10 quirky summer festivals coming to North Carolina

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From collard greens to kites, there’s plenty to celebrate in the Tar Heel State during the hot season.

Summer in North Carolina brings many things to mind: barbecue, beach days, and balmy weather in general. 

What about bugs, kites, collard greens, and hot sauce? Sure, these are background items for a summer season in the Carolinas, but there are certain places that celebrate these things specifically, as with Raleigh’s annual BugFest or the Rogallo Kite Festival on Jockey’s Ridge in the Outer Banks. 

These are just two of 10 quirky summer festivals we’ve found spread across the state this summer where you can explore niche subcultures and interests, ranging from the expected (watermelons) to the unexpected (do you know what the Waldenses are?). 

Rogallo Kite Festival, Nags Head

June 14-15

What better spot to fly a kite than the Atlantic Coast’s highest living sand dune system? Kitty Hawk Kites hosts this annual festival that allows participants to bring a kite of their own or take part in free walk-up stunt kite lessons. There are also activities like kite coloring for kids of all ages, or you can just take a seat and enjoy the show as Kitty Hawk Kites will bring dozens of amazing kites ranging from 30 to 100 feet long. 

The festival honors Francis Rogallo, the NASA scientist who invented the flexible wing, leading to the invention of hang gliding and inspiring the eventual development of stunt kites, power kites, and contemporary hang gliders that are flown today. If you’re a real flight aficionado, why not take the opportunity to drive a couple of minutes up the street and visit the Wright Brothers Memorial, located at the site of their first flight? Good luck keeping sand out of the car. 

Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, Linville

July 11-14

Each year in the mountains of western North Carolina, hundreds of tartan banners unfurl as the sounds of bagpipes echo through the valley and thousands of kilt-clad Scots make their way to MacRae Meadows for their annual gathering and games.

This four-day weekend includes Scottish music, dancing, food, costumes, field games, whiskey tastings, and more. And if you don’t have a kilt, no worries — you can shop for one in the many vendor tents.

Wild Goose Festival, Union Grove

July 11-14

It’s not what you think. This festival does not involve wild goose chases … or wild geese at all for that matter. Named for the animal’s beauty, strength, and unpredictable nature, this festival bills itself as “a transformational community grounded in faith-inspired social justice.” 

People of all faiths, no faith, and all ages, ethnicities, genders, gender expressions, sexual identities, bodily conditions, religious affiliations, and economic backgrounds are invited to participate in this four-day “sing and dance and play and dream and eat and camp and meditate and talk and listen and twirl-you-around-and-shake-you-up gathering.” 

Gather to hear great music and incredible speakers, but also dive into lively conversations with thought leaders, writers, dreamers, artists, visionaries, social justice activists, peace-makers, and whomever it is that you might come across. 

Folkmoot USA, Waynesville

July 19-20

Launched in 1984, this international folk festival was named North Carolina’s official international festival in 2003. Celebrating dance, music, crafts, food, and a range of cultural heritages, Folkmoot continues to draw thousands of national and international visitors to western North Carolina annually. 

The weekend begins in Canton with an internationally inspired farmers market followed by a dance parade that showcases a mix of Appalachian and international cultures, then comes to a head on the following day with a street festival in Waynesville featuring more than 70 vendors, two stages with continual performances by Appalachian and international cultural performers, free kid activities, and tasty food options. 

Waldensian Festival, Valdese

August 9-10

In the late 17th century, King Louis XIV of France attempted to destroy the Waldensian people, members of a Christian movement that sought to follow Christ in poverty. At his command, thousands were killed, and those who survived were thrown into prison. After other European Protestants protested against the persecution, those men who survived prison were released and forced into exile in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Celebrated by Waldensian communities around the world every August, the Waldensian Festival, originally known as the Festival of the Glorious Return, marks the time when those exiled Waldensians fought their way back into the valleys from whence they came. 

