A weekend-by-weekend guide to a fun-filled summer

A host of standout events to help you make the most of New England’s short, sweet season.

By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
June 13, 2010

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06.18 – 06.20 International Festival of Arts & Ideas / June 12-26 School may be out, but the streets and halls around Yale are still bursting with brainy concepts. This weekend is the heart of the wildly eclectic festival where almost anything seems like a good idea. Catch sonic art in a park, West African music, Cambodian dance, a discussion about urban utopias, or even learn to make sushi. New Haven, 888-278-4332,

31st Annual Quechee Hot Air Balloon Festival / June 18-20 You don’t have to be a high-flier to get a lift on Father’s Day weekend. The spectacle of almost two dozen hot air balloons ascending at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. alone is worth the trip (evening only on Friday), whether you watch or pay to ride. Friday features a balloon glow – lit balloons against the night sky. Between liftoffs, enjoy live entertainment, a crafts show, and kids’ activities. Festival Grounds near town green, Quechee, Vermont, 802-295-7900,

Russell Orchards Strawberry Festival / June 19-20 Russell Orchards celebrates the blissful beginning of local fruit season with pick-your-own strawberries and free activities such as face painting and balloon animals for the kids, hayrides, and live music. If you don’t care to stoop, they’ll also be selling strawberry shortcake with homemade biscuits and offering tastings of strawberry and strawberry-rhubarb wine to grown-ups. 143 Argilla Road, Ipswich, 978-356-5366,

06.25 – 06.27 10th Annual Hampton Beach Sand Sculpting Competition / June 19-30 Mountains of virgin sand are brought in on June 18, and sand artists start shaping it the next day. But the creative juices really flow on June 24, when 10 master sculptors begin to compete for the world championship qualifiers. On June 26, beachgoers vote for the People’s Choice, and awards are bestowed that night. Rain is good for sand carving, so don’t sweat the weather. Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, 603-926-8717,

20th Anniversary Rhode Island National Guard Air Show / June 26-27 The US Air Force Thunderbirds are the headliners, performing solo and formation flights each afternoon, but some kind of aircraft will be in the air continuously from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at this free event. Among them are a fully aerobatic helicopter and an old-time barnstormer in a two-seater, which lands atop a pickup truck. Quonset State Airport, 1 Hercules Drive, North Kingstown, Rhode Island,

07.02 – 07.04 Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Powwow / July 3-5 Sing, dance, eat, pray. The social and the spiritual intermingle at the annual powwow, where the pulse of the drum maintains the heartbeat of a living tradition. Dancers in full regalia compete, and visitors can join in the social dances. See native crafts of wampum, pottery, woodworking, and weaving, and chow down on stuffed quahogs, clam cakes, snapping turtle soup, and sassafras tea. Sunday features a big clambake. 483 Great Neck South, Mashpee, 508-477-0208,

An American Celebration / July 4 Monday-after holidays notwithstanding, an old-fashioned Independence Day celebration always takes place from noon to 5 p.m. on July Fourth at Strawbery Banke. Kids should bring their wheels for the Kids’ Bike & Wagon Parade with musicians. (Streamers, garlands, balloons, and other goodies are available for decorating.) Civil War reenactors set up camp, and Revolutionary War reenactors drill and fire muskets. Period penny candy for sale. 14 Hancock Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 603-433-1100,

Nateva Music & Camping Festival / July 2-4 It’s been 22 years since Deadheads last descended on rural Oxford, and now 15,000 music fans are expected at this new event, which promoters say should be northern New England’s biggest rock and alt-music festival. More than 50 bands, including Further (led by Dead alums Bob Weir and Phil Lesh), will alternate stages from roughly 11 a.m. to nearly 3 a.m. for three days. Also performing are Jakob Dylan, funkmaster George Clinton, Drive-By Truckers, She and Him, and The Flaming Lips. Oxford County Fairgrounds, 68 Pottle Road, Oxford, Maine,

