Wacky Small Town Festivals

Most people have attended a county or state fair -- walked through the livestock barns, snacked on tasty fried treats, rode carnival rides, viewed the blue ribbon apple pie. You know -- the par-for-the-course activities you'd expect at a festival. But some small towns take their community festivals a bit outside those lines -- actually, far outside those lines.

Take the National Hollerin' Contest hosted by the eastern North Carolina town of Spivey's Corner -- population 49. This fair was established to revive the lost art of hollerin', so instead of rooster crows, you'll hear the crows of hollerin' contest competitors as you roam the festival grounds.

Or, take Fruita, Colo.'s Mike the Headless Chicken Days, a festival founded in honor of a bizarre historical event: In 1945, a Fruita resident's chicken survived without a head for a full 18 months. What better reason to host a chicken-focused festival?

You'll find these quirky events around the world, as small towns celebrate the unique occurrences that make their communities special. We'll take you from the hamlets of rural North Carolina to the beaches of South Korea -- five festivals sure to leave you puzzled and delighted by small town life.

A funhouse mirror -- now that's something you'd expect out of a town fair.

1 National Hollerin' Contest

Do have a set of windpipes that can call folks from far and wide? If so, you might want to attend the National Hollerin' Contest held in Spivey's Corner, N.C. On the third Sunday of June each year, this otherwise sleepy town -- population 49 -- located in Sampson County in southeastern North Carolina welcomes 5,000 to 10,000 people to witness the best holler.

Hollerin' is much more than mere screaming or calling. Contestants use their voices like musical instruments, and the type of holler celebrated in Spivey's Corner consists of quick shifts between a natural and falsetto voice. Many people believe hollerin' is an important cultural artifact, and in fact, the contest began in 1969 when Ermon H. Godwin and John Thomas, cofounders and participants in the festival, wanted to stage a revival to preserve and celebrate the lost art of hollerin'.

Hollerin' has existed worldwide for centuries in one form or another, and each culture uses hollers for different reasons. For example, yodelers on the mountainsides of Europe used their unique form of hollerin' to communicate from peak to peak. In the Southeast United States, particularly in the area around Spivey's Corner, anthropologists have traced hollerin' to people living in colonial slave communities who worked on rafts and would holler to signal each other.

Although for the most part hollerin' no longer serves such practical purposes, it's still celebrated. The Spivey's Corner contest features the following types of hollers:
the distress holler, which uses a falsetto tone to indicate a sense of urgency
the functional holler, which primarily was used on farms -- its unique sound won't disturb the animals
the expressive holler, which might turn a popular tune like "Amazing Grace" into a hollerin' duet
the communicative holler, a form of greeting, such as a hollered version of "howdy, neighbor!"

Due to the differences in men's and women's voices, a separate callin' contest for women was introduced in 1976. So hollerin' is a men-only contest. Contestants are judged according to how well they can belt out the Spivey's Corner type of holler. So far, all winners have been from Sampson County with the exception of one from neighboring Wayne County. But the Hollerin' Contest is open to locals and visitors alike. Winners of the contest have been featured on "The Tonight Show" and "The Late Show with David Letterman."

In addition to hollerin', the festival features pageants and other feats-of-strength, including a watermelon roll, biggest bell pepper contest, whistlin' and lady callin' contests, and a square dancing jamboree.

Hollerin Road in Spivey's Corner, N.C.

2 Boryeong Mud Festival

If the muddy scenes from Woodstock have always appealed to you, then you'll want to experience the Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea where you can willingly participate in all things mud-related. This festival, which began in 1998, attracts about 1.5 million visitors to Boryeong.

One of Boryeong's most prevalent natural resources is mud. In fact, about 9.9 million square meters of this grayish stuff can be found in the area. But this isn't your run-of-the-mill mud. This mud, certified by the Korea Institute of Geology for its high quality, is rich in minerals like germanium and bentonite, which can be used to prevent wrinkles. Making use of this resource, festival organizers haul mud from the Daecheon beach each July for visitors to languish in -- enjoying mud baths, mud massages and mud wrestling.

Other attractions include mudslides, mechanical rodeo rides, mud body-painting contests, mud sculpture contests and a huge communal mud bath. You can also battle it out on mud floats, inflatable rafts in the middle of huge mud ponds. Don't worry; if things get too dirty, you can rinse off in a public shower and retrieve your clothes in a nearby storage locker. Due to the popularity of the festival, many restaurants and hotels have cropped up in the area. There's even a free tour bus that you can take to nearby attractions where you can see everything from coal mines to a Buddhist shrine.

