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Totally Infested

Summer festivals are taking over; festivate wisely

By Josh Potter

If “two’s company and three’s a crowd,” as trad itional wisdom tells us, then the present-day extension of this rule should read something like, “. . .and a dozen or more folks gathered for any arcane activity can be considered a festival.” Around here, the year can be a little bipolar: After most folks hibernate the winter away, the region explodes with warm-weather events as varied and wide-ranging as the plants and people that live here. I could fill this page with a detailed breakdown of garlic, strawberry and carrot festivals and Greek, Irish and Latino heritage fairs—not to mention the offerings of every county fair and lineup for each of the regional music festivals, which seem to be breeding like rabbits—but some of the coolest festivals are the ones you stumble into, maybe on a weekend trip that you decide is OK to extend by a couple hours, because, hey, how can you pass up an Elvis Festival, a rubber-ducky race, or the World’s Largest Garage Sale? Here are a few events that might be worth the stumble:

Automobile enthusiasts are a geeky breed, but like any demographic, every subset grows weirder by degrees. Take, for instance, the Professional Car Society, whose 34th annual international meet is in Albany at the end of July. Forget hotrods and muscle cars; these guys are “dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of vintage ambulances, funeral cars, and livery vehicles.” For this group, what’s under the hood is less important than what you can fit in back. The event’s highlight will be the “longest convoy in PCS history,” where everyone will drive 17 miles down Route 9 with their vintage sirens blaring.

The aquatic equivalent to this event is probably the Waterford Steamboat Meet on July 3. In order to celebrate Waterford’s economic and cultural significance as the junction between the Hudson River and Erie Canal, once a year the town invites anyone who happens to have a traditional steam-powered vessel in their garage (there are more of these folks than you’d expect) to come parade through town. Throw in a fireworks display, fried dough, Mark Twain look-alikes, and plenty of red, white and blue, and this sort of thing should be enough to get us back on Sarah Palin’s map of the “real America.”

A little farther downriver, there’s another maritime event with American literary relevance—only this one features slightly less seaworthy crafts. On July 18, it’s the Rip Van Winkle Wacky Raft Race. Now, I don’t recall Rip having paddled anything in Washington Irving’s classic story, but given that the event starts in Athens and ends in Catskill, thus passing under the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, it’s a forgivable inconsistency. All raft entries must be homemade and self-propelled, although buoyancy is not required (yet recommended). Teams compete for a cash prize, but the most coveted award is the title of “Wackiest Raft,” which in past years has come with a hand-carved statue by local whittler Dick Brooks.

Which brings us to the sky. There are two opportunities to view the region from a hot-air balloon. The first comes mid-August with the Great Northern Catskills Hot Air Balloon Festival in Greenville. The other one, the Adirondack Balloon Festival in Glens Falls, comes a little later in September. But with tuppence for paper and string, you can have your own set of wings, with your fist holding tight to the string of your kite—at the Keene Valley Kite Fest on Father’s Day at Marcy Field.

The Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce has adopted the slogan “Defining Adirondack Wilderness,” and true to the history behind that slogan, they know a thing or two about chopping down trees. For the mid-July Woodsmen’s Days, all that chopping and sawing becomes competitive sport. There’s a horse pull, skidding, loading and truck-driving races, tug-of-war, chainsaw carving contest and, yup, a greased pole climb—not to mention plenty of beef jerky, grizzled beards and flannel.

In a way, the Sterling Renaissance Festival in the town of Sterling (on Lake Ontario near Oswego), is like the above (oversized cutlery, feats of strength, abundant grog, meat on sticks) just with fairer maidens, poofier shirts, and more emoting. Between early July and mid-August, you have a chance to revisit the 16th century in all its lute-strumming, arrow-slinging, swordfighting, armor-jousting, leatherworking, pewtersmithing, tomato-hurling, flower-garlanding glory. However, if you prefer all of this with an added dose of face-painting, wing-wearing and spell-casting, it’s worth the drive to Ouaquaga (near Binghamton) for the New York Faerie Festival.

Now go out and festivate.

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