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ClusterFest™ 2011

Your guide to the millions of Labor Day weekend events

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WHEN: Sept. 2-5
WHERE: Hilton Atlanta, Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Marriott Marquis Atlanta, Sheraton Atlanta Hotel and the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel
HOW MANY: 40,000+
OUT OF POCKET: $120 for all four days
WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT: It's the 25th anniversary of the multimedia and pop culture convention that encompasses every geeky pastime you can think of, and even more that you can't. Promising more than 3,500 hours of panels, workshops, contests and other events, "Nerdi Gras" lets casual fans and hardcore obsessives meet their idols, buy collectibles and hold debates in hotel rooms and food courts.
PEOPLE WATCHING: It's like downtown Atlanta temporarily transforms into the Mos Eisley cantina from the first Star Wars movie, especially during the 10th annual Dragon*Con parade.
STAR POWER: Dozens of celebrities from the A through the Z-list. Marquee names this year include William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Stan Lee, Martin Landau and tons of people from the new "Battlestar Galactica" show. Pioneering animator Ralph Bakshi should be particularly interesting. Not to mention: Jefferson Starship in performance. "We built this citeeeeeee!"
SEX FACTOR: Fans and cosplayers express their kinky sides via breastplates, body paint and skintight spandex superhero suits. Expect bodies to be on display at the Comic Book Vixen Contest, Miss Star Trek Universe pageant (where you'll find Klingon chicks) and Saturday night's Dragon*Con After Dark event, which kind of scares us.
CHANCE OF INJURY: Despite the prevalence of battle armor and ersatz weaponry, the organizers and attendees tend to be safety-conscious, but there's still the chance of getting struck by a makeshift lightsaber or Klingon bat'leth. You also risk coming down with "con crud," the kind of cold that inevitably strikes big conventions.
COMPETITIONS: In addition to the seven costume contests, Dragon*Con includes the Comic Book Quick Sketch, a Cosplay contest and Robot Battles.
FAUX PAS TO AVOID: Mixing up various franchises, a la, "Kirk is my favorite captain on 'Stargate.'"
WEBSITE: www.dragoncon.org

Decatur Book Festival

WHEN: Sept. 2-4
WHERE: Decatur Square
HOW MANY: 70,000
WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT: One of the largest book festivals in the United States, the Decatur Book Festival cultivates the good vibes of a casual, lemonade-and-kettle corn street fair. This year's event hosts 300 writers for lectures, signings and panel discussions, as well as variety of other performances and activities, and shopping opportunities at the book market.
PEOPLE WATCHING: The children's parades on Saturday and Sunday morning will put cuteness on display.
STAR POWER: The Decemberists' singer/songwriter Colin Meloy and illustrator Carson Ellis (who happens to be his wife) will deliver the keynote address about their new young adult book, Wildwood. Other big-name authors include Chris Adrian, Karen Russell and "The Wire" producer/mystery author George Pelecanos.
SEX FACTOR: Off the chart, if pale skin and eyeglasses turn you on.
CHANCE OF INJURY: The morbid among you can hope for a mishap at one of the cooking demos.
COMPETITIONS: The Great Decatur Treasure Hunt provides a chance to get to know local businesses, and you can always be all jerky and competitive about it.
FAUX PAS TO AVOID: Don't tell anyone at a vendor booth, "This looks great — I can't wait to order it from Amazon!"
WEBSITE: www.decaturbookfestival.com

AdvoCare 500

WHEN: Sept. 2-4
WHERE: Atlanta Motor Speedway
HOW MANY: 100,000+
OUT OF POCKET: Tickets range from $39-$135
WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT: The biggest NASCAR race on the Atlanta Motor Speedway's calendar, the AdvoCare 500 pits 43 of NASCAR's most famous drivers against each other for a $3 million prize. Between the racing, camping and fan events, the real estate in and around Atlanta Motor Speedway turns into Georgia's fourth largest city over the three-day weekend.
PEOPLE WATCHING: The gatherings outside the speedway have the vibe of a giant tailgate party, so check out who has the most elaborate setup for libations and grilled meat.
STAR POWER: NASCAR luminaries such as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. Does the performance by Lynyrd Skynyrd count, given that guitarist Gary Rossington is the only original member left in the lineup to play "Free Bird"?
SEX FACTOR: The drivers look pretty hot in those jumpsuits.
CHANCE OF INJURY: Aren't we all secretly hoping to see a spectacular car crash?
COMPETITIONS: Friday's Atlanta 200 Camping World Truck Series Race, Saturday's Great Clips 300 Nationwide Series Race and Saturday's Battle of the Bands.
FAUX PAS TO AVOID: Loudly saying things like, "Wouldn't it be awesome to see a spectacular car crash?"
WEBSITE: www.atlantamotorspeedway.com

Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

WHEN: Sept. 3
WHERE: Georgia Dome
HOW MANY: 71,000
WHY PEOPLE LOVE IT: Known as "The Daytona 500 of College Football," this Bowl-style season opener pits the seventh ranked Boise State Broncos against our own Georgia Bulldogs who are ranked, uh, 22nd. There are also fan nights at the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coke, Bronco Bash and Bulldog Bash tailgate parties and special events for fans.
PEOPLE WATCHING: Look out for drunk collegians and team-themed costumes and body paint, like the bald guy who paints Uga the bulldog on his head. Sometimes they can rival the creativity of Dragon*Con fans.
STAR POWER: Only if you're into state politicians or Heisman-hopeful players like Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore.
SEX FACTOR: Cheerleaders and athletes perform in their prime, but you haven't got have a chance with any of them.
CHANCE OF INJURY: The players face the usual risk of grievous bodily damage. The fans face the usual risk of falling down stairs.
COMPETITIONS: A Kickoff Cook-off, with online entry and six finalists competing on Sept. 3. Also, shouldn't Chick-fil-A have a Puppy Bowl-type spectacle with baby calves running around?
FAUX PAS TO AVOID: Wearing Boise's blue and orange among UGA fans. (This could also be filed under "Chance of Injury.")
WEBSITE: www.chick-fil-akickoffgame.com


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