What a weekend: Football, okra, nature hikes, dancing and rock music

University of South Carolina home football games usually dominate weekends in the Midlands. This week, the game simply serves as the kickoff to one of the busiest weekends of the year.

You can dance to Latin music on Main Street, scarf down fried okra on the streets of Irmo, journey to the past at Congaree National Park, rock out in the Vista or take a quiet nature walk at Sesquicentennial State Park.

There's so much going on, you'd be hard-pressed to get to all of the major events. But if you want to try, here's the schedule.


USC football vs. Mississippi, 7:30 p.m., Williams-Brice Stadium: The Gamecocks (2-1) take on the fourth-ranked Rebels (2-0) in a Southeastern Conference game televised nationally by ESPN. Plan to arrive early and get home late; traffic always is a mess for Thursday night games.

Just not that into football?

See one of Shakespeare's most delightful plays performed by a University of Cambridge traveling tour group at Columbia College tonight.

"Two Gentlemen of Verona" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. at Columbia College's Cottingham Theatre.

The play follows the follies of Proteus and Valentine, who travel from Verona to Milan to broaden their life experience. The university production, in its 10th year of touring, is making its first stop In South Carolina.

General admission is $10, students and senior citizens $5; Columbia College students get in free with college identification.

For reservations, call (803) 786-3850.


Congaree Campfire Chronicles, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Congaree National Park, Hopkins, free: This first-time program uses volunteer actors to tell the story of the various people who have lived or worked in the bottomland forest that now is the state's only national park. Tour groups, leaving every 15 minutes from the visitors center, will make several stops along the boardwalk and trails.

Fall Out 2009, 4 p.m., Jillian's, 800 Gervais St., Columbia, $10: This annual rite of fall used to have more of a buzz when it was held outdoors, but at least rain is less of a concern at Jillian's. Bands include Justin Smith and the Folk Hop Band, Collective Soul, Cartel, Deepfield and the After Midnight Project.

Okra Strut, 6-11 p.m., St. Andrews Road and Lake Murray Boulevard, Irmo, free: The opening night of the annual festival of the green pods features beach music - The Fabulous Kays and the Band of Oz. In between the bands, there's a massive game of Simon Says and a slimy okra-eating contest. irmookrastrut.comTo market, to market: Enjoy fall's bounty at the Main Street Marketplace from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Friday at Main and Hampton streets in downtown Columbia.

Find arts and crafts, food and gifts in the open-air marketplace.


Main Street Latin Festival, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., 1400 Block of Main Street, Columbia: Cultural displays, food and music highlight the vitality of the Latin community in the Midlands. There's hands-on stuff for the kids, and the dancing heats up after the sun sets.

Okra Strut, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., St. Andrews Road and Lake Murray Boulevard, Irmo, free: If you're in the mood for a run, try the Dam Run to Irmo at 7:30 a.m., beginning on the Lexington side of the Lake Murray dam. The Okra Strut parade starts at 9 a.m. on St. Andrews Road, and the festival activities run 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Plenty of food and community performance groups.

Congaree Campfire Chronicles, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Congaree National Park, Hopkins: See Friday.

Sesquicentennial Nature Walk, 10 a.m., Sesquicentennial State Park, Columbia, $5 adults, $3 children: If you prefer your fall activities to be quiet and peaceful, try this guided hike through the forest at Sesqui. It's suitable for ages 5 and older, but you need to pre-register. Call (803) 788-2706.A day at the fair: Take yourself back to an old-fashioned county fair at the Newberry Country Agricultural Expo, which continues Saturday at the Newberry County fairgrounds.

On Saturday, check out the walking horse competition at 4 p.m., see antique tractors and other farm equipment, buy crafts and taste some fair food.

The fairgrounds is at 2301 Adelaide St. in Newberry.


USC women's soccer vs. Kentucky, 1:30 p.m., Stone Stadium, Columbia, $5 adults, $3 youths: The big weekend starts with USC sports, so why not end it with the Gamecocks, too? You'll find the contrasts striking. Small crowd, few tailgaters, no traffic jams. But the athletic intensity on the field might surprise people who have never watched women's college soccer. The USC women enter the weekend unbeaten and ranked No. 12 in the country.