07.09 – 07.11 Sailfest / July 9-11 If you didn’t get your fill of fireworks last weekend, Sailfest features the second largest display on the East Coast (after New York) on Saturday night. Throw in tall ships to ogle (and board at no cost), free concerts, lobster dinners, cruises on the Mystic River, and a rousing sailboat race on Sunday, and you have the perfect nautical idyll. Waterfront Park, New London, Connecticut, 860-444-1879,

Secret Garden Tours / July 9-11 Newport began in the Point, now a quirky harborfront neighborhood of restored 18th-century houses and funny little streets. Just in time for the full bloom of roses, lilies, and snapdragons, 12 to 14 gardeners in the Point invite curious guests to tour their hidden gardens. Tickets are good for all three days, so it’s fine to dawdle. Begin at 33 Washington Street, Newport, Rhode Island, 401-847-0514,

Bloom at Rhododendron State Park / mid-July Speaking of hidden flowers, the towering Rhododendron maximus shrubs in this 16-acre New Hampshire grove bloom much later than commercial hybrid rhodies, filling the air with a heady scent. They’re hard to predict, but the pink clusters should be starting to open. You can also follow a wildflower walking trail through the adjacent forest. Route 119 West, Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, 603-532-8862,

07.16 – 07.18 Guilford Art Center Craft Expo / July 15-17 Not for nothing does the town of Guilford claim it has the most beautiful town green in New England, so perhaps it’s gilding the lily to set up tents and have 170-plus professional craftspeople lay out their wares. One of the largest and most exclusive craft exhibitions of the summer, Guilford’s show regularly attracts an estimated 14,000 people from around the country. Town Green, Guilford, Connecticut, 203-453-5947,

Barnstable County Fair / July 17-24 If you think tractors are sexy, we have a fair for you, complete with daily livestock shows, horticulture displays, 4-H demonstrations, and a petting zoo where farm-deprived children can get in touch with their agricultural roots. The Village People perform on Saturday this weekend, but you’ll have to wait a week for the monster truck show. 1220 Nathan Ellis Highway, Route 151, East Falmouth, 508-563-3200,

07.23 – 07.25 First Annual Berkshire Literary Festival / July 23-25 Folks whose idea of a great summer weekend is curling up with a good book can go one better by channeling Edith Wharton at this inaugural festival at her Berkshires estate, The Mount. Panels will discuss “well-behaved women,” wartime writers, and old vs. new money with wry Whartonian wit. Contemporary authors read and sign books and submit to NPR-style interviews. 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, 413-551-5111,

Lowell Folk Festival / July 23-25 You never know who will be discovered in Lowell – Alison Krauss played the festival early in her career. With artists slated to perform Andean, Cajun, Franco-American, Irish, Polish, reggae, salsa, and bluegrass music on six downtown stages, this hootenanny is as broad an ethnic stew as the city that hosts it – and all performances are free. Downtown Lowell, 978-970-5200,

Mount Washington Sunrise Drive / July 25 The early bird gets the – well, you know. The Mount Washington Auto Road opens extra early – 4 a.m., to be exact – so you can motor up to New England’s rooftop to see a stunning sunrise. The drive takes about a half-hour, and the sun comes up at 5:23 a.m. (You do the math.) After that, it’s all downhill. Route 16, Pinkham Notch, Gorham, New Hampshire, 603-466-3988,

07.30– 08.01 Feast of the Blessed Sacrament / July 29-August 1 More than 100,000 people celebrate Portuguese – especially Madeiran – culture in what may be New England’s largest ethnic festival. Entertainment runs continuously as performers belt out rock, contemporary Portuguese music, and even fado (Portugal’s lyrical, mournful cousin to flamenco). Portuguese food is the biggest draw, from linguica to barbecued beef, and plenty of Madeira wine. (No admission fee.) Madeira Field off Belleville Avenue, New Bedford, 508-992-6911,

