One of the highlights of the Rockport Seafair is the cardboard-boat race. (Photo by Stan Williams)

One of the highlights of the Rockport Seafair is the cardboard-boat race. (Photo by Stan Williams)

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In Texas, fall doesn’t always mean brisk breezes and cooler temperatures. Here, the start of the season is tied more to events than the weather. The kids go back to school, the pools close, and on Friday nights, staccato drumbeats and shouts from enthusiastic fans emanate from the local football stadium. Fast on the heels of these harbingers comes another abiding autumn tradition—small-town festivals.

There, the predictability ends, however, because these Texas celebrations are as diverse as the small towns that host them. Check out a festival in your area, or choose one that interests you and plan a trip. Chances are, you’ll create a fall tradition of your own.

Cowboy Days, Plainview, Sept. 18

While this action-packed community celebration adds new items to its lineup every year, the Down Ol’ Broadway Cattle Drive & Parade remains the signature event. Real cowboys and cowgirls drive real cows—including several Longhorns—two miles through downtown Plainview, from the historic Santa Fe depot to Broadway Park, recalling the cattle drives of the late-1800s.

The Old West theme continues during the actual festival with a Cowboy King and Queen Contest, cow-patty bingo,performances by a trick roper, stagecoach rides, mechanical bull/horse rides, a stick-horse race, chuck-wagon meals (an authentic cowboy breakfast, plus a lunch featuring brisket, cobbler, and homemade ice cream), a ranch rodeo and dance, and even cowboy church. Other events include the Hale on Wheels Bike Ride (four Hale County routes from 21 to 62 miles long), a classic-car show, several giant, inflatable, children’s activity pads, a rock-climbing wall, two-step demonstrations, and live country-western music. Call 806/296-1320; www.myplainview.com (click on “Cowboy Days”).

Texas Rice Festival, Winnie, Sept. 29-Oct. 3

Started more than 40 years ago to celebrate the area’s rice harvest, this festival has evolved into a weeklong event that delights locals and tourists alike. The entertainment this year features live music by Kevin Fowler, Aaron Watson, and Wayne Toups & ZyDeCajun, street dances, parades, pageants, carnival rides, children’s games and activities, an antique-car show, a livestock show, and a Longhorn show. The event resembles a county fair, thanks to a rice-cooking contest and competitions in art, photography, welding, and ice cream-eating. And speaking of eating, the Rice Festival is known for its outstanding Cajun specialties— rice balls, crab balls, boudain, gumbo, etouffee, and pistolettes—as well as funnel cakes and other standard carnival fare.

“Pre-festival events” include an open horse show on September 18 and a barbecue cook-off on September 24-25. The latter features a dance, washer-and horseshoe-pitching tournaments, carnival rides, fireworks, and gospel singing. Call 409/ 296-4404; www.texasricefestival.org.

Ripfest, Eastland, Oct. 2

Eastland’s most famous resident, a tenacious horned lizard by the name of Old Rip, provides the inspiration for this annual celebration. According to legend, a young Rip was placed in the cornerstone of the former Eastland County Courthouse in 1897 and was found alive 31 years later when the cornerstone was removed prior to the courthouse’s demolition. As word spread, the phenomenon brought a measure of fame not only to Old Rip, but also to Eastland. Old Rip now lies in state inside a diminutive, velvet-lined coffin in the current courthouse; his remains can be viewed anytime through a window that flanks Main Street.

Whether Old Rip really slept for three decades or not, there’s nothing sleepy about Ripfest. It kicks off with a parade and includes a pageant, a classic-car show, a dog show, a SK race, a fish fry, live music, arts and crafts, children’s games and activities, bull riding, and festival treats from turkey legs to corn dogs. Be sure to pay your respects to Old Rip before you leave. Call 254/629-2332 or 877/2-OLD-RIP; www.eastlandchamber.com.

Floresville Peanut Festival, Floresville, Oct. 5 and Oct. 7-9

One of the oldest festivals in Texas, the Floresville Peanut Festival dates to 1938, when residents began celebrating the harvest of the local cash crop. Today, it honors the area’s peanut heritage (look for the “Big Peanut” sculpture on the courthouse lawn) and includes a full slate of activities. The event begins on Tuesday with Goober Games (games and activities for children). On Thursday, the carnival opens, and Queen Tunaep (peanut spelled backward), King Reboog (more trick spelling), and their court are crowned in an elaborate coronation that has a different theme each year. Friday and Saturday activities include two parades, a peanut brittle contest, a washer-pitching tournament, a classic-car-club tour, arts and crafts, and special tours of the Wilson County Historical Museum. Besides the usual festival fare, crowds line up for gorditas, shrimp kebabs, fresh-roasted corn, and aguas frescas. Visitors can also buy roasted peanuts, peanut butter, and other peanut products.

A street dance on Friday night features two local bands, and a second one on Saturday night features country musician Kyle Park and country-rock band Jason Boland & the Stragglers. Several other bands provide entertainment Saturday afternoon. Call 830/391-4089; www.floresvillepeanutfestival.org.

Cajun Catfish Festival, Conroe, Oct. 8-10

Catfish is only one of the delicious foods you’ll find at this free-wheeling celebration. How about shrimp, seafood gumbo, frogs’ legs, crawfish pie, boudain, red beans and rice, or gator-on-a-stick? A Go Texan display also offers a “tasting tour” of Lone Star wines and food products.

While the noshing here is outstanding, other aspects of the event will also vie for your attention. There’s actually a Cajun Catfishing Contest beforehand with prizes awarded at the festival for the top three largest catfish. A kids’ area includes carnival rides, interactive games, pony rides, and a petting zoo. Five stages present three days of nonstop entertainment: headliners Cowboy Mouth, Reckless Kelly, and Wayne Toups; an Elvis impersonator; dance groups; and local bands, including some impressive young musicians. Call 800/324-2604; www.conroecajuncatfishfestival.com.

