For every person who is a fan of something, say a type of food, a movie, a music genre or even something less mainstream, like rattlesnakes or “Little House on the Prairie,” there’s probably a festival for it. Unique festivals across the United States include the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival in Wisconsin, the Fort Wayne Pugfest in Indiana and the Fantasy Fest in Florida, among thousands of others.
One of the sweetest, and perhaps more under-the radar festivals, has to be the annual Dirty Dancing Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019. Generally held in mid-September, the festival is an ode to the iconic 1987 movie. If you know who uttered the phrase “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” and can easily envision the classic “Come here lover boy” scene between Baby (Jennifer Grey) and Johnny (Patrick Swayze) in the fictional Catskills resort’s dance studio, this unique festival is for you.
Held in Lake Lure, N.C., one of the movie’s location sites, the tribute event offers everything a fan could want: watermelon races, dance lessons, reenactments, a screening of the movie, the Kellerman’s Talent Show, and of course, the festival highlight, the popular Lake Lift competition, attempted by eager volunteers.
Lake Lure has a population of just about 1,100 people, but it swells to at least triple or quadruple that during the festival, when people come from as far away as Germany to celebrate their favorite film. In truth, there aren’t that many physical spots in the area that remain from the movie to visit, but that seems irrelevant to the festivalgoers, who are just happy to be with like-minded fans.
Two spots that do remain include the dance floor where the talent show in the film took place, and the boathouse stairs that Baby carried a watermelon down and later practice-danced on. You can find the floor at the Esmeralda Inn, serving as the floor in the lobby and dining room, but you can’t access the stairs (they’re on private property now, though you can glimpse them from a boat). Local tour companies run sightseeing trips and can point them out to you.
Hardcore fans might want to stay at the 1927 Lake Lure Inn & Spa, which housed the cast and crew during filming. The dancers practiced in the inn’s Roosevelt Hall and visitors can book the exact rooms in which Swayze and Grey stayed.
One of the best parts of the festival is the gleeful audience participation. You can take dance lessons with professional instructors, then try out your moves in an amateur shag competition; take part in the Kellerman’s Talent Show after training with the Asheville Ballet dancers; or see if you can lift your partner over your head in the Lake Lift competition. This crowd favorite is held in the lake cove of Morse Park, around the corner from where Johnny and Baby practiced one of their most famous scenes. Couples enter the water and get two practice lifts before making the third try count. The year I attended there was a proposal, which brought the crowd to its feet with cheers and clapping.
More Not-to-Miss Unique Festivals in the U.S.
It’s been almost 20 years since the movie “The Big Lebowski” came out, but you’d never know it from the legions of fans who still worship The Dude. Now in its 18th year, the two-day Lebowski Fest, held this year in Louisville, Ky., celebrates all things Lebowski with a movie party, a live soundtrack tribute concert, unlimited bowling, plenty of White Russians and costume and trivia contests, a fitting tribute to His Dudeness.
A hilarious riff on the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, the San Fermin in New Orleans also features a race of runners being chased. But instead of bulls in hot pursuit, participants are pursued by roller derby skaters. The “Rollerbulls,” armed with foam baseball bats and horned helmets, give runners a swat if they catch up to them. The annual event is now in its 13th year.
While the annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival is filled with the typical literary readings, live theater performances, author talks and discussion series, its Stella (or Stanley) Shouting Contest is both uniquely Williams and New Orleans, setting it apart in a fun spin. Contestants vie to rival Stanley Kowalski’s shout for “STELLAAAAA!!!” in the unforgettable scene from Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Both women and men are welcome to participate and yell for Stella (or Stanley) on Jackson Square, while onlookers cheer for their favorites.
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