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Headlining 2014 festivals and events

Courtesy Star-Spangled Spectaular

Annual festivals and events are, by definition, special. But every so often, a celebration will reach greater proportions by marking an important anniversary.

In 2014, numerous festivals and events will reach this next level as they commemorate the anniversaries of historic occasions, community icons and large-scale celebrations. Some of these events are anniversary installments of annual festivals; others mark the anniversaries that won’t be celebrated again for a decade or more.

Regularly occurring events such as the Canadian Badlands Passion Play; the BayFest Music Festival in Mobile, Alabama; and St. Charles Christmas Traditions in Missouri are all anticipating big turnouts for their special anniversary years in 2014. And the year will bring special commemorative events, too, including the 100th anniversary of the Belle of Louisville in Kentucky and the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Baltimore.

Each of these celebrations has been recognized as one of the 2014 Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association. If your group enjoys a good party, you should consider marking some of these important anniversary events on your travel calendar.

Star-Spangled Spectacular
Most Americans know the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and many have a vague idea that the poem was written during a battle. Fewer know that the battle occurred at Fort McHenry in Baltimore as part of the War of 1812. The battle itself took place in 1814.

“Francis Scott Key penned the words to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ on September 15, 1814,” said Rich Gilbert, travel trade sales manager for the Maryland Office of Tourism. “Next year will be the 200th anniversary of the penning of the national anthem. To go along with that bicentennial, there will be a lot of events going on in Baltimore September 6-16.”

The celebration will be called the Star-Spangled Spectacular, a beefed-up version of the Star-Spangled Celebration that takes place in Baltimore each September. For the bicentennial event, organizers are planning the return of tall ships — which came for the 2012 event — to the harbor.

“We’re hoping to have 20 ships,” Gilbert said. “We want to give groups free tours of the tall ships on three different days. It allows them to get on the ships when they aren’t open to the general public.”

In addition to boarding the tall ships, groups will be able to take one- to three-hour narrated boat tours that will highlight all of the ships in the harbor, as well as tours of Fort McHenry that detail the action that took place there during the War of 1812.

The climax of the event will be a Blue Angels air show, followed by a massive fireworks display. Gilbert said that the state tourism office has created a special place for groups to enjoy the festivities.

“We came up with an area where they can watch at the Baltimore Museum of Business and Industry,” he said. “We’re going to have a patriotic picnic pavilion there, where groups can have a picnic, go to the museum and see the Blue Angels.

Bayfest Music Festival
Mobile, Alabama
It was two decades ago that a local civic development officer in Mobile, Alabama, had the idea to stage a music festival to attract visitors downtown. Today, that idea has grown into Bayfest, one of the largest music festivals in the South.

“We’ll have our 20th year in 2014,” said Bayfest executive director Shana Jordan. “In 1995, we had about 50,000 people. Our largest year to date was 300,000 people, so it has definitely grown.”

The three-day festival always takes place over the first weekend in October, when hurricane season has passed but warm coastal breezes bring 80-degree days. It features dozens of artists performing on nine different stages, taking up a total footprint of 18 blocks in downtown Mobile. All those different stages mean that music lovers can choose from a wide range of genres and performances.

“Our three main stages are country, rock and R&B,” Jordan said. “This year, we had Little Big Town, Hunter Hayes, Zach Brown Band, the Eisley Brothers, Daughtry and Gary Allen, among many others. We also have stages for jazz, gospel, acoustic and local music, and three stages in the children’s area.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.