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by Danny Lee

Missouri has something for everyone, and for festival fans, Columbia is the place to be. From the Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Weekend Celebration in May to the nearly year-round Show-Me State Games to the pageantry of football season’s Mizzou Homecoming, Columbia is prepared to show you a good time, and then some.

Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Weekend Celebration

The sky’s the limit in May, when patriots descend on Columbia—literally, in some cases—for the year’s signature celebrationopens in a new window of those who have served the United States’ armed forces. The headline event is always the air show, in which fighting aircraft from armed conflicts throughout modern history show their stuff to the delight of a vast crowd looking upward and shading their eyes against the bright springtime sunshine. Demonstration teams show off workhorse aircraft like the A-10 “Warthog,” T-28s, the British de Havilland D.H. 100 Vampire, Air Force T-33, the Douglas AD-1 Skyraider and even the 1917 Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane. On the ground, visitors can get close-up looks at Vietnam-era Huey choppers, light observation aircraft and exhibitions by the nation’s military services. A parade on Memorial Day concludes at Columbia College Athletic Field, where the U.S. Army Black Daggers and the Canadian Armed Forces parachute teams make precision landings to kick off the formal Salute to the Nation Ceremony.

Art in the Park

It isn’t just about paintings. When the Columbia Art League sets out to create an art festivalopens in a new window every year in June, the palette ranges from sculpture to clothing to fabrics to ceramics and, yes, paintings in every medium and genre. To occupy visitors between exhibits and sales kiosks, the grounds abound with roaming entertainers such as jugglers and stilt-walkers. Kids won’t be bored for a second with magicians and face painters available to amaze and delight them and lemonade, ice cream and other savory snacks to nosh on. The site, Stephens Lake Park, offers a lakefront boardwalk perfect for enjoying a leisurely stroll, and there are woodland trails to get a close look at nature’s own artwork.

Show-Me State Games

For athletes and their fans, the Show-Me State Gamesopens in a new window are the ideal proving grounds. In June, lacrosse, swimming, pickleball, soccer and volleyball are on offer. In July, the Games feature competitors in a wide variety of sports—archery, disc golf, power lifting, softball, synchronized swimming, volleyball and wrestling to name a few. Entrants want to walk away victorious, but everyone has the time of their lives, win or lose. The Games are hosted by the University of Missouri and grew out of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health. Columbia plays host to more than 30,000 athletes competing in the Games, including contestants from nearly all of the state’s 114 counties. That means the competition is extremely challenging but the fun quotient is even higher.

Heritage Festival & Craft Show

A visit to the Heritage Festivalopens in a new window in Columbia doesn’t just turn back the clock, it turns back the calendar. Historically attired tradesmen and artisans put their skills on display, as well as their wares. It’s a rare visitor who doesn’t come away from this September festival with a handwoven basket full of handcrafted souvenirs and plenty of unique, happy memories. Entertainment on two stages gives a glimpse of the fun they had in Missouri’s early days. Back then, you couldn’t go down to the local cineplex for an afternoon double feature; people had to make their own fun. Not surprisingly, it’s still fun today to hear the singing, watch the dancing and listen to the tales of excitement and adventure relayed by gifted storytellers who seem to be left over from an age long before television and movies. On the beautiful grounds of Nifong Park, the festival leaves plenty of time to explore nature trails, the 1877 Maplewood Home and the Walters Boone County Historical Museum.

Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival

As the early autumn air fills with the scents of fall, the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festivalopens in a new window adds its own savory notes of barbecue and bluesy music. Every September, masters of the twin arts of blues music and barbecuing descend on Columbia to tantalize taste buds and well-tuned ears with sweet music and food. The laid-back atmosphere is contagious at Stephens Lake Park for this September event; even the songbirds along the nature trails seem to trill along with the music, and it must be hard for the raccoons to stay hidden with the tantalizing scent of barbecue drifting on the breeze. Just as there are many barbecue recipes available, the music menu is always shifting, as well. It’s not unusual to hear gospel, rhythm & blues, country & western, swing and maybe even a touch of Dixieland for a southern tang. As night falls and both the air and the music get cool, the festival heats up with music fans flocking to the bandstand, hands raised, feet tapping and more than a few couples clearing out space to dance and dip.

Mizzou Homecoming

By the third week in October, football season is well under way, and the time has rolled around again for the University of Missouri Homecomingopens in a new window. Interestingly, it’s also known as the original homecoming—in 1911, the then athletic director put out the call for graduates to “come home” and support their alma mater in the annual rivalry game against Kansas University. Tradition doesn’t go much deeper than that. In this case, tradition also involves a pulse-pounding parade through Columbia and around campus, three big talent nights and the distribution of beautiful Homecoming Mums. And of course there’s the football game itself, a riot of color, cheering, marching band music and tailgating that together turn Missouri’s historic Faurot Field into the Midwest’s epicenter of football for the duration of this fantastic festival weekend.

Check out the festivals in Columbiaopens in a new window