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PRO: Smaller festivals preserve tradition, values

By Sonny Long
Oct. 10, 2010 at 5:10 a.m.

Children from the crowd point out bank robbers to Sheriff Surefoot during a South Texas Gunfighter's show at the Yorktown Western Days Ziegfest. The San Antonio based group puts on shows at events, festivals and ranch parties all around Texas.

The questionIn February, a large crowd gathered at the meeting of the Yorktown Western Days Association. Many were there to express concern about how large the more than 50-year-old event had grown especially, several speakers submitted, with its designation as a Ziegfest and transformation into a Texas music event and move away from the small-town festival it had been in decades past.

The meeting sparked debate, not only in Yorktown, but across the Crossroads. Should small town festivals remain small?

Shiner knows better than most communities about festivals getting too big.

The one-day Bocktoberfest concert was originally held at Spoetzl Brewery, but it was moved to Green-Dickson Park in a festival area developed by the brewery in conjunction with the city of Shiner and the chamber of commerce.

The logistics and liabilities that came with it became too much for the brewery to sustain. It was held annually from 1994 to 2006.

Shiner still has a festival, every July, Half Moon Holidays, and keeping it small is just fine with folks there.

"If small means showcasing local talent, resources, culture and heritage, then town festivals should remain small," said Marilyn Parker, president of the Shiner Chamber of Commerce. "Events celebrating the uniqueness of a town such as the annual Shiner Half Moon Holidays, draw people from all over the area to enjoy the family-oriented activities that are offered."

Parker said festivals like Shiner's not only bring together members of a community, but also draw neighboring towns together.

"The festival gives communities opportunities to work together, along with the chamber of commerce, with assistance from businesses, volunteers and various organizations," she said. "And, there is nothing better than a small-town parade featuring local entries, as well as those from surrounding towns and counties, to thrill the crowd."

In nearby Yoakum, where the area's oldest festival, the 83-year-old Tom Tom Festival, is celebrated each June, small is also good.

"The festival will draw a few thousand visitors for that weekend," said Bill Lopez, Yoakum Chamber of Commerce president. "Tom Tom is a time when many class reunions are held to bring back out-of-town classmates for fellowship and to enjoy the festival."

"The Tom Tom Festival attributes its success to the relaxed, friendly, small-town quality of the festival," added Lopez. "Although the festival has additions and changes each year, we would never want the festival to get so big that we would lose the small-town aspect."

In Gonzales where the annual "Come And Take It" festival has its roots in a historical event, the first shot fired in the Texas Revolution, some growth is inevitable as the town grows, but staying small is also important.

"Small-town festivals should grow as the town or community grows. To do otherwise is to lose the small-town feeling that is so vital to our country communities," said Bradley Avant of the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce. "We never want to get so big that we lose touch with our visitors. Volunteers are our life blood and that's what gives our communities the personal touch, even at our festivals."

Cory Thamm, a director in the Cuero Turkeyfest Association, is realistic about the issue of festival size.

The Turkeyfest has seen some growth in recent years and moved many of its activities from downtown to the city park in 1987 at the request of business owners on Main Street, but also maintains its small town feel with the annual Great Gobbler Gallop turkey race and parade through the downtown streets.

"Modern town festivals typically have three goals - to promote the town or city, honor a tradition/celebration, and fund-raising," said Thamm, the coach on the 2010 Ruby Begonia race team. "For some festivals and communities, having a festival large enough to fund the next year's festival is just right."

Rita Rosas, a 1992 graduate of Yorktown High School who now lives and works in Austin, has been outspoken against the growth of Western Days since it became designated a Ziegfest music festival with large corporate sponsors.

At the February meeting of the Western Days Association, Rosas presented the board of directors with a petition signed by those who want the festival to return to its smaller roots.

"Small-town festivals should remain in keeping with the size of the town so as to not overwhelm the residents or the limited resources available," Rosas said. "What is the point of cramming 50,000 people into a town with a population of 2,400 when all they do is tear the place apart?"

"Sure, a few businesses benefit, the gas stations and convenience stores (fuel and beer sales), but other businesses are forced to close up shop, and they come home to trash everywhere. Festival managers need to hear the concerns of the community and take action to preserve the small town values."

"Living in Austin, I have access to some of the best festivals in the state. In fact, I could ride my bike to the Austin City Limits festival next week, but I won't do it. I don't care for that size crowd or to spend $5 for a bottle of water or $8 for a beer."

"But I will drive two hours back to my hometown for Western Days later this month where I hope the crowd is not so big that I can actually visit with my friends and family."

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