There’s no limit to the number of things a group of motivated Texans can dream up to celebrate. The holiday season may end on January 1, but in small towns across the state, celebrations continue throughout the year, in the form of festivals. Themes range from ethnic heritage (Viva! Cinco de Mayo in San Marcos) to ranching heritage (XIT Rodeo & Reunion in Dalhart). Some of these homegrown events focus on regional foods (Texas Citrus Fiesta in Mission, Texas Crab Festival in Crystal Beach), while at least one plays up pesky bugs (Great Texas Mosquito Festival in Clute).
The common denominator: a desire to support worthy causes while having some old-fashioned fun. This works for everyone, organizers and participants alike-where else but at festivals can you enjoy food-on-a-stick and feel like you’re doing your civic duty? For visitors, festivals also represent an opportunity to savor a slice of small-town Texas, each one with a special flavor all its own. We’ve gathered a sampling of the best upcoming festivals to help with the scheduling, so unwrap that brand-new calendar, grab a pen, and start filling in some dates.
TEXAS CITRUS FIESTA, MISSION, Jan. 29-31, 2009.
While some people are still putting away their holiday decorations, the folks in Mission are already celebrating the new year’s citrus harvest. The lineup for the upcoming Texas Citrus Fiesta, an extravaganza that began in 1932, includes a queen’s coronation, a fun fair with live entertainment, a vaquero’s cook-off, a fun run, and a golf tournament. But the biggest draws are the Product Costume Style Show, which features intriguing garments made of oranges and other citrus, and the Parade of Oranges. Some 100,000 spectators turn out for the elaborate, nighttime parade and marvel at floats adorned with
oranges, grapefruit, and other products grown in the Rio Grande Valley. “Many of the floats are covered with juicy slices of red grapefruit, and they look good enough to eat,” says festival director Berta Filut. Most activities take place downtown. Call 956/585-9724; www.texascitrusfiesta.net.
TEXAS COWBOY POETRY GATHERING, ALPINE , Feb. 27-Mar. 1, 2009.
The Texas Cowboy Poetry Gatheringshould be a required event for anyone who ever dreamed of being a cowboy. And while it does attract many wannabes, you’ll find plenty of real cowboys (and cowgirls) both on the stage and in the audience. The celebration began in 1987 as a way of “preserving the traditions of the American West in words and music.” Cowboy poetry is its mainstay, but cowboy music and storytelling play close seconds. Chuck-wagon breakfasts, a dance, and a cowboy church service are also part of the mix. This year’s headliners hail from New Mexico, California, Canada, and Australia. Expect a nominal fee for the nightly stage performances, but the daytime sessions are free. All activities are held on the campus of Sul Ross State University. Call 432/837-2326; www.cowboy-poetry.org.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY FESTIVAL, DUBLIN , Mar. 21, 2009.
Everyone’s Irish on St. Paddy’s Day, and as a result, the tiny town of Dublin swells with some 3,000-5,000 visitors during its annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival. A Celtic parade downtown (leprechaun and four-leaf clover costumes abound) kicks off the celebration, followed by a full slate of other activities at Dublin City Park: Highland athletic games, a carnival, a square-dance exhibition and other entertainment, Red-Headest Person and other contests, children’s games, a softball tournament, an Irish Stew cook-off, and the introduction of Miss Dublin and her court. Arts and crafts booths and food vendors will also be on hand. The Dublin Historical Museum and Dublin Rodeo Heritage Museum (both free that day) will be open, as will the Dublin Dr Pepper Museum. Call 254/445-3422; www.dublintxchamber.com.
WILDFLOWER TRAILS OF TEXAS FESTIVAL, LINDEN, HUGHES SPRINGS, AND AVINGER, Apr.24-26, 2009.
In 1971, a group of people from three small towns in Cass County—Linden, Hughes Spring, and Avinger—banded together to help preserve the county’s natural beauty and to promote tourism through wildflower tours. The result is the Wildflower Trails of Texas Festival, during which droves of nature lovers in search of spring’s best displays wander the three highways (Texas 49, 155, and 11) that form a triangle connecting these towns, as well as other scenic backroads. All three towns have parades (scheduled at non-competing times) and they join forces to present a regional art show, but other activities vary from town to town. This year’s lineup features a trail ride, a treasure hunt, a Miss Wildflower Trails of Texas Pageant, a carnival, exhibit and craft booths, an antique auto show, a quilt show, a street dance, a fish fry, a crawfish boil, live entertainment, a softball tournament, gospel singing, a rodeo, a wildflower display and interpretation, and a photography contest. For details about individual events in Linden, Hughes Springs, and Avinger, respectively, call 903/ 79 6-3 003 (www.lindenwildflowertrails.com); 903/639-7519 (www.hughesspringstx.net); and 903/562-1112. For a brochure about the overall festival, which includes a map, call one of the preceding numbers one to two months before the event.
VIVA! CINCO DE MAYO, SAN MARCOS, May 1-2, 2009.
An annual event since 1974, this celebration marks the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, a date that has become a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. The most anticipated aspect of the festival is the State Menudo Cook-Off, which attracts menudo teams from across Texas. The teams are judged on showmanship as well as their stew. Other highlights include the downtown parade, which features floats and marching bands, Miss Cinco de Mayo and Little Miss Cinco de Mayo pageants, performances by young folkl6rico dancers, live entertainment by Tejano artists, and a carnival. Activities take place at the Hays County Civic Center. Call 512/353-8482 or 877/847-4906; www.vivacincodemayo.org.
