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Signature Celebrations

Some parties are so big that they become the calling cards of the cities that host them.

Thousands of cities and towns around the United States put on festivals throughout the year, but only a handful of these events have become destinations themselves. Many travelers dream of attending signature events such as the Kentucky Derby, the Rose Parade and the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

If your group enjoys large celebrations, consider adding some of these iconic events to your 2020 travel plans.

Kentucky Derby

Louisville, Kentucky

It’s been called “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” but the venerable Kentucky Derby actually encompasses a series of races and events over several days that gives travelers opportunities to enjoy the best of Louisville and Kentucky culture. The race takes place on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs racetrack and is typically attended by about 155,000 people.

Groups have a variety of options for attending the Derby. Many work with tour operators that have arranged packages with hotels, meals and grandstand seating on race day, where travelers can show off their Derby duds and hats. Groups may also choose to attend the Kentucky Oaks, another famous race that takes place the day before the Derby, or attend some of the events of the Kentucky Derby Festival in the two weeks preceding the race.

www.kentuckyderby.com

Rose Parade

Pasadena, California

Forget about the ball dropping in Times Square. For many people, the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, marks the real beginning of each new year. Since 1890, the Tournament of Roses and the accompanying parade have been a Southern California New Year’s Day tradition. The first tournament and parade drew about 3,000 spectators and featured horse-drawn carriages decorated with flowers. Today, the parade features dozens of elaborate floats all created and decorated by community members and covers a 5.5-mile route through Pasadena.

For 2020, the parade’s theme will be the Power of Hope. Groups can work with tour companies to get packages with special seating, where they can see the floral-decorated floats, equestrian units and marching bands parade by. The parade also coincides with the Rose Bowl college football game.

www.tournamentofroses.com

Big E

Springfield, Massachusetts

Each fall, more than 1 million people attend the Eastern States Exposition, better known as “The Big E,” in Springfield, Massachusetts. This 17-day event is a massive autumn celebration of all things New England. The event started as an agricultural exhibition in 1917, and today, it still includes a livestock show with more than 25 breeds of cattle, sheep, goats and hogs on display. But it also has a series of evening concerts with nationally known musicians and a wide variety of daytime activities.

Many groups visiting the exposition enjoy spending time at the Storrowton Village Museum, a historic interpretation area on the expo grounds with homes and other buildings from across New England that were built in the 18th and 19th centuries. And the Magic Midway area features a 115-foot-high Ferris wheel, as well as other midway rides, games and experiences. This year’s festival is September 13-19.

www.thebige.com

Cheyenne Frontier Days

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Whether you’re a diehard rodeo fan or simply interested in experiencing a bit of rodeo culture, there’s no better place to do it than Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming. This nine-day festival takes place each year in late July and is the home of the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, drawing the best rodeo professionals from around the world to compete for more than $1 million in cash and prizes. Attendees can see bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping and other rodeo competitions. They can also take behind-the-chutes tours and see trick-riding demonstrations.

In addition to the rodeo events, Cheyenne Frontier Days features a variety of other attractions. Groups can tour a Native American village and an old frontier town. There’s a saloon with dancing, as well as a chuck wagon cookoff, an art show, an airshow, parades and a carnival midway.

www.cfdrodeo.com

Red Earth Festival

Oklahoma City

Native American culture and heritage enjoy three days in the spotlight during the annual Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City. This is one of the country’s largest Native American celebrations and is held in the city’s convention center. The festival features the Red Earth Pow Wow, a two-day event with hundreds of dancers in full tribal regalia competing and exhibiting their traditional dances.

In addition to the powwow, the festival features a parade at Myriad Botanical Gardens, adjacent to the convention center in downtown. Paradegoers see hundreds of participants, including tribal leaders, princesses, floats, veterans groups and drum circle groups. The festival also has a juried art market that showcases work from leading Native American artists and craftspeople. Visitors can buy traditional and contemporary beadwork, basketry, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, painting and other cultural items.

www.redearth.org

Summerfest

Milwaukee

Music fans of all types will find reasons to love Summerfest, a musical celebration that takes place in Milwaukee. Summerfest debuted in 1968 and has grown into what many people recognize as the world’s largest music festival. Approximately 800,000 people attend the festival over the course of two extended weekends. More than 1,000 performances take place during that time, featuring over 800 acts on 12 stages on the city’s festival grounds. Headliner concerts showcase the top names in national entertainment, and smaller shows throughout the day present opportunities to see emerging talent and local favorites.

In addition to the concerts, Summerfest features a fireworks show, numerous parades, an interactive sports zone and carnival rides. Since the festival site is on the shore of Lake Michigan, groups can also enjoy paddleboat experiences, and kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding lessons. This year’s festival takes place June 26-30 and July 2-7.

www.summerfest.com

Philadelphia Flower Show

Philadelphia

For 90 years, gardeners and plant lovers from across the country have made the trip to Pennsylvania to attend the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Flower Show. Billed as the nation’s largest and longest-running horticultural event, the show features hundreds of displays by the world’s premier floral and landscape designers. Attendees can expect to see a diverse collection of garden displays featuring numerous plants and design concepts. In addition, the event has competitions in horticulture and artistic floral arranging, as well as gardening demonstrations and other activities.

The 2020 Philadelphia Flower show will take place February 29 through March 8 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The theme for the year is Riviera Holiday, inspired by exotic Mediterranean gardens. Visitors will see groves of citrus trees, waves of lavender, white salvia, succulents, geraniums, rosemary, sage and much more.

www.theflowershow.com

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Each October, a combination of weather patterns and New Mexico geography create the Albuquerque Box, a set of conditions ideal for hot-air ballooning. This phenomenon has made Albuquerque the country’s premier ballooning destination, especially during the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. This year, the nine-day festival takes place October 6-14 with more than 500 hot-air balloons. It’s the largest balloon festival in the world, and this year marks its 48th edition.

As many as 100,000 spectators attend the festival on any given day to take part in various ballooning activities. The after-dark balloon glow features hundreds of colorful balloons illuminated by the light of their onboard burners. The most popular events of the festival are the mass ascensions, in which all the participating balloons take to the sky at once. Visitors also love the New Mexican food and balloon memorabilia for sale at the festival park.

www.balloonfiesta.com

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.

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