Hancock Shaker Village 50th Anniversary Exhibition / through October 31 For a spiritual movement with few members now left, the Shakers have had an enormous impact on modern American life and design. This summer, the Village celebrates its 50th anniversary as a living history museum with the exhibit “True and Honest Before the World.” Thirty celebrity curators – from filmmaker Ken Burns to cellist Yo-Yo Ma – selected items from the collection that reflect Shaker principles. Route 20, Pittsfield, 413-443-0188,

Newport Folk Festival / July 30-August 1 This venerable Newport jam enters its second half century with a proven formula of presenting venerable names in blues, roots, gospel, bluegrass, and traditional folk music (Doc Watson, John Prine, Richie Havens) on the same stages with emerging artists (Justin Townes Earle, Liz Longley, O’Death). Actor Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers kick things off Friday with banjo and bluegrass. BYOB (bring your own blanket). International Tennis Hall of Fame (Friday only), Fort Adams State Park, Newport, Rhode Island, 401-848-5055,

08.06 – 08.08 Maine Lobster Festival / August 4-8 The Sea Goddess is crowned on Wednesday, but the wonderfully corny small-town parade occurs Saturday morning, and the children’s lobster eating contest and the lobster crate race (ending with most contestants in the chilly water) happen Sunday. Meanwhile, there are 20,000 pounds of steamed lobster to dispatch, along with mussels, clams, and Maine shrimp. Harbor Park, Rockland, Maine, 800-562-2529 or 207-596-0376,

CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival / August 6-8 Newport invented the outdoor jazz festival in 1954, and it’s still the venue where you can revere the masters and catch new talents. Festival founder and pianist George Wein plays on Saturday, as do Chick Corea and Roy Haynes. Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis headline on Sunday. Don’t forget your cool shades. International Tennis Hall of Fame (Friday only), Fort Adams State Park, Newport, Rhode Island, 401-848-5055,

08.13 – 08.15 30th Annual Gloucester Waterfront Festival / August 14-15 Family-friendly Stage Fort Park hosts one of summer’s best seaside community picnics, starting with a pancake breakfast on Saturday and building to the crescendo of Sunday afternoon’s lobster bake. Celtic, ragtime, country, and folk bands perform, and the arts and crafts tables are spread far and wide. Don’t miss the Sunday show of 75 antique autos. (Admission and entertainment are free.) Hough Avenue, Gloucester, 978-283-1601,

League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair / August 7-15 Northern New England remains a hotbed of contemporary studio crafts, and this annual fair showcases the work of more than 300 artisans who live either in New Hampshire or within 10 miles of the border. Demonstrations, workshops, and live music provide a little variety to the serious shopping. There’s even inexpensive child care available. Mount Sunapee Resort, Newbury, New Hampshire, 603-224-3375,

08.20 – 08.22 Maine Highland Games / August 21 Scottish bagpipe and dance competitions are highlights of this gathering of the clans, but you can also watch border collie trials and peculiar Highland games that involve throwing huge stones, tree trunks, and bales of hay. New to the festival this year are a kilted golf tournament and an all-day Scottish sheepdog herding competition. Topsham Fairgrounds, 54 Elm Street, Topsham, Maine,

Newport WineFest / August 20-22 Literally hundreds of wines will be on sample at this new wine-and-food event set in the perfect summer venue, the Newport Yachting Center. Surprisingly affordable tastings include cooking demos and food. Close your eyes and imagine sipping pinot at the Waterfront Grand Cru Tasting on the Sunset Terrace. Newport Yachting Center, 4 Commercial Wharf, Newport, Rhode Island, 860-953-0444, ext. 144,

08.27 – 08.29 Brooklyn Fair / August 26-29 This old-fashioned agricultural fair has a lot of pulling – ponies, draft horses, oxen, antique tractors, even garden tractors – as well as judging of sheep, cattle, horses, and swine. Kids younger than 10 learn the aggie ropes in the “Farmer for a Day” area. Check out the home-grown produce, pies, and canned goods, and gather the family beneath the great Ferris wheel. 15 Fairgrounds Road, Brooklyn, Connecticut, 860-779-0012, WaterFire / August 28 Come on, baby, light my fire. Sculptor Barnaby Evans’s spectacle of bonfires floating on Providence’s three rivers celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, and this late-summer lighting promises to be full of surprise events on the riverbanks. Most attendees start gathering in the afternoon and make sure they’re at the water by sunset, around 7:30 p.m. The party continues late. Waterplace Park, Providence, 401-273-1155,

