By Claire Ronner
Another year arrives, and we welcome 2013 with revitalized resolutions, rekindled friendships, and, of course, the promise
of unparalleled adventures. Winter’s
chill slowly melts into warm, sunny days perfect for biking Big Bend trails and jamming to steel-drum music. And anytime is right to tuck into a colossal chicken-fried steak. So don’t hesitate—another round of home-grown, off-the-wall
Old-Fashioned Sweet Tooth Sugarcane Festival
syrup is an agricultural pastime in East Texas, and visitors to the Old-Fashioned Sweet Tooth Sugarcane Festival get front-row seats to the process. Several years ago, staff at
the Durst-Taylor Historic House and Gardens in Nacogdoches planted a small plot of sugarcane on the grounds to reflect a mid-1800s landscape. When harvest-time arrived, they were unsure of what to do
with the crop, at least initially.
“One day a man pulled up, said he had an 1800s sugarcane mill, and asked if we wanted to use it,” says Brian Bray, who helped start the festival. “I just sat there with my mouth open and said, ‘Well, yeah!’”
Volunteers feed the sugarcane through a mill that’s similar to a clothes wringer. The mill squeezes the cane, drips the resulting juice into a trough, and then it’s cooked over a fire to boil off the water. Once the syrup is ready, it sweetens pancakes flipped by the local Kiwanis Club.
In addition to the sugarcane syrup, the Nacogdoches Historic Sites group hosts demonstrations of meat-smoking and blacksmithing. Costumed guides provide tours of the historic Durst-Taylor house, and kids can
create their own toys to take home.
The sugarcane pressing starts at
8 a.m. and lasts about an hour; the event continues until noon. Call 936/
Chinese, Bangladeshi, Indian, Korean, Cambodian, Laotian, Pakistani, and Vietnamese are just
a sampling of the cultures represent-ed at the Institute of Texan Cultures’ annual Asian Festival, now in its
The festival celebrates San Antonio’s diverse Asian and Pacific Islander communities and highlights the rich traditions of each culture on two
stages throughout the day. In the
past, participants have led cooking demonstrations, martial-arts rou
tines, and kamishibai (puppet storytelling), and presented myriad dance performances, craft presentations, lectures, and costume displays from India, the Koreas, and Thailand. This year, visitors can learn mahjong, the art of ikebana, and the elements of acupuncture. Food vendors sell
fare from the different countries, including peanut noodles with meat, samosas, pancit with vegetables, and green papaya salad.
“When you see graceful dancers—like those from the Arathi School of Indian Dance or the Jones Korean Dance Group—on stage, and there are a thousand people watching in absolute silence, you just get a sense of wonderment,” shares Jo Ann Andera, an ITC festival coordinator. “People want to learn about other cultures. It’s very inspirational.” Call 210/458-2300.
Kemah Pan Jam
Groove to the festive sounds of steel-barrel drums at the 10th annual Kemah Pan Jam. The two-day event features local amateur talent as well as pan artists from the Caribbean Islands and around the world. In addition to the music-filled days, vendors offer a variety of art and clothing from the islands and mouthwatering Jamaican fare including jerk chicken, meat pies, and other tropical treats.
The Pan Jam raises awareness of steel-drum music in the United
States, and all funds from the weekend go to the music departments at three coastal colleges. “The Pan Jam really fits the tropical feel of Kemah,” says Sandra Williams, who founded the festival in 2001. “It’s fast becoming one of the top steel-drum festivals in the U.S. We are making a name for ourselves throughout the pan music world.” Call 281/538-4165.
Desert Bike Fest
Headquartered at the Lajitas Resort, the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Festival features rides for all levels around the region’s parks: Thursday in Big Bend National Park, Friday around Lajitas Resort Trail System, and Saturday in Big Bend Ranch State Park. Desert Sports, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,
and Big Bend Ranch State Park col
laborate to present the festival, and
all rides are in a non-race format
to encourage a fun atmosphere.
More experienced riders can challenge themselves with the International Mountain Bikers Association’s “Epic” loop, a 60-mile trail that winds through Big Bend Ranch State Park. The fest offers lodging at the ranch headquarters for those who prefer to break the loop into a two-day trek.
Local businesses host events for the cyclists, from pasta dinners to evening entertainment. The Austin Bike Zoo also brings its creations to the festival. The bikes have been fashioned into kinetic butterflies, bugs, and even an 80-foot rattlesnake. On Friday and Saturday, the festival hosts dedicated rides open to children of all ages. A word to the wise from Mike Long, owner of Desert Sports: The festival has limited bike rentals, so it’s best to bring your own. Call 432/371-2727.
St. Patrick’s Day Celebration
In 1938, one of Shamrock’s bandmasters, Glenn Truax, decided that the town should pay homage to its Irish name with a one-day event. While the annual St. Patrick’s Day festival has morphed over the years, Truax would no doubt be pleased with the event’s popularity.
The weekend begins with a track meet on Thursday, and a Friday-night banquet with live music. Shamrock’s Irish Rose contestants are also introduced to the public on Friday; the scholarship pageant takes place on Saturday. Participants wear traditional
Irish outfits for the parade Saturday morning, donning the familiar green skirt, white top, and black cummerbund.
The St. Patrick’s Day Cele
bration features a carnival with rides and kids’ games, an arts
and crafts show, and festival fare that includes funnel cakes, turkey legs, and corn dogs. A dance
Saturday night features music
by Cooder Graw.
