The Best Fests

updated 05/28/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/28/1984 01:00AM

It's a big country, no doubt about it, and from sea to shining sea the summer offers cultural majesties to suit every taste except jaded. Lovers of classical music can soak up their fill in the bucolic settings of such famous festivals as Chicago's Ravinia (June 29-Aug. 19) and Aspen (June 29-Aug. 26). Devotees of the dance won't want to miss the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival at Lee, Mass. (June 19-Sept. 1), where on June 23 choreographer Martha Graham, accompanied by her friend Halston, will enjoy a 90th birthday salute performed by her own company. At the Seattle Opera, Wagner buffs from the world over will again assemble to hear the Ring cycle sung in German on July 29 and 30 and Aug. 1 and 3, while on the other shore New York's Museum of Modern Art, after being closed for renovation and expansion, reopened its doors this month to the wonders of Matisse, Picasso and beautifully designed chairs you can't afford. Between the coasts, the Houston Museum exhibit of the most comprehensive collection of Chinese art ever—232 pieces covering 6,000 years—runs through July 9. But if it's pure Americana you're after, look in on less orthodox festivals. Here's a sampling:

At any point below the Mason-Dixon Line it'll be hard to miss the surreal impact of this year's world's fair, the $360-million Louisiana World Exposition (now through Nov. 11) in the South's most beautiful city, New Orleans. Although the fair has been plagued by unanticipated costs and lagging ticket sales (which some blame on the anticipated hot weather), 23 countries will show off their food and culture in theme pavilions. Among the home country's high points: the world's largest Ferris wheel; the space shuttle Enterprise; and, to top it off, a 360-foot-high, 3,600-foot-long-gondola ride across the Mississippi.

If all that seems too big to take in, try this: the ninth annual Sand Castle Contest (July 21) on the grainy banks of the Arkansas River in Tulsa, Okla. There, hundreds of professional architects will abandon all propriety for a day and join hundreds of adult amateurs and children to design and sculpt temporary creations, such as last year's winning Puff the Magic Dragon. Who knows, the next Bauhaus school could emerge from a group kneeling in the Tulsa sand.

Devotees of older Americana won't want to miss the annual Song of Hiawatha Festival (July 27, 28, 29 and Aug. 3, 4, 5) at Pipestone, Minn., where a cast of 200 will act out Longfellow's verse. But for a combination of past and present nothing could top the Fourth of July Liberty to Liberty Triathlon. In this competition, entrants will jump off from the Battery into New York Harbor (presumably holding their noses) and swim around the Statue of Liberty to Liberty State Park, N.J. From there they will bike 90 miles to Philadelphia, where they'll run a 12-mile course that will finish, where else, at Independence Hall, facing the Liberty Bell.

Still, for the true essence of summer, it will be hard to beat Baltimore this year. On July 8 the Baltimore Symphony will perform Frank Proto's Casey at the Bat at Pier 6 pavilion, narrated by Rick Dempsey, the Orioles' star catcher and MVP of the 1983 World Series champs.

Whoever said "Wait'll next year"?

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