09.03 – 09.05 Camden Windjammer Festival / September 3-5 If you’ve a hankering to answer the call of the running tide, join more than two dozen Maine coast windjammers for this homecoming on Labor Day weekend. The parade of sail as the ships enter Camden’s snug harbor takes all of Friday afternoon, and the ships hold open houses over the weekend. Iconic Maine folk singer Gordon Bok plays a free concert on Sunday. Harbor, Camden, Maine, 207-236-4404,

Lime Rock Historic Festival 28 / September 3-6 For 2010, this Connecticut racetrack’s annual showcase of vintage sports cars focuses on both the jaunty and the cool marques that are now part of the Fiat line: Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Ferrari, and Maserati. Fear not: There will be MGs and Aston Martins, too. Watch 250 to 300 vintage cars race, and admire another 300 to 400 on display. Lime Rock Park, 60 White Hollow Road, Lakeville, Connecticut, 860-435-5000,

15th Annual Garlic & Herb Festival / September 4-5 “Vermont stinks,” proclaim the festival’s organizers. But, we hasten to add, “in a good way.” Lovers of the stinking rose converge to celebrate all things garlic with sales of locally grown garlic, demonstrations of garlic crafts, and such delightful prepared foods as pickled garlic, garlic ice cream, and garlic jelly. Dogs are not allowed. Camelot Village, Route 9, Bennington, Vermont, 802-447-3311,

09.10 – 09.12 Brimfield Antique Show / September 7-12 The third and final Brimfield show of the season is the last chance to slog through more than 20 fields and dicker with some 5,000 dealers over everything from Art Deco jewelry to Colonial furniture. The six-day endurance event wraps up this weekend. What dealers don’t sell they have to cart away and store for another day, so don’t hesitate to bargain. Route 20, Brimfield, 413-283-6149,

Norwalk Seaport Association Oyster Festival / September 10-12 September has an R in it, and there will be shucking and slurping aplenty at this annual celebration of the once-famous oyster beds of Long Island Sound. Oyster-shunners won’t go hungry, though, as grill teams compete with wings, ribs, and whole hogs in the Bar-B-Q Pit. Enjoy live entertainment between spells of eating. Veteran’s Park, Seaview Avenue, Norwalk, Connecticut, 203-838-9444,

Keown Orchards 86th Anniversary Party / September 11-12 The early Paula Reds and Gravensteins have already been tempting you, but this weekend launches the pick-your-own season for New England’s beloved McIntosh. Keown celebrates with this free festival featuring wagon rides, fresh cider, and samples of homemade apple crisp. 9 McClellan Road, Sutton, 508-865-6706,

09.17 – 09.19 The Big E / September 17-October 3 The Eastern States Exposition, the largest fair in the Northeast, kicks off this weekend with daily parades, stunt bicyclists, “Hilby, the Skinny German Juggle Boy,” and the horse show. Of course, there will be Vegas-grade entertainment, the animal barns, 4-H exhibits, and fried dough. 1305 Memorial Avenue, West Springfield, 413-737-2443,

Le Tour de Farms / September 19 For people who like their agriculture up close and personal, this bicycle tour (and food sampling) of about 20 family farms is a great way to connect with the taste of New England. Vermont’s Champlain Valley is rolling farm country – not torturous hills, like much of the state. Three routes of 10, 24, and 30 miles accommodate cyclists of all abilities. Shoreham, Vermont, 802-225-8904,

Patricia Harris and David Lyon are travel and food writers based in Cambridge and authors of Food Lovers’ Guide to Massachusetts and the upcoming Frommer’s Spain Day by Day. Send comments to

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