8 Weird and Wondrous Wisconsin Summer Festivals

Kensie Kiesow

Grill Games | Image:<a href=
Grill Games | Image: grillgames.happeningsmag.com

Wisconsin festivals are, by far, the most classic, Midwestern affairs to experience during the year. Here there be eight Wisconsin festivals to visit this summer, as well as a bonus festival listed at the bottom that you’ll just have to check out.

1. Grill Games – Kenosha

August 27 • 281 Miles from Eau Claire

If you are Bobby Flay, a dad who enjoys wearing jorts, or you just live to grill, then Grill Games in Kenosha is calling you. The grilling and barbecue competition will kick off the festival on a Saturday, but admissions aren’t quite open yet, so keep your eyes glued to their Facebook page for updates. A festival devoted to competitive grilling and barbecuing may not be heaven for everyone, though. If you find yourself ambivalent towards grilled or barbecued choice meats, the Grill Games festival spans three days, wherein as many as ten local bands perform various genres like country, rock, pop, rap, and more. In the past, they’ve also offered a giant screening of the 1970’s cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show (because why not?) where costumes and props are heavily encouraged. During the day, however, families and friends can compete in a baggo tournament and various beach games including bingo, – so there really is something for everyone.

2. Burger Fest and Balloon Rally – Seymour

"Mmmmm." – Godzilla
August 9–10 • 184 Miles from Eau Claire
Not to be confused with Kenosha’s Grill Games, Burger Fest [AND] Balloon Rally in Seymour narrows its focus on burgers and hot air balloons. They don’t have any old burgers, though. No. At Burger Fest, grill masters will grill an enormous 200-pound burger right in front of your eyes. You read that right: 200 pounds. All events start in the afternoon on Friday with kids’ activities, a car show, and live music. The hot air balloon ascension begins at 6pm on Friday and Saturday with a “balloon glow” at dusk, and another ascension begins at 6am on Saturday and Sunday (weather permitting). Participants of the festival can even purchase a $10 raffle ticket Friday night between 4pm and 8pm at the Balloon Rally for a chance to float up in a balloon on Saturday morning. Other events include a hamburger eating contest and a parade at 11am on Saturday morning with this year’s theme The Birth of the Burger – A Throwback to 1885, which is when Seymour claims their mascot, Hamburger Charlie, invented the hamburger as we know it.

3. Corn n' Tater Festival – Grand Marsh

August 18 • 131 Miles from Eau Claire

Within Grand Marsh lies the largest, one-day festival in Adams County: The Corn n’ Tater Festival. From 11am to 4pm they serve roast beef sandwiches, all-you-can-eat corn and taters (it's right in the name), and your choice of coffee or milk with every dinner ticket purchased at the grounds or before the day at one of the participating establishments. Rain or shine, you can expect to have buckets of fun with your kids at the corn eating contest, bingo, kiddie tractor pull, volleyball tournament, horseshoe tournament, and more. Arts and crafts tents with local venders fill one portion of the festival with handcrafted wares, and local bands perform live music free for everyone from 1pm to 7pm, so take advantage of this rare opportunity to enjoy a superb, quirky festival which also offers, wait for it, FREE PARKING.

4. UFO Days – Elmwood

July 25–28 • 35 Miles from Eau Claire

It seems that the paranormal and extraterrestrial have taken an interest in Elmwood, WI. Is it coincidence? Or, is there something in Elmwood that attracts the peculiar and unexplainable? Regardless, UFO Days celebrates its unique history with a four-day festival in the last weekend of July starting with a community-wide garage sale (except for Sunday), and pancake breakfasts sponsored by the Elmwood Knights of Columbia at 8am on Saturday and Sunday. Activities for adults and kids alike begin in the late morning on Friday with touch a truck, kid’s games, a petting zoo, and close with the paper plate drop, chicken poop raffle, and the first clue for the medallion hunt at the souvenir stand. The festivities continue on Saturday with the annual car show, fun run, sidewalk chalk contest, and a UFO painting class in the morning, with more games for the kiddos and competitions in the late afternoon. Parades and live music finish off the festival on Sunday, and each night offers street dancing by different artists until "very late" in the night, or very early in the morning, depending on when you wake up. Live music can be found at the food tent, and participants of the festival are encouraged to dress up like aliens or any other cool, extraterrestrial entity that you find wacky and weird to get into the spirit. We may never know what attracts such unexplainable phenomena to Elmwood, but that won’t stop us from celebrating the spooky.

5. Musky Jamboree – Boulder Junction

Image: Theresa Smith

August 9–11 • 182 Miles from Eau Claire

If you love fishing, eating fish, or just looking at those pretty scales, it’s very possible that the Musky Jamboree in Boulder Junction is the place for you. This festival is dedicated to everything fishy, but with a specific focus on musky. If you’ve ever wondered how those master fishermen catch these wriggly ones, have no fear because from 8:30am to noon, the community center hosts a How to Fish Musky Workshop for all those who are curious or find themselves frustrated with their unrefined technique. Afterwards, once you’ve got that wrist flick down, you can party all night long on the street by Coontail Corner with drinks served by American Legion Post 451. On the following days, you can enjoy the Best Fish Fry cookoff where you can taste and judge as much fish as you can eat, live music, a classic car show on Sunday, the arts and crafts fair as well as venders showcasing their creative goods, and a fun run on Saturday morning. The Musky Jamboree ends in the early afternoon on Sunday with live music and awards for those who entered into the classic car show and the kids casting contest.

