As you're considering which festivals to attend in St. Louis this time of year, it's easy to romanticize the experience — tasty eats, danceable jams, sudsy brews — but the reality is often much harsher. Heat and humidity make food less appealing. Throngs of people thwart getting lost in wild dance moves, and dehydration drains your beer buzz. It's not for nothing, though, because St. Louis boasts some of the biggest, brightest, most bad-ass food and music festivals in the Midwest. Instead of missing out, buckle down, quit the bitching and, braced with the following know-how, bask in the glow of this summer's best fests.
International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville, Illinois
Its not nature's most popular plant, but horseradish sure is a prized root on the other side of the river. Beginning Friday, June 1, through Sunday, June 3, the annual International Horseradish Festival held at Woodland Park (2 Pine Lake Road; Collinsville, Illinois) celebrates its versatility with a crop of activity. Young ladies can enter the Little Miss Horseradish Festival Pageant while their parents compete in an amateur recipe contest or bloody-mary contest. Meanwhile, horseradish lovers of all stripes can enjoy the craft village and the root derby (with, yes, derby cars carved from horseradish roots). But the star of the festival is the food, which includes deep-fried horseradish pickles, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches with horseradish, Mongolian barbecue with horseradish and more. Pro Tip: Pack a package of TUMS for your stomach and breath mints for the sake of your companions. For more information visit www.horseradishfestival.net.
Surprise, surprise! On Saturday, June 2, from noon to 6 p.m., Cherokee Street and the Grove nieghborhood are playing host to IndiHop, an event name that would be eye-roll inducing if it weren't so damn cool. Organized by the residents and businesses of both neighborhoods, IndiHop will feature more than 50 beers to sip via your complimentary IndiHop beer mug, as well as live music, street performers and food vendors. Pro Tip: Plan ahead for how to get home. With beer this good and people this silly, there's no way you won't be three sheets to the wind before dinnertime.
Twangfest St. Louis
Shimmy and sway to carefree banjo strumming, wild bluegrass and lonesome outlaw country at Twangfest St. Louis, from Wednesday, June 6, to Saturday, June 9. Hosted by KDHX (88.1 FM), performances for Twangfest are divided between two venues: the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill (6504 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-727-4444) and the Schlafly Tap Room (2100 Locust Street; 314-241-2337). Musicians performing over this four-day festival include Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three, Prairie Rehab, Pretty Little Empire, Kelly Hogan, Langhorne Slim and John Doe. Tickets range from $15 to $125. Pro Tip:Fit in among the fiddle-plucking crowd by wearing a plaid shirt and denim cut-offs or play it cool like Johnny Cash in all black — though the late-spring heat might make you regret it. For more information visit www.twangfest.com.
St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival
St. Louis' reputation as a beer capital was cemented a century ago by the likes of Griesedieck Brothers Brewery, Lemp Brewery, Falstaff Brewing Corporation and, oh yeah, Anheuser-Busch. From Friday, June 15, to Sunday, June 17, the annual St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival at Ballpark Village (323 South Broadway) celebrates the city's rich beer-swigging history by offering more than 75 beers from nineteen local brewers. Soak up suds from Schlafly Beer, Square One Brewery, Buffalo Brewing Company, Cathedral Square Brewery, Urban Chestnut Brewing Company and more and enjoy bits and bites from Companion, Harvest, Vin de Set, SqWires and LoRusso's Cucina. Pro Tip:The fest's convenient downtown location means that taking public transportation is a safe and easy option for those who want to get truly blitzed. There are four sessions in all, with one Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. Tickets for each session are $30. For more information visit www.stlbrewfest.com.
Voted "Best Festival" in these very pages last year, St. Louis Pride Fest draws more than 80,000 revelers each year, making it the largest in the Midwest. Mosey on over to Tower Grove Park (4256 Magnolia Avenue; 314-771-2679) for festive follies, including live music, dancing, food and drink and handy-dandy giveaways like condoms and dental dams. The two-day festivities include a commitment ceremony on Saturday, June 23, at 3 p.m. and the official Pride parade on Sunday, June 24, at noon. Pro Tip: Party hard post-parade in Tower Grove Park or at any of the gay-friendly bars in the nearby Grove neighborhood. Or for an afternoon of inexpensive debauchery, bring a flask or pass out on a picnic blanket after a bottle of wine. For more information visit www.pridestl.org.
