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“Geared for Weird” in Iowa

“America’s Most Unusual Town” chooses a steampunk theme for a huge gathering of cyclists

Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Fake mustache record

Thousands of bicycle riders and their entourage will get a healthy dose of steampunk at Geared for Weird, a music festival taking place July 25 in Fairfield, Iowa. The steampunk-themed event is part of The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), a summer tradition in which cyclists traverse the state from its western border to the east.

Performers at the festival will include The Eternal Frontier, a duo that frequently appears at steampunk events, and The Ragged Blade Band, a six-piece ensemble from St. Louis that also plays at steampunk gatherings. Party band No Limits will be the headliner. The Eternal Frontier’s Professor Adam Smasher will be Master of Ceremonies.

Organized by the Des Moines Register, RAGBRAI is billed as “the oldest, largest and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world.” This will be its 47th year. Each year, the organizers select eight host communities for overnight stays by the riders. Fairfield (pop. 10,206), a town in southeastern Iowa, will be the sixth stop in 2019. The ride begins July 21 in Council Bluffs and runs through July 27 in Keokuk.

Geared for Weird logo

Each locale chooses a theme and hosts an entertainment event for the riders and supporters who accompany them. Fairfield’s theme derives from its reputation as “America’s Most Unusual Town,” a description bestowed by Oprah Winfrey for a 2012 episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. The town is a major center for the practice of Transcendental Meditation and is also known for its arts community and tech startups.

Fairfield last hosted RAGBRAI in 2013, when it earned a place in Guinness World Records for “Largest gathering of people wearing false moustaches” (see above). A total of 2,268 people donned the mustaches, breaking the old record of 1,534.

After learning that their town had been chosen for this year’s RAGBRAI, “we were brainstorming on themes,” explains Terry Baker, assistant director of the Fairfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our community is known for being a little out of the ordinary,” and “we wanted something that has to do with bicycles.” Hence, “Geared for Weird.” Then someone on the planning committee suggested a steampunk theme due to the genre’s association with gears.

“About half the committee was, ‘Steampunk, what’s that?’” she recalls. But the area also has a small contingent of steampunk fans who attend the Big River Steampunk Festival in Hannibal, Missouri.

The steampunk theming will be reflected in decorations, photo backdrops, and hats worn by some of the participants. The organizers are also planning an evening “Steampunk Neon Glow Party” with illuminated props. However, Baker cautions that the summer heat won’t be conducive to heavy steampunk garb.

In conjunction with “Geared for Weird,” the Fairfield Art Association has chosen “Pipe Dreams” as the theme for its 2019 summer art installation. Through September, a dozen pieces by local artists can be seen at various locations in downtown Fairfield.

Geared for Weird is primarily an entertainment festival, and won’t have some of the activities typically associated with steampunk gatherings, such as workshops or an area for craft vendors. That said, with 20,000 riders and supporters expected to be in town, this will likely be the largest steampunk-themed event in the U.S. They’ll be spending the night at campgrounds and private residences. The festival itself takes place at Downtown Fairfield Square Park, 78 N Court St.

Learn more about the event on the website and Facebook page.

Photo and logo used by permission of the Fairfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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