Blasting out of the plexes

Festivals, fairs, sports events popular ways to spend Labor Day weekend

For Americans, Labor Day weekend marks the final opportunity families can gather for one last summertime hurrah. As always, movie theaters are a popular choice on the holiday — last year Labor Day weekend box office totaled $117.7 million. But, according to a study released by the American Automobile Assn. last summer, about 33.7 million people were estimated to have spent the weekend traveling around the country, visiting family or attending major events. That includes more than 20% who were expected to hit the beaches and amusement parks.

Festivals, fairs and major sports events are also especially popular ways to spend entertainment dollars over the holiday. Last year, concert grosses for Labor Day weekend topped $24.5 million, according to industry tracker Pollstar, and homegrown for-profit and nonprofit events brought in millions more. Below, we profile a handful of the wide-ranging entertainment options that are luring Americans out of movie houses across the country this holiday weekend.


Seattle, Wash.

Highlighted by musicians like AFI, Yellowcard, the Steve Miller Band and Kanye West, this is the biggest arts and music fest of its kind in North America. New this year is the 1 Reel short film fest, which rounds out a lineup of comedy, dance, theater and literary arts. Attendance is expected to reach 200,000.

Blue Hill Fair

Blue Hill, Maine

Touted as a real, “down-to-Earth” county fair, this event features many staples of a traditional fair, including a petting zoo, carnival rides, Sue Wee pig racing and sheep dog trials. Less traditional, however, are the local steel band and the Imperial Hell Drivers daredevil show. About 30,000 people will attend.

The Big Muddy Blues Festival

St. Louis, Mo.

Known for its extensive history of turning out world-class blues artists, St. Louis spends the weekend spotlighting current musicians who have risen from the city’s music scene. This year’s fest includes artists like the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Shemekia Copeland and Sonny Landreth with 75,000 people expected.


Hidalgo, Texas

The X-treme sports event unfolds over 12 hours on Sept. 3, featuring BMX bikers, dirt bikers and skateboarders. In addition, WWE wrestlers, Penthouse Pets, more than 200 custom cars and three bikini contests draw more than 15,000.

Disney on Ice’s “Princess Wishes”

Lakeland, Fla.

Since 1985, Lakeland has hosted the launch of a Disney traveling ice show every Labor Day weekend. Feld Entertainment currently has two other Disney shows on the road: “Mickey’s Magic Show” in El Paso, Texas, and an Incredibles-hosted ice show in Tupelo, Miss.

Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Fest

Snowmass Village, Colo.

Major music acts like LeAnn Rimes, Kanye West and John Mellencamp share the attention with drumming circles and unconventional crafts. Call it your all-in-one nonprofit festival, with about 30,000 festgoers.

Burning Man

Black Rock Desert, Nev.

The famed arts fest begins the week before Labor Day and wraps up over the weekend. Commerce-free event promotes expression through art installations, music, street theater and other creative means, encouraging everyone to participate. Culminates with the burning of a large wooden effigy Saturday night.


Berea, Ohio

Music, dancing, food, soccer, beer and … the Weiner Dog 50? Aside from all the partying, this is the chance for dachshund owners to qualify their pooches in a preliminary race for the National Dachshund finals, held late September in Findlay, Ohio. Organizers at the City of Berea Kiwanis Group expect nearly 25,000 and hope to bring in $300,000, which they say will go back into the local area.

Southern Decadence

New Orleans, La.

Coined the “Gay Mardi Gras,” this 35-year-old party begins the Wednesday before Labor Day and doesn’t let up until Tuesday. The event has all the staples of a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pride festival, including drag performers, club DJs and a parade. More than 125,000 revelers are expected.

Santa Fe Fiesta

Santa Fe, N.M.

Truly a traditional celebration, this fiesta descends from Old Santa Fe of the late 1600s. Festivities begin nearly a week before Labor Day with a Sunday pre-show. On Saturday, the main event begins with arts and crafts and a night lights parade. Weekend highlight is Sunday’s Mariachi Extravaganza at the Santa Fe Opera.

Revelation Generation

Frenchtown, N.J.

The annual daylong Christian music festival unfolds Saturday in a 140-acre field in Hunterdon County. Popular crossover artists like Relient K, MXPX, Plumb and the Afters entertain along with speakers like Duffy Robbins, Kurt Schafer and actor Stephen Baldwin. Event also includes face painting, beach volleyball and a prayer tent. 10,000 participants are expected.

Deutsche Bank Championship

Norton, Mass.

The PGA golf tour returns to the Tournament Players Club of Boston for a 72-hole, full-field championship with more than $5.5 million in prize money. Preceded by a one-day Pro-Am competition. Organizers expect 18,000 people each day over the weekend. Last year, the charity event raised $1.6 million for various causes.

NASCAR Sony HD 500

Fontana, Calif.

This summer, the West Coast will start an all-American racecar revolution. Over the weekend, the California Speedway unveils a multimillion-dollar renovation that nearly doubles the size of its Midway facility. Aside from the race, rockers Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts and country singer Julie Roberts will entertain; 110,000 spectators are expected.

Brady/McCulloch County World

Championship Goat Cookoff

Brady, Texas

It might be the most curious event of the holiday — 150 cooking teams from around the world compete to prepare the best cooked goat of the year, as decided by a panel of more than 30 judges. As many as 10,000 people may attend.

Cowboy Days

Evanston, Wyo.

Called the “biggest little rodeo in the West,” this 11,000-person event has been an Evanston tradition for 70 years. Centerpiece is three professional rodeo shows; the four-day event includes evening dances, a Sunday parade and fishing for the kids. Local cowboys also gather for a reading of their own poetry.

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