And may the luck of the Irish be with those entering the Donegal beard contest. (A Donegal beard sits only on the chin and jawlines and doesn’t include any other facial hair.) Men cannot begin growing their beards until January 1 and are judged on length, thickness, and appearance during the St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. Call 806/256-2501.
Chicken-Fried Steak Festival & Crossroads Balloon Rally
In April 2011, the Texas Legislature declared Lamesa the “Legendary Home of the Chicken-Fried Steak,” and the town premiered a festival to honor its culinary claim to fame. The Balloon Rally joined the celebration last year.
This year’s CFS celebration kicks off on Friday night with a chicken-fried-steak dinner with green beans and rolls. Saturday’s festivities are held in Lamesa’s Forrest Park, which has a covered plaza for live music from local bands and musicians including Jake Kellen. Enjoy a classic car show, a team-roping competition at the rodeo grounds, pony rides, bounce castles, craft and clothing vendors, wine-tasting, and food booths offering the usual fest fare and CFS.
A Saturday highlight is the Chicken-Fried Steak Cookoff. Contestants enter and receive the same meat, but have the liberty to bring all other ingredients. The winner receives a cast-iron skillet and a $250 cash prize.
The balloon rally heats up Saturday at dark with Fire Fest, when the pilots ignite their balloon basket burners in sync with music. On Sunday morning, the balloons launch and drift over
the Cowboy Church at the rodeo grounds (weather permitting). Call 806/872-4322.
Llano’s Rock’n Riverfest at Badu Park doubles as this Hill Country town’s Fourth of July Festival. The park sits right on the Llano River; watery activities include inflatable waterslides, a duck race, and a children’s fishing event.
“It’s great just to sit down in the park and watch the kids’ excitement for the whole festival,” says festival chair Deana Kenners. “It’s an absolutely family-friendly environment.”
Around the park, a variety of food stands sell hamburgers, hot dogs, pulled-pork sandwiches, and other summertime favorites. A barbecue cookoff draws about 15 to 20 teams who compete in brisket, ribs, and chicken categories. There’s a bean cookoff and a dessert competition, too. About 60 arts and crafts vendors offer quilts, jewelry, and clothes.
Rock’n Riverfest also features a patriotic parade for kids, a pet parade, live country music, evening fireworks, and the four-wheel-drive king-of-the-hill mud race. Call 325/247-5354; or visit the City of Llano or Llano Chamber of Commerce websites.
Cameron celebrates Milam County’s title
as the “Dewberry
Capital of Texas” at
this springtime festival held in Wilson-Ledbetter Park. The day stays true to the dew with a cake
and dewberry-cobbler bakeoff. The cobbler must be homemade, but the cake competition is broken into two categories: “from scratch” and “almost homemade.” “We found
out that some people don’t make things from scratch anymore,” says chamber manager PJ Jennings, laughing. “So we call it the ‘almost homemade’ contest.”
The Dewberry Festival also hosts a classic car show, entertainment throughout the day, and activities
for children that include bounce houses, face-painting, pony rides, and a dunking booth. Kids can also participate in a youth fishing tournament—the lake is stocked the day before so everyone is guaranteed
to get a catch.
The festival attracts more than
100 vendors selling everything
from jewelry and yard art to original caricatures and homemade jams
and jellies. As for the food, visitors
can sample from hamburgers, sausage wraps, fajitas, turkey legs, and snow cones. Call 254/697-4979.
Navasota Blues Fest
Mance Lipscomb (1895-1976) left his mark on blues music across the nation and around the world, and for 18 years, the town of Navasota has honored its native son with the annual Blues Fest.
Held inside the Grimes County Expo Center, the fest attracts local, regional, and national blues acts,
including David Egan and Twenty Years
of Trouble, Lincoln Durham, and Patrick
McLaughlin, and brings in artists from as far away as Italy. The food highlights the area’s cultural influences and includes catfish and Cajun fare in addition to barbecue. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday, and the music plays until midnight each day.
The festival profits benefit a college scholarship fund for graduating seniors as well as a continuing education fund for students pursuing masters and doctoral degrees. “Mance called himself a ‘song-ster,’ and sang a lot more than just the blues,” says Jo Crawford, festival coordinator. “But he believed in the importance of education. That’s part of our goal—to not only honor Mance by giving scholarships, but to also keep blues alive and get younger people aware of it and listening to it.” Call 936/825-6600.
Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration
Granbury rolls out the red, white, and blue carpet for its Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration, which draws more than 100,000 revelers to town. The annual parade features 80 entries, from local marching bands to regional armed forces regiments and area cheerleaders to winners of the kids’ decorated bike contest.
All of the events take place around the town square, lined with vendors selling jewelry, outdoor decorations, Philly cheese-steaks, ice cream, lemonade, and corn dogs. The multi-day event includes a car show, face-painting, a kid’s area, live music, and a bicycle race. The rodeo takes place during the afternoon at the reunion grounds, which puts visitors in a prime viewing spot for the evening fireworks show over Lake Granbury.
“Last year’s celebration finished with a 30-minute laser-light show projected onto the courthouse that was choreographed to Lee Greenwood’s ‘Proud to be an American,’” says Mike Scott, president of the Granbury Chamber of Commerce. “About 10,000 people were standing and belting along, and it gave me chills. We hope to do that again.” Call 817/573-1622.
From the December 2012 issue.
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