Participants enjoy the mud fiesta at the Boryeong Mud Festival on July 12, 2008.

3 Mike the Headless Chicken Days

On a September day in 1945, Fruita, Colo., resident Lloyd Olsen set out to his barn to fetch dinner. His chicken, Mike, was on the menu that evening. Olsen's mother-in-law would be dining with the family and her favorite part of the chicken was the neck. So Olsen attempted to slaughter the chicken while keeping its neck intact. He carefully positioned the Wayodette rooster to preserve its neck, swung his ax and took off Mike's head. But this didn't seem to phase Mike too much.

The next morning, Olsen found Mike pecking for food. Olsen discovered that he had accidentally left one ear and Mike's brain stem intact. He'd missed Mike's jugular vein, and a blood clot kept Mike from bleeding to death. Although Mike was entirely headless with no face or mouth -- in fact, Olsen kept Mike's head in a jar -- he was able to live because the brain stem controls a chicken's reflexes. Impressed by the creature's will to live, Olsen began feeding Mike with an eyedropper, and the chicken survived another 18 months.

To this day, the town of Fruita, Colo., celebrates Mike with the annual Mike the Headless Chicken Days festival. Every year during the third weekend of May, the town gathers to commemorate Mike's indomitable spirit with events like a "Chicken Dance" contest, chicken recipe competition and the 5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race.

Following a non-lethal decapitation, Mike the headless chicken lived for 18 months. Seen here about one month after his beheading, Mike poses with his severed head.

4 Festival of Near Death Experiences

If watching reruns of "Six Feet Under" or "Dead Like Me" leaves you curious about crossing over to the other side, head to the small town of Las Nieves in Galicia, Spain near the border of Portugal for the annual Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme, or Festival of Near Death Experiences. This festival, which takes place each year on July 29, celebrates those who have come close to death and lived to tell all about it.

What's the dress code for this festival? B.Y.O.C.--- bring your own coffin. In this bizarre pilgrimage and celebration, those who have come near to death are carried into the church in coffins by members of their families. The group follows an effigy of Santa Marta, or Saint Martha, the sister of the biblical Lazarus whom Jesus rose from the dead.

Thousands of people attend this festival, and participants often spill out of the church into the street to listen to the service over loudspeakers. After the service, attendees process out to the cemetery following behind Santa Marta, the patron saint of the town and the "saint of death."

Most attendees tell similar stories about their brushes with death; you can expect the usual accounts of bright lights and echoed voices. And while you're not likely to find any wacky coffin races at this festival, you're bound to hear some interesting, if harrowing, tales.

Not-so-innocent Small Town Festival Fiction
When The New Yorker published Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" on June 26, 1948, the magazine received more mail than it had before, or has since. The plot of the story is simple: A small, unspecified rural town conducts a lottery in which all adults draw a card. One card bears a black mark, and the person who draws that card is stoned to death. The story incited anger from readers, and hundreds of them cancelled their subscriptions in response to what they perceived as pointless violence and inhumanity in the story . The tale, however, has been read as an allegory about historical instances of senseless violence like the Holocaust and has since been adapted into a play and film.
5 Testicle Festival

What to do with the many testicles procured in the slaughter of bulls? Answer: Plan a festival in their honor and feed them to throngs of people who attend. The Testicle Festival takes place at Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton, Mont., located about 20 miles (32 km) east of Missoula, Mont. Every summer, festival goers dine on bull testicles, also known as "Rocky Mountain oysters," and participate in a variety of ballsy events, including a hairy chest contest, wet T-shirt contest and bull chip throwing contest. Obviously, this one isn't for the kids.

At the festival, you can sample a variety of these rich-in-protein testicular delights. Start out with the $5 sampler plate and prepare your palate for all the testicles you can eat. And don't worry, the festival only serves USDA-approved bull testicles, dubbed "Montana tendergroin."

This annual festival draws about 10,000 participants, and more than 4,000 pounds (1,814 kg) of bull testicles are consumed . While attending the festival, if you can stand a rowdy, noisy, testicle-devouring crowd, you can stay at a nearby free campground. The Rocky Creek Lodge gift shop offers lots of testicle souvenirs. So, go nuts!

How could you eat this creature's you-know-whats?

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