In a world as polarized as ours today — where the most trying of philosophical debates disturb our dinner tables and social media feeds — we need more festivals in our lives. Topics we were told never to discuss, like politics, religion and whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza, often sow discord and division throughout our daily lives as we struggle to muzzle our personal opinions — which are, of course, always right.
For these trying times, attending a festival is a welcomed escape from it all. They are events that bond, rather than separate, in celebration of shared interests, cultures and history passed down from each generation to the next. Even though it may not always seem like it while wolfing down food on a stick or tearing apart a powdered up funnel cake, these community gatherings go beyond just what meets the eye. They are necessary fertilizers for our souls.
There are many different types of festivals, each with a distinct lineage through time dating back centuries or more. Religious festivals are perhaps the oldest, going back thousands of years, or as long as the human race has worshipped deities. These were most often in the form of a community feast in honor or thanksgiving of a god or goddess, and we see remnants of them today throughout the holiday season. Other types of events that have sprouted up over the years include arts festivals, food and drink festivals, and seasonal festivals; each to celebrate a communal love or appreciation for something.
Therein lies the beauty of a festival — it can be held anywhere and revolve around literally anything. The word festival, as we have come to know it, is broad and inclusive, just like the events themselves.
And Arkansas is a perfect example of this. We offer a wide range of festivals, from traditional and expected to quirky and eclectic.
The art of music provides, perhaps, the most popular and recognizable events. Historic occasions like the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena have further embedded and celebrated our state’s rich history of tunes, no matter the genre.
In fact, festivals that are not centered around soothing instrumentals and harmonious melodies usually still feature live performances as an added feature and to complement the main theme. Going to watch the National Championship Chuckwagon Races in Clinton? You’ll still be treated to a lineup of live string pluckers and drum thumpers.
Then, there’s the food. Oh, how we love to celebrate eating. But, why wouldn’t we? We are the self-proclaimed Natural State, after all. Our farmers have been growing some of the country’s best vegetables, grains and juicy-sweet delectables since 1803 (when our territory was acquired from France via the Louisiana Purchase). So, Cave City and Hope throwdown with annual watermelon festivals. Tontitown has been doling out its Grape Festival for over 100 years. Emerson serves up seeds at its Purple Hull Pea Festival. There is the Picklefest of Atkins, Weiner’s Rice Festival, the Bean Festival in Mountain View … The list goes on, and on.
But these are typical. And albeit each and every one of them are warranted celebrations, they are unsurprising. We wouldn’t be true to Arkansas, the home of the famed Fouke Monster, without a few curveballs thrown into the mix. Like the Arkansas Bigfoot Conference which has brought sasquatch enthusiasts to Faulkner County for the past six years. The Arkansas Paranormal Expo apparates into Little Rock every October with stories of UFOs, ghosts and cryptozoology. Beaming down to Eureka Springs is the Ozark Mountain UFO Conference.
I may have a sprinkle of bias mixed into my opinion, but I would wager our state is the best for fests. I adore this land, its people and our ability to disregard separations and divides as we meet in front of the deep fryer for battered sandwich cookies that were never meant to be so, but we made happen.
We at AY About You have made a habit of bucket listing Arkansas’ best restaurants every month, and figured we would get 2020 started off on the right foot with one for our state’s many unique events. Journey into the unknown this year. Go somewhere you haven’t. The Natural State’s land of opportunities await.