Before the April explosion at the West Fertilizer plant, the town of West was best known for its Czech heritage and cultureâ€”both of which are celebrated annually on Labor Day weekend at Westfest.
West is still recovering from the explosion, which killed 15 people and injured 200, but the tragedy isnâ€™t deterring plans for this yearâ€™s Czech and polka festival. If anything, organizers expect the festival will grow stronger and bigger in the tragedyâ€™s aftermath.
â€œWeâ€™re curious to see what itâ€™s going to be like this year,â€ says Brian Muska, public relations director for the festival. â€œWeâ€™re expecting a pretty good crowd.â€
Photo by Ben Ranzinger; Rabenwolf Entertainment/Courtesy Westfest.
The 20-acre festival grounds are on the opposite side of town from where the explosion occurred. In the hours after the blast, the festival grounds turned into a makeshift staging area for donation drop-offs and distribution, Muska said.
The volunteer board that runs the nonprofit festival is still working on plans for how the event will recognize the townâ€™s tumultuous spring, including honoring the firefighters who died in the blast as parade marshals, Muska said.
The festivalâ€™s line-up is already set, with everything from polka band performances to a Miss Westfest contest, arts-and-crafts vendors, a kolache baking contest, and more.
Westfestâ€™s purpose has always been to raise money for local community organizations, such as fire departments and scholarships. Muska says this yearâ€™s proceeds will likely contribute to the communityâ€™s recovery efforts.
â€œThere were a lot of concerns that we wouldnâ€™t have the festival, but thatâ€™s not true,â€ Muska says. â€œIt will go on and will be stronger and bigger than ever.â€