TOP 100

Boston's Top 100 Events 2011

These annual gatherings make a big impact on their respective industries and communities (and on the city) while innovating to stay on top.

By Brendan Spiegel October 3, 2011, 3:21 PM EDT

Photo: Aviran Levy for BizBash

Around the country, Boston may be best known for a few giant events like the Boston Pops’ Fourth of July concert and the Boston Marathon. But locals know the event scene here is as diverse as anywhere in the world. From some of the nation’s biggest trade shows to a bevy of glitzy charity balls and an increasing number of indulgent foodie fests—not to mention a wide array of art, music, and of course, sporting events—Boston’s annual calendar never has a dull moment. Here’s our first annual look at the 100 biggest events that keep Boston exciting year after year—plus five up-and-coming events to keep an eye on in the years ahead.

Benefits & Galas

1. Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Presidents at Pops Some 1,800 corporate community members helped the orchestra raise an extra $100,000 in 2011, to take in more than $1 million at Boston’s most anticipated concert and gala. Spring

2. Massachusetts General Hospital’s Storybook Ball Over the past 11 years, this lavish, fairy-tale-themed event has raised more than $14 million for the Mass General Hospital for Children. October 15

3. Boston Ballet Ball Long a must-attend event for the city’s arts patrons, the ballet gala expanded with a Young Partners after-party in 2011, attracting 150 twenty- and thirty-somethings. The gala itself turned the Cyclorama at Boston Center for the Arts from a raw space into a whimsical forest inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, raising $1 million to support the ballet’s programs. March 31

4. Boys and Girls Club of Boston’s House Party Held at a different donor’s home each year, the house party has become one of the spring season’s signature galas after just six years, raising $2.7 million in 2011. May 19

5. Institute of Contemporary Art Gala To coincide with the I.C.A.’s 75th anniversary, this year’s celebratory gala and after-party on the Harbor moved from spring to fall. October 28

6. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay’s Big Night More than 1,000 guests turned out for this eight-hour Mardi Gras-themed party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in 2011. January

7. Catholic Schools Foundation’s Inner City Scholarship Fund Dinner This annual celebration’s recent reconfiguration as a fund-raiser has been phenomenally successful, raising more than $2 million each of the past two years. March 29

8. Museum of Fine Art’s “The Summer Party” The eight-year-old Summer Party has quickly established itself as the spring’s premier event for young professionals. June 9

9. American Heart Association’s Heart Ball At the Boston Heart Ball’s most recent outing, 400 guests at the Westin Copley Place helped raise $1 million for research and education. Spring

10. Boston Symphony Orchestra’s “A Company Christmas at Pops” Highlighting the partnership between B.S.O. and Boston businesses, this big-ticket holiday gala included a performance from 30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski last year. December 14

11. Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s Hot Pink Party Held at the Museum of Fine Arts for the first time in 2011, this pink-hued party raised more than $800,000. May 17

12. Huntington Theatre Company’s Spotlight Spectacular Host Zach Braff helped rake in $850,000 at this music-filled fete in 2011. April 2

13. Home for Little Wanderers’ Voices & Visions Gala America’s oldest child and family services organization brought 1,000 guests to the Seaport World Trade Center this year, raising $1 million for the group’s efforts. Spring

14. The Emerald Necklace Conservancy Party in the Park Some 700 Bostonians don their biggest hats for this parks benefit, held at Kelleher Rose Garden in the Back Bay Fens. May

15. American Repertory Theater Gala While not always held at the same time of year, A.R.T.’s party is consistently a big draw for art-world and society types. This year’s gala marked the opening of Porgy and Bess. September 10

16. New England Conservancy’s Feast of Music The food, wine, and music of one country are celebrated at this benefit, which took in a record $695,000 in 2011. Kurt Gutenbrunner will be the guest chef at the next edition, focused on Austria. February 25

17. Boston Medical Center Gala More than 1,000 supporters helped the hospital raise a record $2.5 million at this year’s event, which honored U.S. ambassador to Spain and Andorra Alan Solomont and his wife, Susan Lewis Solomont. Spring

18. Room to Grow Fall Gala Actress and longtime supporter Uma Thurman chaired the most recent edition of this party benefiting babies born into poverty. November 5

19. Joslin Diabetes Center’s High Hopes Gala This black-tie event marking World Diabetes Day raised $1.5 million for the center last year. November 19

20. Berklee College of Music Encore Gala Jamie Lee Curtis was slated to M.C. this 17th annual dinner and auction benefiting the Berklee City Music Program. October 15

21. Greater Boston Food Banquet The Greater Boston Food Bank’s warehouse becomes an event space each spring for this gala, which raised $1.1 million in 2011. April 26

22. Friends of Boston’s Homeless Beyond Shelter Gala Mayor Tom Menino served as M.C. at this 24th annual benefit in 2011, while 25 local restaurants donated bites for the gourmet tasting. April 26

