One of my goals this summer was to go festival crazy, while not overdosing on corn dogs and funnel cakes. Mission accomplished. I only had one corn dog and one funnel cake, but I couldn’t pass up my first (and last) fried Twinkie. Here’s a list of the festivals that were part of my summer/fall circuit:
• National Luxembourg Day – St. Donatus, Iowa
• TwangFest – St. Louis, MO
• Dubuque County Fair – Dubuque, Iowa
• Shakespeare Festival – St. Louis, MO
• Twin-O-Rama – Cassville, Wisconsin
• TugFest – Le Claire, Iowa
• American Indian Heritage Day – Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa
• Wood River Rendezvous – Wood River, Illinois
• Antique Flattrack Motorcycle Races – Davenport, Iowa
• Carriage Classic – Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
• Celtic Highland Games of the Quad Cities – Davenport, Iowa
• Clayton Riverfest – Clayton, Iowa
• Hmong New Year Celebration – West Salem, Wisconsin
• Sorghum Fest – St. Donatus, Iowa
• Register Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) – Bellevue, Iowa
• Fort Chartres Rendezvous – Prairie du Rocher, Illinois
• St. Leo’s church picnic – Modoc, Illinois
• River Roots Live – Davenport, Iowa
• Japanese Festival – St. Louis, MO
• Point of Departure – Lewis and Clark Visitor Center, Hartford, Illinois
Not too bad for one summer, even if I only get to stay for an hour or two at many of the festivals. Frankly, that’s usually enough for me, anyway. Here’s the scoop on three more favorites from the circuit.
Prairie du Chien Carriage Classic
For a short time in the 1880s, the Dousman family home in Prairie du Chien (Wisconsin), Villa Louis, was the site of an Artesian Stock Farm. I don’t really know what that means, but I think it has something to do with breeding horses, or aliens. In 1980, local carriage enthusiasts got together on the Villa Louis grounds for an informal contest and a nod to the past. Since 1985 the competition has been sanctioned by the American Driving Society, no relation to the AAA, and the event has grown to become an important national event, if you’re into Artesian stocks or carriages. Several categories of competitions and exhibitions occur over the course of two days, including things like the Junior Reinsmanship, Antique Turnout, Large Pony Open Cross Country, and Picnic Class. Even though I had no idea whether to clap or hiss during the competition, I had a great time watching. The carriages, antiques all, were beautiful examples of art meets function, and the horses were the picture of grace and elegance, even when occasionally feisty and impatient.
Antique Flattrack Motorcycle Races
The Antique Flattrack Motorcycles Races in Davenport are another throwback to an earlier era, although these antiques are just a bit louder than the carriages. Antique bikes and some antique riders, at least one rider was in his 80s, race around a half-mile dirt track. I was prepared to be bored by this event, but between the roar of the bikes, the potential for bloody wrecks from slipping and sliding on the dirt track, and the photo finishes in many of the races, I found the whole thing pretty damn exciting! And, I didn’t feel the least bit out of place surrounded by a sea of middle aged, bearded, leather clad biker-types, except for when the guy behind me kept naming off the year and make of every single bike and all I could see was that it had two wheels.
St. Donatus Sorghum Fest
Before this event, I had no idea what sorghum was, much less how to build a party around one. Now I feel qualified on both fronts. Sorghum looks kinda like corn, or sugar cane, only not really. Sometimes it grows very tall, like this year, but sometimes it doesn’t. Pulling it out of the ground kinda sucks because it is really hard work, then you have to strip off the leaves, which isn’t much fun, either. Once the stalk is naked, you feed it through a pressing-type deal that squeezes out the juices. You take these buckets of juice and boil them at a very high temperature, which also sucks because that means the boiling room is boiling hot, but you have to go in there for a while to keep an eye on the liquid and give it the occasional stir. You know it’s done when those ten gallons of raw sorghum liquid that you started with have been reduced to one gallon, giving you a substance as thick as motor oil and so dark that light can’t escape the syrupy, gooey innards. Yum. The final product is surprisingly sweet and has a shelf life of, well, forever, which makes me wonder if it lasts that long in my body, too.