Jeff Smith is the general manager of KRUN radio station and sits on the chamber of commerce as they plan this year’s Ethnic Festival. Smith, along with the rest of the chamber, city manager Tommy Turney and others is a driving force pushing the 44th annual festival to be bigger and better than ever before. The anticipation is building as the excitement about the festival grows more and more every day. Smith says that the excitement is justified, “I think the most exciting aspect of the Festival this year is the fact that it is lining up to be the biggest festival we've had in the last 20yrs and its not just because of all the events we've added and brought back but the general feeling of positivity and enthusiasm radiating throughout the community. The positive feedback has been tremendous, the fire of the Ethnic Festival and Ballinger Pride has been re-lit, we are just excited to sit back and watch it turn into a full on blaze once the festival kicks off.”
The event had perfect weather as it brought in around 2,000 people last year after a lackluster attendance in 2017 due to bad weather.
This year’s event will mix the old with the new as they bring back popular vendors, new vendors, new events and mix in a No Man Land’s Chili Cook-off. Smith says it’s the best of both worlds, “It is not so much what is different as what is being brought back or re-focused on. Like mentioned before its not just events that are different, it is the general enthusiasm, excitement and passion of the people involved. Now speaking directly towards what's different from the last couple of years, this year we had the idea to approach organizations, ask for their help see if they perhaps wanted a run a fundraiser event during the Festival. The response was an overwhelming yes from most local businesses and organizations. I think you will see more local business operating booths including food, services, kids activities, etc. We've re-introduced a 3-on-3 basketball tournament which used to be a mainstay event. The event will be sponsored by the Ballinger Youth Sports Association (BYSA) with all proceeds going to help that organization keep our kiddos active and prepare them for sports activities in junior high and high school. We've also brought back and slightly revamped the car show. This year the car show is being put on by a local car club. The club with a long reach in the car club community throughout west Texas. We expect it to be much bigger than last year. The best part is the show is free to enter and open to all comers and cars of all conditions. We didn’t stop there. We also have added three new events that just have people buzzing with excitement. The Rowena Lions Club stepped up to sponsor a washer pitching tournament. I mean, what would a festival being held in a small West Texas town be without this staple of BBQ's and backyard gatherings? Its priced right to enter and it pays out in cash, plus it allows all of us "past our prime" adults to shine in a competitive setting. That being said it is open to all ages.”
But, this is Texas and barbeque and chili rein supreme. The festival wouldn’t be complete without a smattering of the beloved culinary competition involved. As Smith pointed out, “Speaking of BBQ's we tend to have a lot of good cooks here in Ballinger so Stan Maresch and the Ballinger PD jumped in and decided to shake things up by sponsoring the No Man's Land Chili Cook Off. A couple of things besides being chili make this different than any other cook offs in the area. With this one they've added some very cool divisions including a First Responders and Kids Division. Finally it was decided by a couple of local businesses that the Ethnic Festival and Ballinger in general are in desperate need of live music, so they got together with the Chamber they will be hosting a concert at Pioneer Plaza. The idea is to hold it as kind of a closing to the festival, a general celebration of the day’s events. It will be free and open to all ages and if you haven't seen Pioneer Plaza lit up at night you are missing out. It will make for a beautiful evening to sit out with friends, do a little dancing and enjoy live music in your hometown.”
The new fountain at the plaza is due to be completed before the festival date. Mrs. Dorothy Dankworth donated $5,000 to the project and the city matched those funds. A video of the fountain project was released at a recent city council meeting.
Smith says it is a true community effort being put forth the ensure the festival’s success, with numerous community members and businesses stepping u, “There have been so many organizations and businesses stepping up and knocking on our door down to get involved. The response truly has been humbling. If we needed an official number, just estimate the population of Ballinger and surrounding towns.”
One aspect in particular that Smith says the chamber of commerce and city want to showcase is Ballinger itself, “There is a lot work going into this, a lot of very hard work. This year is gearing up to be something fantastic. Ballinger and all that this town represents to so many people is what drives us. The desire for our hometown to be more than it has been and currently is. This town is everything to so many people and we as citizens have so much pride and we feel Ballinger deserves to be showcased with an event that will encourage people from all areas to come see what is going on in this little West Texas town. Maybe they come to the festival, love what they see and decide to either retire here or bring their business here or just move here to get away from a bigger city. The Ethnic Festival is much more than a name or event, it's an opportunity to grow something we love. So that need to do right by our town to the list of what drives us.”
The festival is looking to bring in a myriad of vendors to enhance the uniqueness; “We want every type of vendor imaginable from a blacksmith to a rug maker and more. Nothing is off limits as long as it benefits the City of Ballinger. We are trying to secure a blacksmith. We'd love to have a glassblower but that is a tough act to find. Honestly though all vendors are welcome. We haven't pigeon holed ourselves by limiting who we want to come out. If there is someone who has a great idea or wants to be a vendor call the Chamber and make it happen. We are up against it though and would have to move quickly.”
Space is available in several areas throughout the festival, “We have all of Strong avenue, 7th street, Railroad, the Courthouse lawn and behind City Hall if we need it. No one will be turned away due to space restrictions. Vendors and others can reach out to any Chamber member, however the primary contacts should be Amy and Tammie at the Ballinger Area Chamber of Commerce 325-365-2333. The cost is $50 for a 10x10 booth space or $55 if you want power. If you are doing a kids activity the space is free and the activity cannot charge more than a dollar. The cost to attend the festival is free, prices on individual events, food vendors and activities will vary.
Festival events will be updated in the newspaper leading up to the event. One of the current plans, approved by city council, includes blocking off 7th street during the festival. With a little over a month until the festival, there is adequate time for new vendors, organizations and other groups to get involved.