This two-day festival honors the unique heritage of Valdese with a variety of events that attract more than 15,000 visitors and residents each year with live music, a classic car show, amusement rides, and a special presentation of the outdoor drama “From This Day Forward.” The weekend continues on Saturday when Main Street is lined with more than 170 food/art/craft vendors, amusement rides, a bocce tournament, an open art competition, attraction tours, street dances, and more live music throughout the day.

Winterville Watermelon Festival, Winterville

August 22-25

Perhaps the most stereotypical summer festival included on this list of “quirky” choices, we simply couldn’t let the quaint Winterville Watermelon Festival pass without a highlight. The four-day fest includes a watermelon parade through town, carnival rides, midway games, a flea market, and classic fair food like funnel cakes, turkey legs, and corn dogs. 

Of course, there is all the watermelon, too, with a watermelon-eating contest and watermelon-flavored snacks galore. The live music is always a big draw, with this year’s headliners being Grand Funk Railroad, the legendary arena rockers who rose to massive success in the 1970s. 

Ayden Collard Festival, Ayden

September 5-7

One would think that the collard festival was created to center collard greens, but it actually all started because the fine residents of Ayden nearly 50 years ago wanted a festival and the festival needed a name. The local newspaper ran a ballot, and Collard Festival won out against other options like Cucumber Festival and Progressive Ayden Day. 

The first event was held on Sept. 13, 1975, drawing 6,000 people and featuring a large street dance, amusement rides, and booths filled with fun activities. Despite the haphazard way that the festival gained its name, collards still have their place at their namesake event, with a collard eating contest taking place for the last 40 years. There’s also live music every day and an art show that has become one of the weekend’s largest draws. 

NC Hot Sauce Festival & Contest, Oxford

September 6-7

Considering that this festival overlaps with the previous one, as a fan of collard greens with hot sauce, this writer would like to lobby for a merger of the two. But with 110 miles between them, we have no desire to see any of these great towns lose their annual summer fests, so we’ll drop the issue. This festival in Oxford features two equally competitive contests — one for the spicy makers (sauce contest) and another for the spicy eaters (Bailey Farms pepper eating contest). 

There’s also a full weekend of fun for those not interested in competing, including live music, a classic car show, a kids’ area, and thrilling carnival rides. Plus, all the fiery culinary treats you can eat. 

BugFest 2024, Raleigh

Sept. 14

The biggest event of the year for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, BugFest features more than 100 exhibits, from hands-on activities designed to ignite curiosity and appreciation to interactions with entomologists and other scientists who will guide attendees through the intricate world of arthropods, offering insights into their behaviors, adaptations, and ecological significance.  

This year’s event showcases the order Lepidoptera, which comprises butterflies and moths. Delight in children’s activities designed to inspire the next generation of bug enthusiasts, observe a variety of live insects, browse vendor stalls for bug-themed merchandise, and celebrate the extraordinary diversity of arthropods.

Autumn at Oz, Beech Mountain

Sept. 6-22

What’s an event called Autumn at Oz doing in a list of summer festivals? To be honest, we’re not sure, but we don’t name the events, we just recommend them. Each year, during the first three weekends of September (read: the last three weekends of summer), the Land of Oz reopens for visitors to explore the Yellow Brick Road and other attractions in this storied ground. 

The Land of Oz was a fully operating theme park from 1970 to 1980, when it closed down and was left abandoned. In 1993, the property owners began opening the grounds for the annual Autumn at Oz Festival each September, but the park stood mostly deserted for the rest of the year, with adventurous visitors known to sneak on the property to steal relics from the old park (including yellow bricks). 

Having celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2023, the Autumn at Oz Festival has expanded to multiple weekends over the years, becoming the largest Wizard of Oz-themed festival in the world. 


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  • Ryan Pitkin

    Ryan Pitkin is a writer and editor based in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he runs an alternative weekly newspaper called Queen City Nerve. He is also editor of NoDa News, a community newsletter in the neighborhood where he has lived for 15 years.

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