Mississippi River Festivals Celebrate the People-Water Connection
From the Headwaters to the Delta, Mississippi River people love to celebrate their connections to the River. Communities may have different ways of showing their connection to the River, but this summer's crop of festivals shares one thing - the tie between local people, the River and their lives.

Near the Headwaters in Itasca County, Minnesota, they don't just celebrate once. From Tall Timber Days to the White Oak Rendezvous to the Mississippi Melodie Showboat, entertainment, history, tradition and, of course, local crafts highlight both a past way of life and the present.

Moving south, St. Paul, Minnesota boasts the Great River Gathering which took place in May. Sponsored by the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation, over 100 organizations exhibited and more than 1,000 people gathered in what is a decidedly robust celebration of the Riverfront's contribution to that city's economy and civic vibrancy. The event attracts business and government leaders along with exhibitors that range from the Big River Magazine to the National Park Service. Last year's speaker touched the largely urban audience by tying his experience as a Hmong immigrant to the two rivers in his life: the Mekong and the Mississippi, which he called "River of Dreams" for the hope it means to new people in the community.

An entirely different festival of the River takes place in June in Dubuque, Iowa. This year, on the second weekend in June, the banks of the Mississippi River will explode with live bands, including Three Dog Night in America's River Tent. Monster truck rides, dog competitions, races and non-stop entertainment will highlight the Port of Dubuque's celebration of its River heritage.

The next weekend and farther down the River, Grafton, Illinois holds the Great Rivers Towboat Festival complete with music, rope throwing contests, children's activities, and historic displays by the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers. Of course there will be a crawfish and shrimp boil, complete with proper eating demonstrations. This community celebration focuses on the transportation and commercial heritage the River holds for this section of the River, the confluence.

Moving south on the Mississippi River, you discover that community celebrations start earlier in the year. For instance, Memphis already held its Beale Street Music Festival in late April and early May. For three days, blues, rock, gospel and R&B bands hit four stages on 33 acres overlooking the Mississippi River. This event not only celebrates River heritage, it celebrates today's version of deep river sound.

And of course New Orleans would celebrate both jazz and one of its legendary folk and music heroes by turning out for the Satchmo Summer Festival in August. It's uniquely a New Orleans event and this year, Aug. 5 through 8, it celebrates 10 years of art and jazz in its tribute to Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong.

These are just a few of the ways and places that celebrate their connection to the Mississippi River. There are probably hundreds more each year. What they all have in common is the River. What they all share is an urge to come to the River and be beside it while they see friends and celebrate its part in their lives. For some it is a source of beauty and tranquility. For others it is the community's economic life blood. One thing is sure. The Mississippi River has drawn them for years and is likely to continue for years to come.
 
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