Festivals are stories we tell about ourselves. When you attend a festival in Oklahoma, though your fingers might be sticky with powdered sugar from a shared funnel cake, and you might be wearing a viking helmet besides, you are taking part in an important storytelling endeavor.
We build our festivals on that one thing we’re known for, the tagline on the signs we hammer into the ground alongside the roads that lead into town: The way we remember the times, places, foods, songs, and dances of our ancestors. The strawberry-sweet, rich soil under our feet, the same stuff our grandparents tilled with a plow. Our passion for sports, or our traditions (and new interests) in music. Even the time a big-talkin’ man came to town, sold us a circus, and then skipped town.
From King Henry VIII to endless spaghetti, here are our top picks for festivals on the calendar for May in Oklahoma.
Just like everything else here in Oklahoma—highways, linguistics, regional identity, even the air (we aren’t home to the premier meteorology school in the U.S. for nothing)—our food culture represents an amalgam, a hurried smashing together of traditions as varied as those represented in America itself, but within a much tighter time frame. When you dig in to our official state meal—that’s chicken-fried steak, fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, black-eyed peas, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, and pecan pie—each morsel represents a micro version of the macro, with the fast-forward button mashed down.
Spring brings the opportunity to dip your toe (or your fork, as it were) into some of our state’s most illustrious traditions in eating and drinking, still separate and distinct from one another from not having had time for much mingling. Consider it your personal historical preservation project when you fill your belly at one of the following food festivals.
TULSA: Germanfest. Ever see the crowning of an Okie Maikönigin? Germanfest in Tulsa is where the May Queen is presented with a three-day festival of folk dancing, polka, and easily 10 times her weight in jägerschnitzel, kartoffelpuffer, and sauerkraut. It’s also a chance to stock up on accoutrements much missed from the old country, from candy and pastries to wall hangings and home décor. May 3-5. More about Tulsa’s Germanfest.
EL RENO: El Reno Fried Onion Burger Day. In 1988, the people of El Reno took burger love to a whole new level. That was the year they built a 12-foot convection oven and a 10-foot circular grill. The stunt was designed to highlight the town’s fried-onion hamburger heritage, lauded today with a 850-pound burger at the annual El Reno Fried Onion Burger Day festival. May 4. More about El Reno Fried Onion Burger Day.
PRAGUE: Prague Kolache Festival. Kolache, n.: A fluffy, sweet roll crowned with a dollop of filling, usually fruit, prized in Czech culture and, increasingly, pretty much everyone else with a half-decent set of taste buds. The pastry serves as the centerpiece of the Prague Kolache Festival, which takes over the central-Oklahoma town of Prague (pronounced PRAYg) each year during the first weekend of May. Brush up on your chicken dance, and you’ll blend in like a local. May 4. More about the Prague Kolache Festival.
STILWELL: Stilwell Strawberry Festival. Some of the sweetest fruit you’ve ever tasted swells on shoots of vines curling out from the soil of Adair County. The strawberries there are celebrated every year in the heart of Stilwell with a festival, first held a few years after the close of the Second World War. May 11. More about the Stilwell Strawberry Festival.
BRISTOW: Tabouleh Fest. Start with Route 66, just south of Tulsa. Add a rodeo, a pageant, and a sanctioned, timed running through the streets. Then stir in a hearty helping of bulgar wheat, some olive oil, lemon juice, tomatoes, and some fresh parsley. The city attracted several Lebanese families to settle there about a hundred years ago, and this street party is their way of celebrating that heritage and their long-running establishments, like the Bishop Brothers Taboli factory and Slyman’s Lebanese Foods. May 11. More about Bristow’s Tabouleh Fest.
BRISTOW: Nuyaka Creek Winery Spring Wine Festival. Stain your lips with the latest elderberry vintage and chase it with a shot of fortified wine of Oklahoma pecan. Admission is free; the tasting glass is $5. May 18. More about the Nuyaka Creek Winery Spring Wine Festival.
MCALESTER: McAlester Italian Festival. When even the website is written in Italian, you know a food festival is the real deal. Such is the case with the McAlester Italian Festival. May 18-19. More about the McAlester Italian Festival.
We sure do like the sound of our own voices around here, especially in a melody. Find more music events in your area at ThisLandPress.com/Events, under Music & Nightlife.
ENID: Tri-State Music Festival. Complementary—and sometimes rival to—football fandom in Oklahoma is the cult of marching band. The state is home to bands with multiple national titles, and this festival, dating back to 1932, shows how deep the roots of love Oklahomans have for a band that can play the classics of John Philip Sousa (along with the Beatles and Journey) on tiptoe really run. May 1-4. More about the Tri-State Music Festival.
PRUE: Backwoods Bash & Music Festival. The Backwoods Bash has been helping citizens of Green Country make the most of a holiday weekend for half a decade, bringing headlining acts like The Werks, the Gourds, Split Lip Rayfield, and dozens of local bands to play working folks all the way through Memorial Day weekend to Tuesday morning. There’s the music, and then there’s the camping—plus, the festival packs a kids’ zone, complete with Jupiter Jumps, a drum clinic, and a build-your-own kite and hula hoop workshops. May 24-26. More about the Backwoods Bash & Music Festival.