Rockport Seafair, Rockport, Oct. 8-10

Serious beach lovers know that fall is one of the best times to visit the coast, and in 1974, Rockport residents began hosting the Rockport Seafair each Oct.. Instead of falling leaves and pumpkins, the theme is “Celebrate the Sea.”

The opening ceremonies feature a flyby and a salute to the military, as well as a parade. Other highlights include cooking demonstrations from local chefs, a boat show, arts and crafts, a gumbo cook-off, a baked-desserts contest, crab races, and a children’s activity tent. There’s a special category for water entertainment, which includes a cardboard-boat race, kayaking, kayak-obstacle-course racing, a walk through Texas wetlands, Texas A&M Wetland Explorer boat rides, and kite boarding. The entertainment features more than 10 bands, Polynesian dancers, kinetic-movement dancers, and a talent show. Diners feast on fresh seafood from fried jumbo shrimp to fish tacos. After enjoying the balmywinds, varied entertainment, and great food, you may decide that spending three days on the coast is a perfect way to initiate the season. Call 361/729-6445; www.rockportseafair.com.

Delta County Chiggerfest, Cooper, Oct. 16

Contrary to what you might think, Chiggerfest doesn’t celebrate chiggers, but rather the end of chigger season in East Texas. One of the signature events is a 5K Run/Walk, which encourages participants to “run the chiggers out of Delta County.” Other highlights include a pancake breakfast, a Lil’ Miss and Lil’ Mister Chigger pageant, a cake walk, an arts-and-crafts competition, sidewalk-chalk art, a shoebox-float contest, a health fair, a bicycle rally, a pet parade (costumes encouraged), a raffle, and a kids’ zone with multiple activities. Food vendors offer turkey legs, sausage-on-a-stick, and other festival fare. The entertainment includes rock-and-roll oldies group The Blandelles, an Elvis impersonator, dance groups, live music, and a street dance. With new events added each year (cheer competitions, an antique-car-and-tractor show, and more kids’ activities new in 2010), Chiggerfest threatens to run those annoying little critters out of the county for good. Call 903/395-4314; www.deltacounty.org.

Hogeye Festival, Elgin, Oct. 23

To understand the Hogeye Festival, it helps to know that Elgin bills itself as the Sausage Capital of Texas, a nod to its best-known product—Elgin Sausage. Southside Market & Barbecue has been making the tantalizing links since 1882, and Meyer’s Sausage Company has been producing several flavors of sausage since 1949. So it’s no surprise that residents go hog-wild for this family-friendly festival. Set on Main Street in Elgin’s National Register historic district, the event kicks off with the Elgin Sowpremes, a local singing group, riding in on Harleys.

The day is filled with more pig puns, of course, as well as plenty of community spirit and fun. The lineup includes the Road Hog Car Show, a BBQ Pork CookOff, the In a Pig’s Eye Dart Contest, the crowning of King Hog or Queen Sowpreme, the Hogalicious Dessert Contest, and the Pearls Before Swine Art Show, as well as live music on two stages, a children’s pet parade, cow-patty bingo, a brick-toss, arts and crafts, a carnival, and other “hamtastic” events. Feasting is also part of the program, with vendors offering some of the best sausage-on-a-stick you’ll ever eat, soul food (including collard greens and cornbread), brisket tacos, and egg rolls. Call 512/281-5724; www.elgintx.com.

George West Storyfest, George West, Nov. 6

For more than two decades, some of the best storytellers in the nation have gathered in George West annually to share their gift with appreciative audiences. The festival’s slogan, “Good Times, Great Stories,” reflects the atmosphere well. Two of the signature events are the Texas Liar’s Contest and Ghost Stories (the latter takes place after dark). This year’s program takes place on four stages and features Oklahoma Choctaw Tim Tingle, Irish-American Yvonne Healey, motivational speaker James Ford, and a variety of other storytellers. Cowboy poets Dennis Gaines and John Campbell will also perform, as will cloggers, Tejano bands, gospel singers, and other musicians.

Not all the action takes place on stage. There’s a community breakfast, a classic-car show, a Little Red Wagon Parade, and a living-history presentation on 19th-Century Texas trail drives, particularly those led by town founder George W. West. Children’s activities include a petting zoo, pony rides, a moonwalk and other giant, inflatable activity pads, face-painting, and a wetlands exhibit. New this year: a 5K run/walk. Food vendors sell barbecue-on-a-bun, fajitas, burgers, funnel cakes, and other festival food, and a street dance closes out this diverse celebration. Call 361/449-2481; www.georgeweststoryfest.org.

Artwalk 2010, Alpine, Nov. 19-20

Alpine’s gallery scene sparkles more than usual during the town’s annual Artwalk: Not only do local galleries offer paintings, photography, and sculpture, but Alpine businesses also get into the act, providing space for additional works. The entire downtown area becomes a carnival for art lovers. An open-air art and food market also contributes to the vibe, adding the tempting aromas of funnel cakes, fajitas, and turkey legs. An Art Attack area provides space for kids to do sidewalk-chalk art, see art demonstrations, and make a simple craft. And this year, an Art Car parade joins the lineup.

Kiowa Plaza (at Al pine’s only four-way stop) offers free entertainment both evenings; Ray Wylie Hubbard headlines on Saturday. The program also includes classic belly dancers, Tahitian dancers, local musicians, and several Texas singer-songwriters. With all the eye candy, food, and great music on hand, the Artwalk attracts more aficionados each year. Call 432/837- 3067; www.alpinegallerynight.net.

From the September 2010 issue
The September 2022 cover of Texas Highways: Visual Wonders


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