symbolises but it sure makes for a memorable closing ceremony.
Baby-Cry Sumo Festival
This 400-year-old traditional festival is held every year at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. Amateur sumo wrestlers hold babies in the air and try to scare them into crying by growling and making faces at them.Surely anyone would wail if an enormous man in a nappy came anywhere them but, strangely enough, this one sometimes takes a bit of work. Japanese priests even tease the bubs while the sumo ever so slightly shakes them. The idea is that the toddler who cries the longest and the loudest is the winner and parents believe that the sumo-induced wailing keeps their baby healthy and wards off evil spirits. If the growling sumos don’t work, then they add a scary mask and that usually gets the job done.
Mike the Headless Chicken Days
This two-day festival held in the farming town of Fruita in western Colorado commemorates a freak chicken-slaughtering incident in 1945. Mike the rooster was going about his usual fowl existence and about to become farmer Lloyd Olsen’s dinner. The farmer swung his axe and chopped off Mike’s head but amazingly this didn’t kill the bird and Mike the rooster lived on for another 18 months. It was so amazing that Mike the rooster got his own festival out of it. From May 18-19, locals and tourists alike get together for music, feasting and ‘run like a headless chicken’ racing. It wouldn’t be a festival without the chicken dance competition and a Good Egg award.
The Darwin Lions Beer Regatta
It seems the people of the Northern Territory didn’t have enough to do in the Seventies because this is another weird festival that sprung to life during that decade. The Beer Regatta is held in Darwin – it’s July 15 this year – and is a day of boat-racing along Mindil Beach. But these are no ordinary boats. Competitors must first build a vessel made mostly from beer cans; vessels can range in size from one metre to 12 metres and use other materials but they must float on the beer cans alone. You’ll need quite a few to make your boat, so you’d better start drinking seriously, right? Hilarity ensues when boats start to founder and sink or are sabotaged by well-timed fire hose attacks and secret onboard weaponry.
The Shitbox Rally
The Shitbox Rally is a festival on the move. The location of this one changes every year. In 2011, it was a rally from Brisbane to Darwin, this year it was Melbourne to Cairns. It’s a little bit pricey as far as festivals go, with a $275 entry fee this year, but the cost of your shitbox and a fuel budget is awarded to each team and it is all for the Cancer Council charity. Participants can decorate their car – the bigger, the better – and the journey will have stops along the way to make new friends, have a few parties and kick into that festival spirit. The winner is determined by speed, decoration on the shitboxes and a number of other factors made up along the way. Start your engines.
Strap on your blue suede shoes because there are hunks and hunks of burning love for whom this annual outback Elvis convention is the centrepiece of the year. Every January, to coincide with the King’s birthday, the town of Parkes in central NSW celebrates all things Elvis – he’s not only alive and kicking here, but multiplied into the thousands by his loyal fans. Impersonators and hound dogs come from all over, converging for five days of music, entertainment and the crowning of Miss Priscilla. Parkes is an unlikely venue for it all, given its remote location and tiny population of 11,000, so it’s completely bizarre to see thousands of sideburned, rhinestone-suited versions of Elvis hip-swivelling their way all over this country town.
World Wife-carrying Championships
Wife-carrying may have taken the world by storm but it all started back in this tiny provincial town in central Finland, where the world championships will again be held in July. Known in Finnish as eukonkanto, the ‘sport’ originated as a way for local bandits to test potential recruits and, of course, the area has a proud history of stealing women from neighbouring villages. So what better way to pay tribute? Male competitors must carry their cargo along a track dotted with obstacles, spanning 250m. The only eligibility rule is that the wife must weigh at least 49kgs – if she is under-weight, then she must also carry a heavy rucksack to get her above the limit. For the winner, a glorious prize: his wife’s weight in beer.