One of the best things about modern society and its interconnectedness is the ability to connect with like-minded people more easily than ever. The internet has allowed entire communities to come together and form organizations. Conventions, festivals and expos exist for almost every topic you can think of.
The best thing about most festivals is their openness. Sure, entry to a few of these festivals isn’t free, but they are nonetheless open and ready to broaden your worldview. You’ll be worldlier and wiser for attending some of these gatherings (though Burning Man has certainly killed its share of brain cells), and because of that, you should check them out.
These are ten festivals that you can attend to expand your horizons.
Krampusnacht is a positive experience. Even if the mythology itself is fake, you will be able to gain a better understanding of Germanic culture and peoples. Krampusnacht’s bad news is that you might not be able to leave the experience if the mythology is true. Instead, you may spend the rest of your life being tortured by a goat demon’s meter-long tongue.
The demon’s name is Krampus, and he sneaks into every house on December 25th, punishing naughty children. Depending on the version, he might also enslave or torture them and eat them. Krampusnacht is absurd fun in any way. You can see the Krampusnacht celebrations in central and northern Europe. Whole cities are alive with drinking, stories, and elaborate costumes.
9 Just for Laughs
Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival is one of the most popular in the world. Just For Laughs, unlike many other festivals, can still feel intimate, special, just like missing one act can rob a person of a beautiful, ephemeral moment, and epic story down.
Thanks to Montreal’s cozy, multi-lingual, metropolitan feel, Just For Laughs has maintained an inclusive, diverse atmosphere, even as it has exploded in popularity. This has led to many great moments over time, as comedy legends have given their time to rising stand ups, while small-town improv groups have been in scenes with megastars.
8 Bristol Renaissance Faire
Although any Renaissance Faire will expand your horizons, some are more memorable than others. The Bristol Renaissance Faire takes place yearly, just outside of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and one day there will make even the most hardened frat boy bros yell “Huzzah!” in sincere glee.
The atmosphere is unusually friendly, with guests appearing as knights and pirates, samurai, zombies, and other characters. Within the fest’s 30-plus acres, you can chug mead, throw axes, cheer on a jouster, throw tomatoes at an insult comic (sorry: court jester), buy a one-of-a-kind gas-powered steampunk sword, and more.
7 Mindfulness and Health Retreats
You may hear the phrase “Mindfulness Retreat” and instantly think of rich, pretentious actors who pay irresponsible amounts of money to cleanse their toxins by bathing in yak dung or drinking only fermented eel saliva. Worse, you might think of the queen of that gullible cult: Gwyneth Paltrow and her, ahem…interesting…line of Goop products. Although those people are definitely out there, and some places are able to cater to them well, there are many resorts, retreats, and other destinations that are financially feasible. They do not sell eel saliva and are there to make you feel happy and healthy.
Take the Kripalu Center, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The center offers organic meals, meditation, yoga and scenic hikes. They also offer lessons on happiness and health. That’s a far cry from the possible pretension and sure to broaden your horizons positively.
Okay, we must put a large asterisk next to this one. The first SantaCon took place in San Francisco in 1994, and since then, the tradition has spread to dozens of cities worldwide—with sometimes disastrous results. John Oliver famously pointed out that many SantaCons have become violent, drunken bar crawls which inevitably lead to arrests. New York City’s SantaCon is particularly bad.
Instead, experience the right SantaCon in the right city, and you’ll leave with a twinkle in your eye. The original festival is held in downtown San Francisco. This is a smaller, more joyful event. Children walk the streets, meet movie-quality Santas, eat themed treats, and learn the mythology’s history from jolly, bearded Saints. Portland SantaCon made it a point not to depart from its roots.
It is also worth noting that SantaCon New York City may open up new opportunities for you if your bar crawl experience has been sporadic.
If there is an entry on this list you haven’t heard of, it’s Anthrocon. If you have heard of it, there’s at least a 50 percent chance you only heard of it in a punchline on some late-night comedy show. And it’s just for that reason that Anthrocon, the world’s largest convention for furries, may be the festival that broadens your horizons the most.
True, most people don’t want to dress up as animals or act like them. Many people laugh openly at the Furry community’s position on the social fringe. But they are people, too, and many, if not most, aren’t there to engage in salacious acts of faux-bestiality. They’re there to share a common passion, to build a community, and to showcase some of the most dedicated cosplay there is. Anthrocon almost guarantees to expand your horizons despite public misperceptions of furries.
4 Burning Man
Burning Man is well worth the trip. Burning Man is worth twenty visits. The festival has seen its fair share shaky moments, but it is precisely that unpredictability which makes it worthwhile.
Burning Man is a dynamic organization that changes from one year to the next, from one camp to another, and from one community to the next. One thing that remains constant is the passionate commitment to individuality. After one day at Burning Man, you may find yourself with an unexpected tattoo of an ancient deity you’ve never heard of, a new group of friends who are both bikers and social activists, a newfound interest in polyamory, and quite possibly anything else you can, and can’t, imagine.
3 Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux Jazz Festival is a true music festival that music lovers know well. Montreux is not as populated as other festivals like Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo. Instead, it’s all about enjoying the music. That’s not to say that the social music festivals aren’t worth your time, but if you’re a true music lover and aficionado, you likely already know that Montreux is a must.
Although the festival started as a Jazz event, it quickly grew into a bigger, more inclusive music festival. Nowadays, you can hear almost every genre of music on the festival’s intimate stages.
If you’re looking for proof of Montreux’s esteem, look no further than the sheer volume of live albums recorded at its venues. The fest boasts a stellar sound quality and a passionate live audience, which has led to everyone from Alanis Morissette down to ZZ Top recording live albums.
2 Nerd Conventions – Just Not the Big One
It’s a tough call whether this entry or SantaCon needs a bigger asterisk. All in all, as millions worldwide can attest, one of the best experiences you can have is seeking out a few thousand people as passionate about your interests as you are and gathering to heighten each other’s mania. Nerd conventions, such as comic, board games, cosplay, anime, and video game conventions, are a truly inspiring place to meet fellow fans, craftspeople, and artists—you just have to avoid the big ones.
Comic-Cons, like the ones in San Diego (the original), and New York City (the new), have become a mixture of Hollywood trailers and high-priced merchandise you can find in major chains. But the smaller cons, which are too many to name but take place all year round in thousands of cities and towns, offer dizzying arrays of panels, meet-and-greets, homemade crafts, emerging artists, live bands you’ve never heard of, inventive costumes, and more.
1 Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe may be the best festival in all of festivals, regardless of genre. The Fringe is bold as it may sound, but it has the credentials to back up its claim.
The Fringe, the largest international arts festival, is a huge success. There is more to see and do in one month than there is in a decade. The Fringe hosts a blend of the world’s most popular comedians, musicians, actors, poets, and visual artists, as well as a who’s who of up-and-coming talent.
Like Just For Laughs, The Fringe’s host city Edinburgh plays a major role in keeping the festival’s atmosphere non-commercial. You will need tickets and be offered merch, but you’ll also see the world’s best performers at the top of their game. In fact, the wildly funny and clever comedy series “Fleabag” began as a one-woman show on one of the Fringe’s many stages.