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Feeling Festive?

Food, music, dress, dance, art — these colorful symbols of different peoples and times make cultural festivals fascinating experiences. These events, from Will Rogers Days in Oklahoma to the Festival of Native Arts in Alaska, will elevate your group’s travels and give them opportunities to cement new, unique memories.

Read on to learn more about these signature events, along with special tips and tricks for planning tours around each one.


Cedarburg, Wisconsin

Quaint and lovely Cedarburg, Wisconsin, just a stone’s throw from Milwaukee, was founded by German immigrants in the first half of the 19th century. Today, the picturesque town celebrates its German heritage with Oktoberfest, an annual town tradition that has grown since its humble beginnings a decade ago.

“We were founded in the 1840s,” said Cori Rice, Festivals of Cedarburg’s president. “Immigrant families started to settle in Cedarburg, and we were close enough to Milwaukee that people settled along the creek. We have a couple mills that anchor the town. Most of those were started by German families. Even some of the people who live here today have those old German last names.”

“Oktoberfest is an easy, fun, crowd-pleasing festival,” Rice said. “It’s downtown, on the second Saturday in October, when the weather is usually delightful.”

From beer tastings to dance displays, Cedarburg’s Oktoberfest boasts a full schedule. Entertainment abounds with performers throughout the day. There are competitions, too.

“There’s a sauerkraut-eating contest; a show of who can hold up a liter of beer the longest; a German spelling bee,” Rice said. “Sometimes it goes quite a long time with a well-schooled high schooler.”

And the food will transport visitors to Europe. A caterer prepares authentic German food for the festival. The local Lions Club makes bratwurst, and vendors sell dessert, pretzels and other tasty treats. The festival draws attendees numbering in the ten thousands.

“One of our most popular attractions is a ‘live Glockenspiel,’” Rice said. “A group of local guys built a huge cuckoo clock, and every hour, they perform by chopping wood and dancing. The funny thing is they are also drinking beer, so as the day progresses, their antics progress too. They’re so fun to watch.”

Festival of Native Arts

Fairbanks, Alaska

Groups willing to brave Fairbanks’ blustery February weather will be richly rewarded with the Festival of Native Arts, a three-day Alaska Native and Indigenous celebration with singing, dancing and cultural displays.

“[The festival] is a chance for everybody to slough off winter and look forward to spring,” said Lou Frenzl, student coordinator for Festival of Native Arts. “So many of our Indigenous groups have these spring festivals where they invite other tribes to share the remainder of their winter resources and celebrate a new season, a new year.”

That means the Festival of Native Arts is not just representative of Indigenous Alaskan cultures — it is an annual cornerstone celebration for multiple tribes and cultural groups, including the Cup’ik, Dene’, Inupiaq, Tlingit and Yup’ik.

Fairbanks students and staff run the three-day February festival.

“Performances start around 5 p.m.,” Frenzl said. “We have a powwow in the afternoon and workshops in the morning. But it’s not just performances. There are also vendor tables, an Indigenous artisan bazaar and workshops led by Indigenous creators and dancers.”

“The most special thing is all the dance groups that come together,” said Alliyah Nay, another festival organizer. “If someone in the crowd knows the dance, they can join in.”

The festival takes place on the Troth Yeddha’ ridge, the sacred place upon which the University of Alaska Fairbanks now stands.

“Our theme is Troth Yeddha’ Forever: Our Ways of Life, and it is definitely fully integrated in our day to day,” Frenzl said. “Dancing, singing, drumming, beading, carving, native games — these are our ways of life.”

CMA Fest

Nashville, Tennessee

Many places lay claim to the origins of country music, but there’s only one Music City: Nashville, Tennessee. In an annual downtown takeover, the Country Music Association puts on four-day CMA Fest to celebrate the music, Southern culture and people who make up the genre. CMA Fest draws crowds from all over the U.S., and as of last count, at least 50 other countries.

