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Book guides readers to best festivals U.S. has to offer

Sun., March 15, 2009

Being a 20-something ski bum in Fort Collins, Colo., just wasn’t enough fun for Michael Guerriero. Party opportunities tended to melt away when the snow did – so that’s when he hit the road.

He puts it like this: “Basically, before and after ski season, my friends and I would drive from Lake Tahoe to the East Coast and back to the Rockies, following an asphalt zigzag from one festival to the next.”

Then he settled down with a wife and a job in the pharmaceutical industry. And when his job went away, Guerriero used his severance pay to return to the party highway – and to write about life in the fest lane.

Just out: “Party Across America! 101 of the Greatest Festivals, Sporting Events, and Celebrations in the U.S.” (Adams Media, 304 pages, $12.95).

His selections range from the expected (Mardi Gras in New Orleans) to the odd: Consider the Okie Noodling Tournament, where participants must use their hands to catch flathead catfish. It’s headquartered at Bob’s Pig Shop in Pauls Valley, Okla.

Among the highlights:

The party you don’t want your kids attending: “St. Patrick’s Day in Butte is quite possibly the wildest St. Paddy’s event in the United States, more so than New York or Savannah, Ga. It’s an entire week of people out on the street just being really rowdy – which they’re good at in Butte.”

The festival you don’t want your parents to know about: “Probably Fantasy Fest, in Key West, Fla. If you get embarrassed easily or think the body should be fully clothed at all times, this isn’t one you want to go to. Basically it’s four days of exhibitionism and lunacy in October. You have plenty of 60-year-olds wearing G-strings and chaps and basically tapping into their wildest fantasies for the weekend.” (Oct. 23-Nov. 1.

The best cheap time imaginable: “Lake of the Ozarks Party Cove, in Missouri, on Memorial Day weekend. It is essentially a floating party, the biggest party on water in the United States. As long as you have a friend with a boat, it doesn’t cost you anything.” (weekends, Memorial Day-Labor Day,

The most high-energy event: “Halloween in Greenwich Village: Nobody does Halloween like New York City, and you’ve got about a half million people out there who are in costumes and raring to have fun as someone else for the evening. Inhibitions go out the window. It’s a celebration the entire city gets into.” (

The utterly strangest spectacle: “The World’s Largest Disco, in Buffalo, N.Y. After you hear the name, you kind of have to see it to believe it – and it’s the biggest weekend of the year there. You have 8,000 people dressed like it’s 1978 and packed – utterly packed – into the convention center. It’s awash in afros, bell bottoms, platinum blond hair. It definitely takes the cake as most bizarre.” (Nov. 28.

The event where all you gotta do is show up: “The Sturgis (S.D.) motorcycle rally. This is one of those parties where people who show up feel like they’re brethren with everybody else who makes the trek there, whether or not by motorcycle. You’re treated like family even if you drive up in a minivan.” (July 27-Aug. 9.

The event people should know about – but don’t: “That’s gotta be Summerfest in Milwaukee: It holds the record for being the world’s largest party. It has vendors selling food from around the world – every kind you’d ever see. It has eclectic music, and over four decades has had everybody from the Doors in the ’60s to Destiny’s Child in 2004. This is a complete spectacle, with hundreds of thousands of people enjoying themselves down by Lake Michigan.” (June 25-July 5,

The one worth seeing once – and only once: “The Talladega 500 is a one-timer unless you’re a rabid NASCAR fan. You’re on the infield at a humongous party – but the party can be very tiring after four days. You’re ready to go home by the time it ends.” (Nov. 1, www.talladegasuper

The one you’ll enjoy year after year: “Taste of Chicago – you can never get sick of that food: the best steaks, kielbasa and other sausages and a lot of beer. It’s right downtown and right around the Fourth of July. There’s amazing fireworks. And it’s a good family event.” (June 26-July 5,


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