July 12, 2006
Does your town have a zany festival? If so, chances are Weekend America's John Moe knows about it. Moe is the regular host of Weekend America's "Weekend Weather" segment, which presents a little bit of weather in the context of idiosyncratic and unusual fairs, festivals and other outdoor events taking place throughout the United States.
Seattle, Wash. -- "I look for things that are out of the ordinary," Moe says, "but also have an element of being exposed to the weather. For example, a Sidewalk Chalk Festival could really be affected by whether or not it's going to rain."
Each week, Moe describes peculiar celebrations from around the country. He begins by scouring the tourism Web sites for all 50 states.
"Some states are always good for fun events," he says. "Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Georgia. Vermont is often rewarding and Hawaii is often doing something weird. But for some reason, Wisconsin is always up to some crazy stuff."
After gathering a list of about 20 to 25 items, Moe and Weekend America co-host Bill Radke narrow it down to six events. Moe then writes up the forecast and a little joke for each.
"I have a fondness for these festivals and events," he says. "There's always something interesting going on. There is a celebration in North Dakota where they cook steaks on pitchforks over an open fire. We said it was, 'Steak just like Satan used to make.'"
Moe is quick to point out that the jokes aren't intended to make fun of the celebrations. He notes that there is a celebration in Kansas that crowns a lucky woman Hog Queen. Although the name is unfortunate, Moe acknowledges that for the woman involved, being named Hog Queen is a great honor and must be respected as such. "We're just celebrating America," he says. "We're laughing with it, not at it. We just want to be part of the fun."
Some recent favorites include the Wood Tick Races of Park Falls, Wisc., and the Big Swamp Cougar Hunt in Tabernacle, N.J. "Or as the cougars know it, 'People from New Jersey keep following me around,'" Moe quips.
As long as the event is unique and takes place outdoors, John Moe just might include it in the program. He used to report on Civil War re-enactments, but stopped after he discovered that in places like Arkansas and Missouri, they happen every weekend. "It's just part of the culture," he says. "But one unique feature that makes those re-enactments interesting is that, unlike the actual Civil War, there's a pizza feed afterwards. So after brother takes up arms against brother, they sit down and share some slices of pepperoni."
In doing his research for Weekend America, Moe has found a number of things he likes in Minnesota.
"There's Lefse Dagen in Starbuck," he says. "It's a celebration held in honor of a world-record 9-foot, 8-inch lefse the town made in 1983. They celebrate by serving smaller lefse with butter, sugar and an inferiority complex. Whalan has a Stand Still Parade where the floats are stationary and people walk past them. I wonder if there was a band that marched in place. Then there's an International Wolf Center in Ely and they're always doing cool things there. The funny thing is, you'll be surrounded by wolvesand that's the point!"
In finding these unique Minnesota events, Moe has made an interesting connection. "There are so many things in Minnesota that seem written by Garrison Keillor," he says. "I'll listen to A Prairie Home Companion now and think, 'He's not making this stuff up.'"
Moe occasionally travels to Minnesota to visit good friends who live in Minneapolis, but hasn't made it to the Minnesota State Fair yet. He's gone to some smaller fairs in his home state of Washington, "but never a big Midwestern state fair the likes of which musicals are based on," he says. "But I recognize and honor Midwestern state fairs as fascinating cultural constructs, like the running of the bulls in Pamplona."
Listen to Weekend America Saturdays at noon on all Minnesota Public Radio News stations.
(A shorter version of this article appeared in the August 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)