TEXAS CRAB FESTIVAL, CRYSTAL BEACH, May 9, 2009.
Crystal Beach was hit hard by Hurricane Ike, but the organizers of this popular annual event say the Texas Crab Festival will go on this year, although it will probably just last one day instead of three. “We lost every piece of equipment we had,” says festival organizer Anne Willis, “but we’ll regroup and start over.” The festival’s big draw—the Crab Races—will take place, as will the Crab Cookoff. “You’ll still be able to get crabs in every form imaginable-crab legs, crab cakes, soft-shell crabs, crab gumbo, crab etouffee, you name it,” says Willis. “We’ll also have the Crab Legs Contest, as well as a treasure hunt, live entertainment, and a carnival.” Check the Bolivar Chamber of Commerce Web site for updates, www.bolivarchamber.org, or call 409/684-5940 or 800/FUN-SUN3.
TOM TOM FESTIVAL, YOAKUM, June 4-6, 2009.
This 81-year-old festival gets its name from the fact that Yoakum was once a hotbed of tomato production. You can still find fresh tomatoes at the festival’s farmers market, but the focus of the celebration has shifted to barbecue, with contests for best brisket, boneless chicken breasts, and pork ribs, as well asbeans and salsa. Other highlights include a parade downtown, followed by a calf scramble and CPRA rodeo. A carnival, children’s games, horseshoe and volleyball tournaments, a dachshund race (billed as the “Star Wieners Race-Revenge of the Short Legs”), car and motorcycle shows, polka dancing, a country music concert, a dance, arts and crafts booths, and food vendors round out the offerings. Most activities take place at Yoakum City Park. Call 361/293-2309; www.yoakumareachamber.com.
BANDERA RIVERFEST, BANDERA, June 27, 2009.
If hanging out on the banks of the cool, clear Medina River sounds good to you, the Bandera RiverFest is your kind of event. There are plenty of activities to watch from the sidelines, but wear your swimsuit and bring an inner tube, so that you can participate, too. The fun includes a River Rodeo, with tube roping and bronc riding. (The “broncs” are highly unsteady inner tubes whose sides have been duct-taped together to form a saddle of sorts.) Other activities include tube volleyball, kayak races, a watermelon- eating contest, sack races, and other games. You can even sign up your dog for the water-fetching contest. A brisket-cooking contest, arts and crafts booths, an open car show, and a Bandera Idol singing competition also add to the fun. The Great Hill Country Anything That Floats Regatta caps off the afternoon, with prizes for the creative entries that float down the beautiful river. Call 830/796-4447; www.banderariverfest.com.
WATERMELON THUMP, LULING, June 25-29, 2009.
Watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests take center stage at the Watermelon Thump (the Guinness Book of Records keeps track of the seed-spitters), but this classic smalltown festival is rife with other fun, too. Events include an hour-long parade that takes place rain or shine; a Watermelon Queen pageant; a biggest-melon contest; a melon auction; a classic car show; a carnival; arts and crafts booths; a strolling balloon maker, magician, and juggler; entertainment on three stages; and a concert/dance every night. Most activities take place downtown at the Thump Pavilion. Call 830/875-3214, ext. 2; www.watermelonthump.com.
FREEDOM FIESTA, SEGUIN, Jul. 3-4, 2009.
Seguin celebrates the Fourth downtown in Central Park with two days of festivities that include a carnival, a washer-pitching tournament, and live entertainment; a street dance is held each evening. A parade billed as the “Biggest Fourth of July Parade in Texas” takes place on Saturday and features floats and marching bands from Seguin and area towns. At sundown, crowds gather to watch a spectacular fireworks show at Starcke Park. Call 830/3 79-63 82; www.freedomfiesta.com.
GREAT TEXAS MOSQUITO FESTIVAL, CLUTE, July 23-25, 2009.
This zany celebration features a 26-foot-tall “Texas” mosquito—Willie Man-Chew—an inflated character who sports a cowboy hat and boots, as well as a big stinger. A natural for photo-ops, Willie sets a lighthearted tone for activities at Clute Municipal Park that include Dodge Ball Sting, a Mosquito Chase 5-K Run, Mr. and Mrs. Mosquito Legs and Mosquito-Calling contests. However, the barbecue and fajita cook-offs and horseshoe and washer-pitching tournaments take center stage. Other fun includes a carnival, a petting zoo, and live entertainment. Call 979/265-8392 or 800/371-2971; www.mosquitofestival.com.
XIT RODEO & REUNION, DALHART, Aug. 6-8, 2009.
Some 15,000 to 20,000 people turn out each year for the XIT Rodeo & Reunion, a Texas-size celebration that boasts three “free feeds,” including the “World’s Largest Free Barbecue.” Besides a topflight rodeo, events include a themed parade (different each year) with more than 75 entries, a rodeo queen’s contest and coronation, a fiddlers’ contest, an antique tractor show and pull, a kids’ clown contest, open house at the XIT Museum, and dances featuring well-known entertainers. Call 806/244-5646; www.xit-rodeo.com.