It takes a place as big as Texas to host the kind of year-round fun and excitement offered by the more than 100 fairs and festivals we have every year. Celebrating everything from livestock to flip flops—even mosquitoes—there is something for everyone in every season, and that’s just at the state level.
As a historically agrarian state, community fairs have always been part of Texas culture. Few communities across the state manage to get through a full year without a celebration of some kind to bring people together to show off the best of their year-long efforts. In many rural communities, fairs were often the only way to get fellow farmers and breeders to take a break from working their land, meet up, and catch up on news and innovations in their respective livelihoods.
Over the years, adding more food and entertainment to the mix offered motivation for even more people to visit, trade, and carry on the traditions of the area and its people.
THE BIG ONE
Our best-known event, the State Fair of Texas—also lovingly known as the celebration of all things fried—has roots as far back as 1886, when it began as a private enterprise. Back then, as now, it celebrates all things Texan by promoting agriculture, education, and community involvement through quality entertainment in a family-friendly environment.
Even in those early years, the fair included extraordinary things like hot air balloon rides, horse and car racing, Presidential visits, and stunt flying exhibitions. By 1905, more than 300,000 visitors made the trip, and attendance grew to one million before World War I shuttered it to make room for an army encampment.
The Fair continued to grow in the 1920s and ‘30s, followed by another break for World War II, but undaunted by the pause, more than 2 million people showed up for the 1949 Fair. In the 1950s, they added an international livestock show, and monorail system.
In a typical year, the State Fair begins the last Friday of September and runs for 24 full days. As it is the longest-running fair in the nation, Fair Park has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
It’s worth noting the State Fair was not alone in history, even in the early days. The Washington County Fair in Brenham also began 1886. Communities like Kendall County with its Annual Labor Day Kendall County Fair, Stock Show, and Rodeo have been at it for over one hundred years as well. Later arrivals include the Helotes “Cornyvale”, the Laredo International Fair & Exposition, and Lubbock’s Panhandle South Plains Fair, first held in the fall of 1914.
Nancy Wiley has worked in State Fair Public Relations since 1971, and she has collected many fun facts:
- 1889: A Tyler man showcased his multipurpose invention, which simultaneously churned butter, rocked a baby’s cradle, and shooed flies away from the table.
- 1900: Former slave and prominent black educator Booker T. Washington spoke to crowds on Colored People’s Day.
- 1900: Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, featuring the famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley—along with 600 horses, a herd of buffalo, and dozens of other acts—attracted 70,000 fans.
- 1915: Female fairgoers were dismayed to discover that all the ladies’ rooms in the fairgrounds were equipped with coin-operated toilets.
- 1951-1952: Fair president R. L. Thornton purchased a giant used Santa Claus from the small town of Kerens, near Corsicana, where it had been used to lure shoppers at Christmas. Thornton then hired Dallas artist Jack Bridges to turn the white-bearded, red-suited figure into a giant cowboy; dubbed Big Tex and quickly became the ultimate icon. He was 52 feet tall, wore size 70 boots, and a 75-gallon cowboy hat.
- 1956: Big Tex acquired a pet, a 12’-tall model of a Hereford steer with a hollow interior holding displays like how milk is produced and how a calf is born.
- 1957: As the Cold War got chillier and the space race continued to heat up, the Army allowed two Nike missiles to be put on display, and the Navy okayed the release of a scale model of a surveillance satellite.
- 1965: Exceptionally rowdy celebrations after the Texas-O.U. game landed 371 people in jail.
- 1982: King Olaf V of Norway visited on Norwegian Day.
- 1986: Pig races became a standard feature of the fair, taking place in an area quickly christened Pork Chop Downs.
- 2002: Fried Twinkies were introduced.
- 2003: For a temporary change of pace, the Fair announced that instead of butter sculptures on display, it will offer pumpkin carving.
HOME TOWNS AND BIG CITIES
The common thread that links so many events across the sate is a commitment to a professional code of conduct that delivers family entertainment value that is Texas-friendly. We even have a Texas Association of Fairs & Events to manage and promote all the petting zoos, Bar-B-Q cook-offs, agriculture exhibits, carnivals, art displays, concerts, dances, and more.
While 2020 was not a good year for everything from SXSW to our own Christmas Stroll and Poppyfest, the Texas Association of Fairs & Events has created a task force and is asking Governor Greg Abbott for some guidelines that will allow everyone to open back up in 2021.
There is hope. Many smaller expos and educational events are coming up, like this month’s Grapevine Potato Expo. This annual industry event showcases innovations and offers business solutions related not just to potatoes, but soil health, disease management, and technology; things that should interest most Texans.
On a large scale, the 90th anniversary Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is scheduled to go on, pending any emergent COVID protocols, in May 2021.
Visit FairsAndFestivals.net for upcoming events.
A sampling of some of Texas’ unique fairs and festivals…
- Chili Quest & Beer Fest, Galveston
- Eagles Fest, Emory
- Denton Black Film Festival, Denton
- Kerrville Renaissance Fair, Kerrville
- San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, San Antonio
- Stars & Stripes Air Show, Laredo
- Whooping Crane Festival, Port Aransas
- Texas Storytelling Festival, Denton
- Rattlesnake Roundup, Sweetwater
- ABC’s Kite Fest
- Poteet Strawberry Festival, Poteet
- Bluebonnet Festival, Burnet
- Eeyore’s Birthday, Austin
- Poppyfest, Georgetown
- GTX Film Festival, Georgetown
- Yaga’s Wild Game BBQ Cook-off, Galveston
- Babes on the Bay Fishing Tournament, Rockport
- World Champion Bison Cookoff, Santa Ana
- Children’s Art & Literacy Festival, Abilene
- Tomato Fest, Jacksonville
- Great Texas Mosquito Festival, Clute
- Cheeseburger Festival, Friona
- AnimeFest, Dallas
- BatFest, Austin
- Flip Flop Festival, Port Lavaca
- Austin Ice Cream Festival
- Plano Balloon Festival
- Texas State Fair
- Austin City Limits Festival
- Formula 1 Grand Prix
- Tyler Rose Festival
- Texas Gospel Music Festival, Fort Worth
- Texas Book Festival, Austin
- Christmas Stroll, Georgetown
- Festival of Lights, Austin
- Dickens on the Strand, Galveston