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Hot dogs, frogs and a prison rodeo: 10 great American festivals you can’t miss

This weekend’s Kentucky Derby is more than a horse race and an excuse to swill mint juleps – it’s the opening event of Americana season. The coming months will be filled with wacky happenings and iconic annual occasions that are coloured red, white and blue.

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All-American Soap Box Derby: It started in 1934 and it’s been downhill ever since. Kids with the need for natural four-wheeled speed flock to Ohio for first-to-the-finish-line fun. The homemade vehicles get no miles to the gallon, but the contest is a gas. July 27. Akron, Ohio; aasbd.org

KEN LOVE/AP

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Angola Prison Rodeo: What are you in for? The rodeo, of course. Every Sunday in October the prisoners at this Louisiana penitentiary let loose with a day’s distraction of cowboy sport and animal amusement, beginning with the cheekily named Bust Out event, which involves angry bulls. October 5, 12, 19 and 26. Tunica, La.; angolarodeo.com

Jana Asenbrennerova / Reuters

3 of 10

Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic: The beloved country singer/songwriter is 80 years old, which means he’s finally at the age that he’s been resembling for the past 30 years. Speaking of big numbers, Nelson’s annual hootenanny is turning 40 this year, with invited guests such as Kris Kristofferson and Ray Price. July 4. Fort Worth, Tex.; williespicnic.com

REX C. CURRY/AP

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Newport Folk: In 1965, Bob Dylan went electric and got booed for his unfolky transgression. In 2013, Canadian singer-songwriter Feist will … well, we’re not sure what she’ll do. But whatever she and Michael Hurley and Old Crow Medicine Show and others have in store, it will be watchable live on the Internet. Times, they still are a’changin’. July 26 to 28. Newport, R.I.; newportfolkfest.net

BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS

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Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest: A fellow last year devoured 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes? Well, we never sausage a thing. The world-famous gastronomical challenge is free of condiments but full of face-stuffing wiener-eaters who probably don’t ride the rickety Coney Island Cyclone afterward. July 4, Coney Island, Brooklyn, N.Y.; nathansfamous.com

AKIRA ONO/AP

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B.B. King Homecoming Festival: It’s still a thrill when the ancient blues guitarist returns to his Mississippi roots every summer. He gives a free outdoor concert in the afternoon and a ticketed show the same night at Club Ebony, a juke joint he now owns. July 3. Indianola, Miss.; bbkingmuseum.org

Rogelio V. Solis/AP

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Hemingway Days: For whom does the bell toll? Apparently for stocky white-bearded men resembling Ernest Hemingway. The southern-most point in the United States is the balmy place for literary events, a fishing contest, a screwball running of the bulls and the popular Papa-lookalike contest. July 16 to 21. Key West, Fla.; fla-keys.com

Reuters

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Little League World Series: Diamonds are the best friends of the pre-teen sluggers and fastballers who compete in this international tournament dedicated to America’s pastime. Baseball fans who abhor the forced calisthenics of the seventh-inning stretch are in luck: The games are only six innings long. Aug. 15 to 25. South Williamsport, Pa.; littleleague.org

Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press

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Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee: It’s nice to have amphibious landings that don’t involve the storming of beaches. This Mark Twain-approved jubilee is a classic carnival, notable for its croaky participants prized for their hop-to-it attitude. May 16 to 19. Angels Camp, Calif.; frogtown.org

ROBERT DURELL/AP

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Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Re-enactment: Never have so many men given their lives so that a president could deliver a doozy of a speech four and a half months later. The event celebrates a pivotal American Civil War battle, with guest speakers, a living-history village and a large-scale battle re-enactment. July 4 to 7. Gettysburg, Pa.; gettysburgreenactment.com

Gene Krebs/iStockphoto

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