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Summer Guide: Offbeat Ocean State

A unique collection of summer diversions
By MATTHEW LAWRENCE  |  June 11, 2014

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BRING YOUR BAGPIPES to the Scottish Highland Festival. [Photo by Daniel Hyland]

Here in New England, outdoor events only really happen for a few months a year, so it’s best to take advantage of them while we can. While longtime Rhode Islanders are probably well aware of events like Foo Fest and the Charlestown Seafood Festival, there’s a summer’s worth of under-the-radar attractions. From a polo match and a shark-hunting tournament to ethnic festivals from the old and new world, here’s a collection of more offbeat happenings taking place in the Ocean State this summer.

June 14: Scottish Highland Festival

Each June, the Washington County Fairgrounds in Richmond are transformed into a Scottish fantasy land for a day. The fields are filled with the sounds of bagpipes, while a variety of traditional and contemporary bands and dance groups perform on stage. There’s also a sheep herding demonstration.

The big draw, though, is the heavy athletics: men and women tossing cabers, which to the untrained eye look like telephone poles. Last year competitor Mike Zolkiewicz broke his own world record in the Weight Over Bar, a competition in which a kilted man uses one hand to throw a 56-pound weight straight up and backwards over a goalpost. The food is also interesting; you can sample haggis and slurp down an Irn-Bru, the bright orange soft drink that outsells Coca-Cola in its homeland.

July 4: Ancients and Horribles Parade

The tradition of Ancients and Horribles Parades goes back to the mid-nineteenth century, when some spunky residents of Lowell, Massachusetts, decided to mock an uppity Boston military organization commonly known as the Ancients and Honorables. The tradition lingers to this day, with satirical Ancients and Horribles parades taking place on the North Shore in towns like Salem, Beverly, and Marblehead. It’s a little unclear how the tradition made its way to Chepachet, which began holding Ancients and Horribles parades in 1926. Less grand but no less patriotic than the more celebrated Bristol parade, this one’s a mix of Uncle Sam flag-waving, strange clowns in horror makeup, and frequently gory political commentary. Last year’s “NObamacare” float was relatively subtle, but during the early 2000s the parade was inundated with effigies of Osama Bin Laden being killed in various bloody ways.

July 20: Colombian-American Parade

Half a century ago, workers from Colombia began moving to Central Falls to work in its factories. And while factory jobs aren’t what they used to be, the Colombian population of Central Falls is now firmly a part of the city’s social fabric. Each year, Colombian Independence Day is celebrated with a red, blue, and yellow flag raising at city hall. A morning parade then winds its way through the streets of Rhode Island’s smallest city, followed by a day-long festival in Slater Park.

The event is sponsored by the Colombian American Cultural Society of RI and features folk dancing as well as more modern cumbia and reggaeton music. Additionally, there is plenty of traditional Colombian food.

July 17-20: Newport Monster Shark Tournament

Animal rights supporters might want to skip Newport this weekend, when the Monster Shark Tournament hits Aquidneck Island after 27 years on Martha’s Vineyard. Sponsored by the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, the event has drawn fire from groups like the American Humane Society. Last year’s event featured more than 100 fishing vessels, and first place was won by Frank Greiner Jr., who pulled in a 429-pound porbeagle. The actual fishing takes place between 50 and 75 miles offshore, but the final weigh-ins are what pull in the big crowds.

This year’s tournament is being celebrated in honor of Steven James, the original organizer of the tournament, who died this past winter in a duck hunting accident.

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