A Sampling of Labor Day Festivals

There’s more to Labor Day than escaping for the weekend — most cities offer some sort of celebration. If you’ve decided to stick around town, here’s a small sampling of the odd, the crazy, and the large festivals across the country.

Southern Decadence

Known as the “Gay Mardi Gras,” this New Orleans celebration starts partying the Wednesday before Labor Day and doesn’t stop until the Tuesday afterward. The inclusion of “decadence ” in the title barely hints at the indulging and imbibing that go on for six days.

Events include a talent competition (talented kissing counts!), three 12-hour “dance parties” (read: raves), drag shows, and a big you-know-what contest. DJ ChiChi LaRue, better known as a porn director, presides over several events.

Tickets and passes are still available through the official website, and you can find hotel deals there as well.

Bumbershoot: Seattle’s Music and Arts Festival

A “bumbershoot” is an umbrella. I didn’t know this until I moved to Seattle, so I’m assuming that you don’t either. And I’m also assuming that Seattle’s largest music festival is named after said umbrella in a sort of crossed-fingers, let’s fool the gods, double-jinx move, wherein naming a festival after the most popular accessory in the northwest ensures that it won’t really rain. (Although the official website claims it’s a “metaphor for the festival being an umbrella for all of the various artists and performers it encompasses.”)

One ticket gets you in to see everthing, although some venues have limited seats. This year’s lineup includes The Shins, Wu-Tang Clan, Sean Paul, Fergie, and Joss Stone. Although music is Bumbershoot’s draw, there’s also comedy, literary arts, and various other performing arts, plus crafts, food and what’s sure to be a rockin’ beer garden.

Tickets are sold out for all three days, so if you’re a last-minute planner you might want to check out Craigslist and eBay for people who’ve had a change of plans.

Chicago Jazz Festival

Significantly more subdued than Southern Decadence, Chicago Jazz Festival nonetheless offers a lot to “get jazzed” (their motto, not mine) about. Three days of free jazz in Grant Park is kicked off by the only ticketed show of the weekend — An Evening with Herbie Hancock.

Chicago Jazz originated as a small festival in memory of Duke Ellington, and eventually joined forces with the John Coltrane Memorial Concert and the Jazz Institute of Chicago to showcase a talented line-up for which 125,000 enthusiasts came. 29 years later the festival still attracts the same kinds of crowds.

Mackinac Bridge Walk

Although it’s not an all-weekend event, the Mackinac Bridge Walk is celebrating its 50th year as something of a phenomenon, attracting close to 65,000 participants in the 5-mile walk. The bridge spans Lake Michigan from St. Ignace to Mackinac City, Michigan, and was an architectural wonder when it opened in 1957. It’s the third longest suspension bridge in the world (although until 1998 it the longest).

The governor-headed walk marks the only time pedestrians are allowed on the bridge. Participants describe the event as celebratory, and one person wrote that “the excitement is palpable.” If you’re in Michigan, it’s not a bad (or expensive — the walk is free) way to spend Labor Day.

No running allowed — if you just can’t walk, wait until May 28, 2008 when the Mackinac Bridge Run is held.

Mountain Man Rendezvous

If you enjoy playing pretend, then this festival could be for you. A historical reenactment of the “mountain man/trapper life,” Mountain Man Rendezvous in Fort Bridger, Wyoming celebrates the old days when trappers convened to sell their furs from the previous winter. Participants raise tepees and buckskin tents, and compete in events like knife throwing, tomahawk throwing, and black powder target shooting. A period food court serves up kettle corn, Indian fry bread, and other dishes from the time (don’t worry, there’s no squirrel). Museums stay open late and historians speak nightly, so you can say you learned something over your holiday weekend. The festival draws a crowd of about 40,000 so you might want to reserve your buckskin tent ASAP.