The festival is anchored by daily performances in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, but activities spill out all over downtown, covering an area a little over two square miles. (Organizers call the area in which festivities take place the “CMA Fest Footprint.”) Planners can tailor their experience to group needs, from purchasing all-inclusive four-day passes to one-off single day tickets and adding on activities like entrance to Fan Fair X, the festival’s indoor mecca at Music City Center, Nashville’s behemoth convention complex. Multiple free activities on seven additional stages dot the city. Check the festival’s app and website to navigate the numerous options.

“CMA Fest is certainly part of the city’s rich musical heritage,” said Deana Ivey, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation said. “Groups can definitely use the festival as a chance to visit Nashville.” Her recommendation is to take the country music discovery even deeper by pairing the event with other related destinations in the city. Consider a stop at a Broadway honky tonk, a visit to the Grand Ole Opry or a tour of the Country Hall of Fame and Museum.

Will Rogers Days

Claremore, Oklahoma

Will Rogers Days is a long-standing community celebration of the life of beloved movie star and “cowboy philosopher” Will Rogers. The party for Oklahoma’s favorite son always takes place near his November 4th birthday, and since he was one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, Will Rogers Days boasts a strong film festival component.

In previous years, the days-long birthday bash kicked off with a cigar and whiskey night at a local art gallery. On the Saturday of the festival, participants can work up a sweat in the Cherokee Nation Will Rogers 5K, enjoy the Will Rogers parade and watch a wreath-laying ceremony. Satisfy a group’s sweet tooth with the Party at the Museum, where the Will Rogers Memorial Museum provides kid-friendly games, giveaways and endless slices of birthday cake. Cinephiles can conclude the celebration at the museum’s Film Festival and Awards Ceremony.

“We’re celebrating one of our own who is not just loved by Claremore and Oklahoma but by the world,” said Tanya Andrews, director of Visit Claremore. “His wit, his wisdom and his famous quotes still make me laugh today.”

Rogers’ life parallels much of Oklahoma history.

“He brings the cowboy and the Native American side together,” Andrews said. “He was a Cherokee citizen, you know. He was known as the Cherokee Kid, and Oklahoma identifies him as a cowboy because he grew up on a ranch and the lasso was his start to fame.”

Ultimately, it’s the atmosphere that makes Will Rogers Days special.

“We embody small-town charm and tradition — and everyone loves a parade,” Andrews said.

Claremore sits on historic Route 66, known in Oklahoma as the Will Rogers Highway. Groups can visit the Will Rogers Memorial, see reenactors, chat with some actors and movie producers, and have lunch on-site.

West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival

Clarksburg, West Virginia

Plan to pack stretchy pants for Clarksburg’s West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival.

“We are a foodie’s paradise for Italian-American cuisine,” said Tina Yoke, executive director of the Clarksburg Visitors Bureau.

The Labor Day weekend event takes place in Clarksburg, which was once home to a large Italian population drawn to the area for the promise of work in local coal mines. The activities, music and food celebrated during the festival tell that story.

Take, for example, pepperoni rolls.

“Pepperoni in Italian bread started back in the day when coal miners needed a shelf-stable lunch to take down in the mines,” Yoke said. Clarksburg had two local bakeries that originally made them, and Yoke recommends groups visit them both — D’Annunzio’s and Tomaro’s Bakery — during their stay. “Those are both within a mile of downtown Clarksburg. And it will be up to our visitors to determine which is the best, because that’s a heated debate here.”

A parade and ceremony featuring a queen, Regina Maria, and her court kick off the festival.

“There are children’s activities, a bambini section, a bocce ball tournament and some pretty intense, fun games you see happening anywhere throughout the festival,” Yoke said. Italian music by local and guest performers serenades passersby all weekend long. “Plus, I love to see people dancing in the streets of Clarksburg.”

The fun takes place primarily over three blocks of Main Street and draws around 30,000 visitors over the course of three days.

Groups may want to explore additional options while in town.

“We have a Civil War tour they might want to do at the same time,” Yoke said. “We have the awesome Clarksburg History Museum, and they are always open, but they have specific Italian American displays during the festival.”