You just can't beat North Iowa for fun. There's the fair, the Up in Smoke BBQ Bash, the triple-decker weekend that is Lakefest, add some concerts, and your weekend is full. 

• The North Iowa Fair opens July 19 in Mason City, hosting its second hot air balloon rally after last year’s success. The event, set for July 19-23, also includes a small stage music festival, free carnival rides, helicopter rides and dog show.

• The 14th Annual Up in Smoke BBQ Bash will take place July 21-22 in East Park in Mason City. In addition to being Iowa’s leading barbecue competition it includes musical entertainment, food, a bag tournament, beverage tasting and inflatables for the kids.

The Globe Gazette-sponsored event features competition sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. Entertainment this year features Standing Hampton, The Grant Family and Bolder Road.

Admission to the event and the live music is free. Vendors will be selling a wide assortment of barbecue and other types of food and beverages, and a beer garden will be open both days.

• Tommy Castro & The Painkillers, touring in support of their latest album, "Method To My Madness," will perform Friday, July 21, at the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake. Over the course of his four-decade career, Castro - a six-time Blues Music Award-winner - has played thousands of shows, packing seats and dance floors. The Painkillers features bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson and drummer Bowen Brown.

Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17 in advance, $22 at the door, available at the Surf, 460 N. Shore Drive, 641-357-6151,

Lakefest is set for July 22-23 in Clear Lake's City Park, featuring the Iowa Storytelling Festival, Art Sail and Lakeside Dixiefest.

Iowa Storytelling Festival, sponsored by the Clear Lake Public Library, runs from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 22, with Celtic fingerstyle guitarist Jerry Barlow, Sarah Uthoff as Laura Ingalls Wilder, and stories from the audience.

Clear Lake Arts Center’s 39th annual Art Sail, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 22, features more than 75 artists showcasing and selling their art.

Lakeside DixieFest celebrates its 25th anniversary with free traditional Dixieland Jazz from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.

• "Yesterday And Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience" will perform from 7 to 10 pm. for the next Friday Night Live July 28. The concert is presented by Main Street Mason City and the NIACC Performing Arts and Leadership Series, which is celebrating its 20th year. Admission is free. For more information, call 641-494-0003.

Thrive Concerts is bringing several bands to Mason City for a concert on the Grace Church lawn on Saturday, July 29. Featured bands are Rend Collective with GAWVI, Mike Mains and Shawn McDonald.

Doors open at 3:30 p.m., with the show set to start at 5. Tickets are $20 per person, or $15 with a group of 10 or more. Tickets are available at,, the Grace Church office, 440 N. Illinois Ave., and North Iowa Community Credit Union.