PRYOR: Rocklahoma. Camping. A beauty pageant. Four days of rock, rain or shine (which is really saying something when you’re talking about an outdoor party during storm season in the heart of tornado alley). The festival that does wonders for the population size of Pryor, Oklahoma—and does a real number on one of its largest pastures—serves up headliners from the highest echelons of rock, counting Rob Zombie, Chickenfoot, Creed, Megadeath, and Slash among its past performers. This year, it’s Guns N’ Roses, Bush, Papa Roach, Alice in Chains, Bullet for My Valentine, Korn, Cheap Trick, and dozens more. May 24-26. More about Rocklahoma.
SKIATOOK: Tallgrass Music Festival. Drive north out of Tulsa and you’ll eventually cross the line into Osage County, where the area’s major natural wonder will begin to spread and fold under the horizon around you. The Tallgrass Prairie is the feature for which the Tallgrass Music Festival, a celebration of roots music geared for families, is named and celebrated. May 30-June 1. More about the Tallgrass Music Festival.
We Oklahomans are an artsy bunch. More details on these arts festivals and, if you can believe it, more, at ThisLandPress.com/Events, under Art & Theatre.
TULSA: Tulsa International Mayfest. A juried showcase of artists from across the nation serves as the centerpiece of Mayfest, which takes over Main Street of downtown Tulsa from Third to Sixth streets for a few days every May. Myriad fried foods on a stick and musicians plucked from Oklahomans’ local-favorites list will have run of one of the most beautiful areas of the city, including headliners Monte Montgomery, John Fullbright, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Will Hoge, and Uncle Lucius. May 16-19. More about Tulsa International Mayfest.
TULSA: Blue Dome Arts Festival. While the long-running Mayfest features artists from all over the U.S., the smaller and younger Blue Dome Arts Festival showcases the handiwork of more than 200 of Oklahoma’s artists and crafters, pairing their works in jewelry, fashion, and home decor with an impressive lineup of local bands and food from restaurants and trucks favored by Tulsa’s cool class. Home of belly dancers, pottery demos, free homebrew tastings, and Tulsa’s famous ArtCar Weekend and the Art BoxCar Children’s Parade. May 17-19. More about the Blue Dome Arts Festival.
OKC: Paseo Arts Festival. The tiny, beloved arts district known as The Paseo fills to the brim during its annual arts festival, when more than 80 street vendors, artists, artisans, and craftworkers—not to mention the 17 galleries and three restaurants that call the district home—flood the streets to peddle handmade pretties and eats. May 25-27. More about the Paseo Arts Festival.
More May Oklahoma Festivals
Festivals galore. From wine to mead and wind riders to belly crawlers, find a list of our favorite Oklahoma festivals and ThisLandPress.com/Events, under Do This.
MUSKOGEE: Oklahoma Renaissance Festival. Heckle the professional jousters in the tournament arena at the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival, one of the top festivals of its kind in the country. The venue is The Castle of Muskogee—complete with crenellations and flags waving from the towers—which got its start as a bar-turned-fireworks stand. Every Saturday and Sunday, May 4-June 2. More the about Oklahoma Renaissance Festival.
OKEENE: Okeene Diamondback Rattlesnake Hunt. In 1939, Orville Von Gulker, a sales manager at Okeene Milling Company, started a tradition. Seeing that the annual chore of ridding the cow pastures of poisonous reptiles could be turned into a generator for tourism, he helped put together one of the first rattlesnake round-ups in the country—perhaps, even, the first in the world. May 3-5. More about the Okeene Diamondback Rattlesnake Hunt.
TULSA: Tulsa Windriders Kite Club Festival. You have your four-pointed, long-tailed kites, your fighter kites, and your box kites at the Tulsa Wind Riders Kite Festival, sure. But there are also full-grown men capturing the Oklahoma wind with giant kites, tied to vehicles that are sort of like go-carts. A must-see. May 11-12. More about the Tulsa Windriders Kite Club Festival.
POTEAU: Cavanal Killer Walk. There are mountains in Oklahoma. In fact, we have four ranges’ worth. But make no mistake—our state is home to a doozy of a hill, too. At 1,999 feet, the lofty Cavanal Hill—it’s said that it is the world’s highest—looms over Poteau. Every May, runners and walkers stage a pilgrimage to the town that is about a two-hour drive south of Tulsa to attempt the intense five-mile climb. May 11. More about Cavanal Killer Walk.
BROKEN ARROW: Rooster Days Festival. There’s no rooster to be found at Broken Arrow’s Rooster Days, since there’s no longer a need to annually expel roosters from hen houses to yield the freshest, unfertilized eggs (which tended to keep longer before the days of Maytag and Kenmore). But there’s still a parade, performances by professional cloggers, and a 5K run, plus a music festival, Ferris wheel rides, and the crowning of Miss Chick. May 10-12. More about the Rooster Days Festival.
OKC: OKC Gay Pride Festival & Parade. Two square blocks are cordoned off for a pride celebration that starts early and goes into the wee hours of the morning, celebrating diversity and advocating for health, education, and awareness in the Oklahoma City metro. May 17-19. More about the OKC Gay Pride Festival & Parade.
BARNSDALL: Bigheart Day. There is no shortage of Oklahoma communities that produce festivals based on how they’re the home of the biggest burger, the largest peanut, the biggest small-town scam. In Barnsdall, though, what’s biggest is the heart. May 24-26. More about Big Heart Day.
So. What are you planning to get up to in Oklahoma this month?
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