23. The Boston Winter Ball In just three years, this benefit for Children’s Hospital Boston has become one of the marquee events of the winter social season. February

24. Steppin’ Out for the Dimock Center Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino, and their wives serve as honorary chairs of this 24th annual gala, which will feature a bevy of live musical performances. October 29

25. Boston Lyric Opera Gala This always festive benefit takes on a “Hocus Pocus” theme for the Halloween season this year. October 22

26. Artists for Humanity’s Greatest Party on Earth In 2011, AFH’s South Boston home was dressed in decor crafted from recycled trash for the sixth annual outing of this sustainability-themed gala. This year’s event, which also marked the organization’s 20th anniversary, increased in size to 500 guests and helped the group raise $250,000. April 28

27. Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Gala There is always a highly theatrical theme at this three-year-old party. 2011’s “Une Soiree a Paris” came complete with cabaret singers, mimes, and cancan dancers. April 28

ONE TO WATCH: Winter Warm-Up At this inaugual fund-raiser for Youth Design, high school students participating in the organization’s mentoring and internship programs mingled with designers and business leaders at the Liberty Hotel. Winter

Parades, Walks, Festivals & Holiday Events

1. Boston Harborfest More than two million people attend 200 different mini events during this weeklong festival surrounding the July 4 holiday. June 28-July 6

2. Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s annual Independence Day Concert on the Esplanade, choreographed to a fireworks display, is broadcast nationally on CBS. July 4

3. St. Patrick’s Day Parade Some 600,000 spectators head to South Boston for the city’s largest annual parade. March 17

4. Boston First Night Festival The New Year’s Eve cultural festival that started here 35 years ago now includes 200 arts events around Boston and has inspired First Night festivals in 70 cities. December 31

5. Boston Pride Parade and Festival Half a million revelers celebrate L.G.B.T. pride at the city’s parade and an ever-expanding lineup of surrounding festivities. June 1-10

6. Revere Beach Sand Sculpting Festival This eight-year-old event added more free family-friendly activities like carousel rides and a children’s learning center in 2011, and doubled attendance to more than 500,000 people. July

7. Cambridge River Festival This free community arts event brings 200,000 people to the banks of the Charles River each spring. June 2

8. Cambridge Carnival International About 150,000 partiers fill Kendall Square on the weekend following Labor Day for this colorful Caribbean celebration. September 9

9. Fisherman’s Feast Boston’s oldest continuous Italian festival will return to the North End for its 102nd year in 2012. August 9-12

10. Walk for Hunger One of the city’s most successful charitable events raised $3.6 million for Project Bread in 2011. May 6

11. Boston Common Christmas Tree Lighting Some 20,000 people are expected for this 70th annual celebration marking the start of the holiday season. December 1

Sporting Events

1. Boston Marathon In 2011, the country’s most prestigious road race garnered 500,000 spectators and saw Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya log the fastest marathon time ever. April 16

2. Head of the Charles Regatta This 47-year-old event is one of the world’s largest rowing races, attracting more than 8,000 athletes and 300,000 spectators. October 22-23

3. Pan-Mass Bike Challenge Lance Armstrong was among 5,300 riders in the 32nd outing of this event, which has raised more than $300 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Jimmy Fund. August 4-5

4. Audi Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port Some 1,500 cyclists rode from the J.F.K. Presidential Library to the Cape Cod Kennedy compound this year, raising more than $4 million. June 2

5. Beanpot Hockey Tournament This 59-year-old face-off between Harvard, Northeastern, B.C., and B.U., held at TD Garden, attracts some of college hockey’s biggest—and most passionate—crowds. February

6. Deutsche Bank Championships This eight-year-old tournament hosts the world’s top golfers at the Tournament Players Club of Boston, for a purse that reached $8 million this year. September

7. Picnic in the Park Red Sox players and their wives welcome fans onto the field at Fenway Park for this annual Red Sox Foundation fund-raiser. Summer

8. “The Tradition” Boston Sports Museum Awards Celtics legend Larry Bird and The Fighter subject Micky Ward were among those honored at this year’s gala, held in TD Garden, with 1,100 attendees. June

9. Beckett Bowl Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett’s bowling fund-raiser, held at Lucky Strike Lanes this year, teams up local sports stars like Paul Pierce with celebrities like Adrian Grenier. Summer

Literary & Publishing Events

1. Boston Book Festival The third annual event is expected to best last year’s attendance of 25,000 with free readings by authors including Chuck Klosterman, Jennifer Egan, and George Pelecanos. October 15

2. Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston Party Held at the Cruiseport Terminal, this year’s 1,300-person party honored 328 city winners, from raw bars to day spas. Summer

3. Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair This 35th annual event will bring 120 rare book dealers to the Hynes Convention Center. November 11-13

4. Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards One of the nation’s most prestigious prizes for children’s and young adult literature is handed out at Simmons College each fall. September

5. Boston Public Library Literary Lights Dinner Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding and local chef/author Barbara Lynch were among those honored at the 23rd edition of this literary evening. April

Arts Events

1. Ahts: The Boston Arts Festival What started as a single afternoon in 2003 is now a two-day visual and performing arts festival that brings 50,000 people to Christopher Columbus Park. September

2. Art in Bloom The Museum of Fine Art’s collection will be surrounded by fresh flowers for this three-day event, which includes classes, workshops, and a free open house. April 27-29

3. MassArt Auction The Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s signature fund-raiser presented 340 works in 2011 and took in a record $650,000. April

4. School of the Museum of Fine Arts Medal Award Gala Since 1996, SMFA has presented this award to one artist who has made a significant impact on the art world. Spring

5. Boston International Fine Arts Show Boston’s leading fine art show will celebrate its 15th anniversary this year, showing works from 40 galleries at the Cyclorama. November 17-20

ONE TO WATCH: Flash Forward Festival The first outing of this contemporary photography fest showcased 40-plus artists from the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. June

Food, Wine & Restaurant Industry Events

1. Boston Wine Expo More than 20,000 oenophiles, 400 wineries, and celeb chefs like Todd English and Ming Tsai turn out for this 20-year-old event. January 21-22

2. International Boston Seafood Show North America’s largest seafood showcase attracts 870 exhibitors and 17,000 attendees. March 11-13

3. New England Food Show Running concurrently with the seafood show, this food-service and new-products expo brought in a crowd of 12,000 for its most recent outing. March 11-13

4. Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl Boston’s biggest ice cream party, which has raised more than $3 million for cancer research, marks its 30th anniversary in 2012. June

5. Island Creek Oyster Festival What started six years ago as a small gathering has morphed into a celebration that has more than 3,000 foodies decamping to Duxbury Beach each fall. Thirty chefs from New England, New York, and Chicago prepare dishes made from local ingredients. September

6. Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Boston More than 90 local restaurants offer tastes at the Boston edition of this national fund-raiser, held at the Hynes Convention Center this year. April

7. Men of Boston Cook for Women’s Health Senator Scott Brown and CNN’s John King were among those signing on as celebrity chefs for this year’s culinary fund-raiser benefiting the Codman Square Health Center. September

8. Taste of the South End The 15th outing of this foodie fest brought in 650 guests to sample fare from South End restaurants like Tremont 647 and the Gallows. This year’s silent auction differed from years past, with items displayed throughout the space, rather than placed in the center, helping boost the fund-raising take to $105,000 for the AIDS Action Committee. March 6

9. Chefs in Shorts Featuring 40 local chefs, this charitable cookout for the Greater Boston Food Bank welcomed a sellout crowd of 1,000 for its 14th edition. June 22

10. American Craft Beer Festival In just four years this BeerAdvocate event has grown into one of the East Coast’s largest beer fests, showcasing more than 100 breweries. June

11. Boston Wine Festival For the past 22 years, chef Daniel Bruce of Meritage has overseen a series of exclusive wine dinners at the Boston Harbor Hotel. January-April

ONE TO WATCH: Boston Local Food Festival This second annual celebration of New England food was expected to bring 40,000 people to the Boston Waterfront at Fort Point Channel this fall. October 1

Political & Advocacy Events

1. South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast and Political Roast Local pols hobnob with bigwigs like Senator Scott Brown and Governor Deval Patrick at the must-mingle mixer of the year. March 17

2. John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Ceremony Caroline Kennedy hands out the nation’s most prestigious award for public service, held at the J.F.K. Library on or around her father’s birthday. May

3. Banned in Boston Politicians like Mayor Tom Menino and Congressman Barney Frank try out their comedic chops at this fund-raiser for violence prevention program Urban Improv. Spring

4. Unicef Children’s Champion Awards Dinner Sting and Trudie Styler were the 2011 honorees for their charitable work at this gala that has previously feted Nelson Mandela, Queen Noor, and the Red Sox’ David Ortiz. October 20

5. Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus Tribute to Abigail Adams This 25-year-old event honors local leaders who have made a commitment to women’s rights. October 11

6. The Social Enterprise Conference Harvard’s meeting of philanthropic-minded business leaders is increasingly a draw for top executives from around the country, with more than 1,200 attendees this year. February 25-26

7. Franklin Medal for Community and Public Service Ceremony Michael and Kitty Dukakis were slated to be honored at the 2011 edition of this event, sponsored by the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. October 14

8. Human Rights Campaign New England Dinner This local gay rights benefit will celebrate its 30th anniversary at the Hynes Convention Center in 2011. November 19

