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Getting Festive in West Tennessee

The western portion of Tennessee is home to numerous special events. From high-profile festivals to small-town celebrations of local food and culture, here are five events to consider when planning your group’s trip to the area.

• West Tennessee’s biggest festival is the longest one, too. It’s the Memphis in May International Festival, which fills the month with multiple events such as the Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest — breathe deeply and enjoy; the Great American River Run — fun to watch even if you don’t run in the 5K or half-marathon; and a huge salute to another countr — precedent was broken this year so the festival could honor Memphis itself during its bicentennial.

• Before Memphis in May gets cranked up, Beale Street bustles with the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival, which salutes a different African nation every year. It started in 1986 and has honored nations from Morocco to South Africa through visits from dignitaries, food, crafts, dance and other programming.

• Six tons of fried catfish, thousands upon thousands of hushpuppies and activities that fill an entire week give the World’s Biggest Fish Fry in Paris some bragging rights, too. Perhaps the oddest activity is organized catfish races (you have to be there to understand). After festival frivolities, take a group picture at Tennessee’s version of the Eiffel Tower.

• Tiny Humboldt has been inviting people to its West Tennessee Strawberry Festival since 1934 and now packs 20 events into a week of fun every May. Organizers also pack a lot of luscious red strawberries to take home and dish up loads of strawberry shortcake and strawberry ice cream. Attendance that week can top 75,000 in a town of about 8,200 residents.

• The West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville is the focal point for two annual festivals courting two distinct audiences. In April, birdwatchers and nature lovers wing in for the three-day Hatchie Bird Fest, which includes birding hikes and canoe trips in the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge. In May, music lovers show up for the two-day Exit 56 Blues Festival, which celebrates three blues pioneers that called Brownsville home: Hammie Nixon, Yank Rachell and “Sleepy” John Estes.

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