Art and music
Medium to large cities often attract concerts with large ticket prices, especially in large outdoor amphitheatres. Smaller cities sometimes host concerts in parks with local or older bands. Other options include music festivals like Street Scene in San Diego or South by Southwest in Austin. Classical music concerts take place throughout the year and are performed by semi-professional and professional symphonies. Boston, for example, occasionally hosts free concerts in Public Park. Many cities and regions have unique sounds. Nashville is known as “Music City” because of the large number of country artists who live in the city. It is home to the Grand Ole Opry, one of the most famous concert stages in the country. Country music is popular throughout the United States, but is particularly concentrated in the South and rural West. Seattle is the birthplace of grunge rock. Many of the most popular bands are based in Los Angeles due to the large entertainment industry and concentration of record companies.
America is considered the spiritual home of the musical, and many of the world’s most famous musicals were performed on Broadway in New York at some point. No trip to New York would be complete without seeing at least one Broadway musical. For those who prefer classical music, the United States is also home to one of the largest opera companies in the world, the Metropolitan Opera of New York. Other well-known opera houses include the San Francisco Opera in San Francisco and the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Chicago.
In addition to traditional music concerts, the Brass Band Festival is a typically American experience. These events take place almost every weekend between September and Thanksgiving throughout the country and from March to June in California. Check local event directories and newspapers for details. The Bands of America Grand National Championship, held every autumn in Indianapolis, is also notable. If you want to see the crème de la crème, get tickets to the “finals” where the ten best bands in the festival compete for the title of champion. This event now takes place at the Lucas Oil Stadium. Street or parade bands and field or performance bands exist in almost every high school and university in the United States.
In the United States, there is a professional league for virtually every sport, and duffle fighting is no exception. America’s passion for sports has few rivals in the world, with leagues that have the highest crowds per game (NFL) and overall (MLB) and other leagues that are the best and most popular in their respective sports. Watching a game is a great way to meet and interact with locals. Here are some of the most popular leagues:
- MLB. Major League Baseball is very popular and the sport of baseball is often referred to as “America’s pastime” (it is one of the most played sports in the country). The league has 30 teams (29 in the United States and 1 in Canada). The season runs from April to September, with playoff games in October. With 30 teams playing 162 games per season and the cheapest seats usually costing $10-20, this is probably the best sporting event to watch as an international traveller. There are also several hundred minor league teams scattered across the United States; while the quality of the games is lower, the prices are lower (or even free in some leagues).
- NBA. The National Basketball Association is the world’s leading men’s basketball league with 30 teams (29 in the United States and one in Canada). The season runs from November to April, with playoffs in May-June.
- NFL. The National Football League, with 32 teams (all in the contiguous United States, if you don’t count the few games in London (UK) or Toronto or the Pro Bowl in Hawaii), is the world’s leading organiser of American football, a sport that has almost nothing to do with what many other countries call football [association] (Americans know the sport as football). It evolved from rugby (before that sport was split into league and union) and still has some similarities to its English cousin. It is extremely popular, and the day of the championship game, called the Super Bowl, is an unofficial bank holidays. The season runs from September to December, with playoffs in January culminating in the Super Bowl in February.
- NHL. The National Hockey League is the leading hockey league in the world with 30 teams (23 in the United States and 7 in Canada). Just over 50% of the players are Canadian and 25% are American, but the league has players from many other parts of the world, particularly the Nordic countries (especially Sweden and Finland), Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Originally the northern markets, recent expansions have meant that every major region is covered with an NHL team. The season runs from October to April, followed by the playoffs leading to the Stanley Cup Final in June.
- INDYCAR. INDYCAR began as the original form of American motorsport in 1911 with the first Indianapolis 500. Since then, INDYCAR has developed into North America’s leading open-wheel racing series. Competition in INDYCAR is known to be tighter, faster and much more dangerous than in NASCAR. Unlike NASCAR, which is contested almost exclusively on ovals, the INDYCAR championship is contested on a variety of tracks, from city streets to road courses to ovals such as the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana, which hosts a prestigious race, the Indianapolis 500, where speeds can reach 240 mph! INDYCAR holds races throughout the United States, as well as in Brazil and Canada, from March to October.
- NASCAR. Considered by many to be a “regional sport” confined to the rural South, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) seems to have shaken off these misconceptions in recent years and become a major spectator sport across the country. While most tracks are still located in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states, NASCAR holds races across the country, starting with its signature event, the Daytona 500, in mid-February and ending in late November.
- MLS. Major League Soccer, which currently has 20 teams (17 in the US and three in Canada) and will grow to 22 in 2017 and at least 23 in 2018 (with all new teams in the US), is the latest attempt to revive American interest in football. Although MLS is not as popular with the media, it is still popularly watched and enjoyed. Foreign travellers can find particularly vibrant and familiar fan experiences in several cities, including Washington, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Portland and Seattle. MLS is also becoming a favourite destination for top players from European leagues at the end of their careers, such as Didier Drogba, Kaka and David Villa.