6. National Mustard Day – Middleton

August 3 • 170 Miles from Eau Claire

In the beginning (aka the summer of 1991), National Mustard Day occupied only three parking stalls in front of the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, a suburb of Madison. Today, both Hubbard and Parmenter Streets downtown are blocked off for this iconic event – even Jonathan Wolenec, the Mustard Mascot from 2017, admits that he “didn’t realize how popular of an event this was before volunteering,” but after joining in some of the games, he says, “it’s amazing and I recommend anyone go to the event.” To start off the spicy soiree, the POUPON U Accordion Band plays the “Mustard Day Overture” at 9:30am, and the festivities can truly begin. Local bands like The Red Hot Horn Dogs, Speedtrap, and City Electric will help you rock out to old favorites and introduce you to new favorites in rock, pop, and soul. While the bands are rocking out, the mustard tasting tents are open for samples and offer a myriad of marvelous mustards from local mustard masters, and let’s not forget the mustard games! Kids and adults alike can test their skills in Mustard Pitch, Fishing for Mustard, Hoops for Koops’ Mustard Ring Toss, and many more exciting games and challenges; plus, all proceeds go to supporting the Sauk Trails Optimist Club as well as the non-profit National Mustard Museum.

7. Watermelon Fest – Pardeeville

September 7 • 156 Miles from Eau Claire

Pardeeville? Nah, son, you mean PARTY-ville. The first Saturday after Labor Day, PARTY-ville hosts the biggest, wildest watermelon rager this side o’ the Miss’ippi. This year marks the 52nd annual celebration of this festival which was, unsurprisingly, born from the minds of Pardeeville’s greatest thinkers after an evening of drinks at Bob Merwin’s Long Branch Saloon in an effort to put Pardeeville on the map with a festival so fun and inexpensive that people just had to stop by. All day long, various competitions are held at the festival grounds such as seed spitting, speed eating, largest watermelon, and even watermelon carving. Everyone is invited to participate in any or all contests held throughout the day, but you have to bring you’re A-game because the competition is fierce.  

8. Sovereign State Days – Winneconne

July 18–21 • 192 Miles from Eau Claire

If you’ve never heard of Winneconne (Wineh-connie), Wisconsin, it’s about 29 miles southwest of Appleton with a population of 2,350, and it is home to a festival with, quite possibly, the most hilarious origin story I’ve ever come across. With a population of 1,273 in 1967, Winneconne was so small that it was accidentally left off the official Wisconsin highway map. Offended and frustrated, the people of Winneconne decided to “put themselves back on the map” by seceding from the state on July 21st of that year. Within that very day, the governor responded by promising to place signs on Highways 41 and 110 leading to Winneconne, and allowed the town to review the 1968 map before it was sent to print. This proved to be enough to convince Winneconne to stay a part of Wisconsin, and today it celebrates its brief day of rebellion with an annual, three-day festival. The festival kicks off this year on the eighteenth of July with bouncy houses, kids activities, a DJ, and food served at Waterfront Park. Friday has a firework celebration as well as a performance from the local band Road Trip at Waterfront Park later in the day, but the real festivities are during the weekend at Marble Park. After a fun run beginning at the Winneconne High School on Saturday, the arts and crafts tents open at 9am and last until 4pm, alongside a softball tournament at 8:30am – and the rest of the day is filled with activities such as coed beach volleyball, a parade on main street, kids water fight, pony rides, and so, so much roasted and grilled food by local vendors throughout. Winneconne implores you to discover the rebel within yourself and celebrate sticking it to The Man while you chow down on brats and pulled pork.  

For more information, visit sovereignstateofwinneconne.com

And in case your summer wasn’t exciting enough, here’s one more festival to leave the season on a high note!

9. Wet Whistle Wine Fest – Algoma

September 13–14 • 224 Miles from Eau Claire

If you love wine and there’s something in you that has always wanted to squish grapes between your toes, the Wet Whistle Wine Fest in Algoma is where you can realize all of your wine dreams. Festivities begin on Free Admission Friday, but canned foods are greatly appreciated. On this day, live music is provided by Bazooka Joe, and food is served from 5pm to 9pm. Saturday includes admission for everyone above the age of 12, and all the proceeds go towards community improvement of Algona as well as the Algoma Fire and Rescue. It would be wise to dress up and blend in with, not shorts and a t-shirt, but costumes of wine bottles and nuns drinking Naughty Girl wine to really let go and dive into the fun. Live music plays throughout the day, grape stomp heats are at 12:20pm, 1:30pm, and 3pm, and YOU can participate – provided your name is chosen from the drawing. Tours and wine tasting at the local winery are open from 9am to 6pm, so if you happen to have a little too much fun, you can always contact the Algoma Chamber of Commerce for listings of great, available lodgings in the area.

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