ONE TO WATCH: EMK Institute Gala In 2011, Massachusetts politicians of all stripes—from John Kerry to Scott Brown—turned out for this inaugural event, marking the groundbreaking of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. April

Theater & Film Events

1. Boston Film Festival Uma Thurman and Greg Kinnear were among those honored at recent editions of this 27-year-old film festival, held this year at Stuart Street Playhouse. September

2. Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ Man and Woman of the Year Awards Organized by Harvard undergrads, this two-day event includes a roast of the awardees and a parade. “The Pudding” feted celebs Jay Leno and Julianne Moore this year. January

3. Shakespeare in the Common Held every summer since 1996, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company has moved performances outdoors, building a pop-up theater on the Parkman Bandstand. This year’s 16 performances of All’s Well That Ends Well during the free two-week run brought in more than 100,000 people. Summer

4. Boston Society of Film Critics Awards This three-decades-old honor added a ceremony in 2008 and has become a big draw for local film lovers, bringing 250 people to the Brattle Theatre. January/February

5. Ellie Fund’s Oscar Night in Boston More than 400 gussied-up guests watched the Academy Awards at the Mandarin Oriental in 2011, raising $200,000 for this breast cancer foundation. February 26

Fashion & Beauty Events

1. Boston Fashion Week Traditionally a loosely assembled mixture of events around the city, this eight-day showcase of Boston fashion reconfigured in 2011, with a centralized tent hosting runway shows for the first time in its 16-year history. September

2. Harris Center Public Forum This 800-person event at Harvard Business School is focused on body image and the media. Diane von Furstenberg gave the keynote address in 2011. March

3. Harvard Business School Fashion Show M.B.A. candidates show off their fashionable side at this four-year-old fund-raiser for Dress for Success. April

4. Fenway to the Runway Baseball wives and girlfriends take to the runway for this Red Sox Foundation fund-raiser at the Natick Collection. September

Music Events

1. Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival This three-day fest has grown exponentially since its debut 11 years ago. In 2010, it attracted 70,000 jazz lovers from Boston and beyond, and 20-plus acts in 2011. September

2. Boston Music Awards For its 23rd outing in 2010, Boston’s premier music awards expanded with a six-hour party. Some 1,400 guests packed the Liberty Hotel for the second year, a shift from more traditional ceremonies previously held at the Orpheum Theatre. The evening started with a cocktail reception in the lobby and then guests moved among three rooms for performances from 20 different bands. December

3. Hot Stove Cool Music In 2011, the Lemonheads and Buffalo Tom performed at this alternative rock benefit for the Foundation to Be Named Later—a branch of the Red Sox Foundation—raising $300,000. January

4. Boston Urban Music Fest Formerly known as the Peace Hip Hop Festival, this free summer concert drew 50,000 music fans to City Hall Plaza this year. August

ONE TO WATCH: Life Is Good Festival After previously hosting smaller festivals on Boston Common and at Fenway Park, in 2010 apparel company Life Is Good brought 30,000 fans to Prowse Farm in Canton. September

Trade Shows & Conventions

1. New England International Auto Show Consumers get a sneak peek at 2012 models during New England’s largest car show. January 12-16

2. Boston Flower and Garden Show After the Massachusetts Horticulture Society’s 137-year-old New England Flower Show ended in 2008, Paragon Group debuted this new show, which returns for a third time in 2012. March 14-18

3. Boston Globe Ski and Snowboard Expo This 30-year-old event moved to a new venue—the Seaport World Trade Center—in 2010 and reeled in more than 50,000 people. November 10-13

4. Penny Arcade Expo East Founded in Seattle in 2004, the gamer expo known as PAX expanded with a Boston event in 2010. In 2011, PAX East moved into the larger Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and logged 69,500 visitors—more people than the West Coast event has ever hosted. April 6-8

5. New England Boat Show Housing more than 250 exhibitors, the boat show fills 300,000 square feet at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. February 11-19

6. Boston RV and Camping Expo After the Bayside Expo Center closed, this 30,000-person show moved to the Seaport World Trade Center in 2011. February 2-5

7. Boston Globe Travel Show More than 20,000 attendees spent $5 million in on-site bookings at this consumer-oriented show in 2011. February 10-12

8. Yankee Dental Congress More than 27,000 dental industry professionals from around New England attend this annual meeting and expo. January 25-29

9. Build Boston The Northeast’s leading architecture and building trade show brings 250 suppliers to the Seaport World Trade Center. November 16-18

10. CraftBoston This semiannual craft fair hosts both a holiday version at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Cyclorama and a spring show at the Seaport World Trade Center. December 9 -11, March 23-25

11. Anime Boston After starting with 3,600 people at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers in 2003, Anime Boston has grown every year, hosting 17,000 at the Hynes Convention Center in 2011. April 6-8

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