One of the few unique features of the American sports landscape compared to other nations is the extent to which sports are linked to educational institutions. In many parts of the country, college sports (whether local teams or those of a major state university), especially football and men’s basketball, enjoy a following that rivals or exceeds that of major professional teams (indeed, eight of the ten largest stadiums in the world – all of which hold more than 100,000 spectators – are reserved for US college football teams, and the largest arena in the country designed specifically for basketball hosts a college team). The main governing body for US college sports is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which has more than 1,000 member institutions, including almost all of the country’s best-known colleges and universities. The college football season runs roughly from 1 September to mid-December, with post-season games continuing until early January. The regular college basketball season begins in mid-November and runs through late February or early March, followed by conference tournaments and then national postseason tournaments, which run through early April. The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, known as “March Madness” (a registered trademark of the NCAA), is particularly well attended, even by casual athletes. Rowing fans should visit the Harvard-Yale Regatta, a 4-mile race held annually in Connecticut between the Harvard University and Yale University rowing teams.
In the United States, the connection between sport and education does not stop at colleges and universities. Many communities take great pride in their high school sports teams, and especially in smaller communities, these teams are an important part of the local culture. During the school year (August to May), a high school game can be a great (and inexpensive) way to meet the locals and experience the area in a way that many visitors do not. The most popular sports are generally football and men’s basketball (and to a lesser extent women’s basketball), as well as hockey in New England and the upper Midwest. In some regions, a particular high school sport enjoys a high cultural status. This is the case with football in Texas, basketball in Indiana, hockey in Minnesota and wrestling in Iowa.
The United States is home to many of the world’s most famous golf courses. Perhaps the most famous is Augusta National Golf Club, where membership is by invitation only and is a very exclusive privilege. Augusta National Golf Club hosts the Masters, one of the most prestigious professional golf tournaments in the world and one of the four major men’s golf tournaments. The United States also hosts two of the other three major men’s golf tournaments, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, which are held annually at various U.S. golf courses. Golf is popular as both a participation sport and a spectator sport, and the United States is home to several major professional tours:
- PGA Tour. The premier men’s tour in the world, although the European Tour is very close in terms of level of competition, but not in terms of prize money. Tournaments are held throughout the United States, with stops in Canada and Mexico, as well as the Open Championship in the United Kingdom (one of the four “Major Championships”).
- LPGA Tour. Undeniably the best women’s tour in the world. Most events (including three of the five major championships) are still held in the United States, but the tour now also has major championships in Great Britain and France, as well as regular stops in the Bahamas, Canada, Mexico, Australia and several Asian countries.
- PGA Tour Champions. This tour is organised by the PGA Tour and is intended for golfers aged 50 and over. As a rule, all the stars on the PGA Tour and many of the stars on other world tours play on this tour between the ages of about 50 and 65, unless they are unable to do so for health reasons. One of the five major championships on this tour is held in Great Britain and one regular event is held in Canada; the rest of the tour is held in the United States.
The United States is home to many tennis tournaments on the ATP and WTA Tours, with the US Open being the most prestigious of these tournaments and considered one of the four Grand Slams. The US Open is held every year from late August to early September at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City.
The rodeo celebrates the traditions of the Old West, especially in Texas and the Great Plains.
Festivals and fairs
- Memorial Day – Commemorates the ultimate sacrifice of America’s war dead. It should not be confused with Veterans Day (11 November), which commemorates the service of American veterans, living and deceased. It is also the unofficial start of summer – expect heavy traffic at popular destinations, including national and theme parks.
- Independence Day (“Fourth of July” or “Fourth of July”) – Celebrates America’s independence from Great Britain. This day is usually celebrated with parades, festivals, concerts, outdoor cookouts and barbecues, and fireworks. Almost every city has some kind of party to celebrate the day. In larger cities, there are often several events. Washington, D.C. celebrates the day on the Mall with a parade and fireworks against the Washington Monument.
- Labour Day – In the United States, Labour Day is not celebrated on 1 May but on the first Monday in September. Labor Day marks the end of the summer social season. Some places, such as Cincinnati, hold parties to celebrate this day.
Other major holidays, such as Thanksgiving Day, are largely marked by private celebrations, but they are not devoid of activity either. On Thanksgiving Day, popular parades take place in New York City and Chicago, races are held in Detroit and many other cities, and many other smaller events fill the landscape, including, of course, a re-enactment of the original Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Many cities and/or counties hold fairs with rides, games and other attractions to commemorate the founding of a city or county. All 50 states have one or more state fairs. Originally, these were contests and exhibitions to promote agriculture and livestock; today they also include displays of industrial products, concerts, and rides and games.
There are many national parks in the United States, especially in the vast interior, offering many opportunities to enjoy your favourite outdoor activities, including recreational shooting, mountain biking, hiking, bird watching, prospecting and horseback riding. In the more urban areas, some national parks are focused on historic sites.
- The National Trails System includes twenty-one National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails, as well as over 1,000 shorter National Recreation Trails, totalling over 50,000 miles. While all of these trails are open for hiking, most are also open for mountain biking, horseback riding and camping, and some are even open for mountain bikes and cars.