Fair Saint Louis and Celebrate St. Louis Summer Concerts
This year, Fair Saint Louis is partnering with Celebrate St. Louis for a summer concert series extravaganza. The former spans Wednesday, July 4, Friday, July 6 and Saturday, July 7, as bands Heart, Third Eye Blind and Dierks Bentley play free shows on the Arch grounds. The following week bands will congregate at Soldiers Memorial for another free collection of concerts, with bands Neon Trees, Michael Franti & Spearhead, the Offspring and Nelly performing throughout the series, which will run from Friday, July 13, to Saturday, July 21. Pro Tip: Though it should go without saying to bring sunscreen and bug spray, there really isn't much that will offer relief in the St. Louis humid July heat when cozying up next to 50,000 of your favorite neighbors. The silver lining is that Nelly's "Hot in Herre," will have added meaning. For more information visit www.fairsaintlouis.org.
Now in its third year, St. Louis' own indie summer concert festival finds itself with one of its strongest lineups yet. Big draws for this year's LouFest on Saturday and Sunday, August 25 and 26, in Forest Park include the Flaming Lips, Girl Talk, Phantogram, Dinosaur Jr., Dawes, Cults, Cotton Mather, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsen and more. Of course, fans come for the music and...well, they stay for the music too, but the impressive selection of food and booze doesn't hurt either. For those about to rock, fuel up in the Nosh Pit, which in years past has included the best and brightest from local food trucks and vendors, as well as beer and wine. Pro Tip: The secret to a stress-free LouFest experience is taking advantage of the Forest Park trolley service. Either connect with it through public transportation or park near one of its many satellite parking lots and ride the trolley to the festival grounds. Trolleys run till the last concert wraps. LouFest tickets range from $40 to $70. For more information visit www.loufest.com.
Festival of Nations
The food, music, culture and community of Festival of Nations draws more than 140,000 visitors to Tower Grove Park each August. This year's thirteenth annual fest is happening Saturday, August 25, and Sunday, August 26, and it will feature live music, dance performances, workshops, games, and food and shopping booths representing 51 ethnicities. Admission and entertainment are free for the all-day festival. Pro Tip: Earplugs are advisable for ears not accustomed to hearing drum circles playing for eight-hour stretches. For more information visit www.festivalofnationsstl.org.
Big Muddy Blues Festival
Twenty hours of music is packed into the two-day Big Muddy Blues Festival on Laclede's Landing in downtown St. Louis on Saturday, September 1, and Sunday, September 2. Three stages will feature 30 blues musicians including headliners Dr. John and Joe Louis Walker, and local talent such as Kim Massie and Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers from 1 to 11 p.m. at this year's seventeenth annual festival. Admission to satellite stages is free. Tickets for the main stage range from $10 to $25. Pro Tip: The Blues Brothers outfit of suit, fedora and sunglasses serves a double purpose at Big Muddy. Not only will you look super fly, but the outfit also wards off sunburns, and the dark glasses hide those bloodshot eyes. For more information visit www.bigmuddybluesfestival.com
Taste of St. Louis
Technically Taste of St. Louis occurs in autumn, but it's only days after the official season shift — and, knowing St. Louis, temperatures will still be parked in the 80s for this annual street fair. On Friday, September 28, through Sunday, September 30, the Taste takes over Solidiers Memorial at 12th and Market streets in downtown St. Louis with 45 restaurants featuring their best bites, a pro cooking competition, games, a kid-friendly area with food and activities, and live music on the concert stage. Pro Tip: The free fest brought out a hungry hoard of more than 350,000 people last year, so come prepared to wait in line for a survey of St. Louis grub. Navigating food festivals of this magnitude is always easier with a game plan going in, so pay close attention to the map of restaurant booths. For more information visit www.tastestl.com.