Ballinger's 46th Ethnic Fest set for April 24

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
Two dancers from the Sahawe Indian dancers perform at Ballinger's Ethnic Festival in 2019.

Officially, it's called the 46th Annual Texas State Festival of Ethnic Cultures Arts & Crafts. Locally, it's referred to simply as "Ethnic Fest." The local tradition that brings in people from around the state kicked off in 1975. Since then, it's grown every year, with the exception of 2020, when it was cancelled due to COVID-19.

This year, Ethnic Fest will be held on Saturday, April 24. The event is kicked off with a parade through downtown Ballinger at 10 a.m.. Entry into the parade is free of charge. There will be awards for 1st and 2nd place in the following categories: floats; antique or classic vehicles; "other" decorated vehicles; walkers-bicycles-others. Line up for the parade is at 10th street and Railroad Avenue at 9 a.m.

Two dancers from the Sahawe Indian dancers perform at Ballinger's Ethnic Festival in 2019.

While there are always numerous vendors set up on the courthouse lawn, the local downtown merchants will also be open.

Entertainment is always a big draw at the festival that celebrates the cultures and history of the people who built this state. The Sahawe Dancers perform Native American dances in full outfits. The dance troupe is from Uvalde and always have the tent packed from wall-to-wall. If you don't get to the tent before the show starts, you'll probably find yourself in standing room only.

Musicians came together to perform throughout the afternoon at Ethnic Festival that was topped off by free concerts in 2019.

In addition to the Sahawe Dancers, the Self Family will also be performing. The Self Family singers are from Ovalo, Texas, just south of Tuscola. They're popular throughout west Texas, always attracting a large audience at their shows.

The Ballinger High School jazz band will perform as well during the festival. The students perform a variety of popular jazz music from several eras. Sarah Long, the co-chairperson for the Ballinger Chamber of Commerce, said that every group performing "will be on stage quite a while."

In addition to the entertainment and visitors, there will be ethnic food available from several vendors. The food celebrates the heritages and cultures that the festival is built a around.

A drive-in movie speaker and tray of food harkens back to days of yore during the Ethnic festival in 2019.

While the festival is held on the Runnels County courthouse lawn, there are also events directly around the courthouse. The Lonestar Market will be open at the old Sheep and Mohair building located at 608 Railroad avenue, one block from the courthouse. The floors are filled with vendors offering every manner of merchandise imaginable.

The old Runnels County Jail, located next to the courthouse, will have tours that begin at the top of every hour. The tours will be conducted by members of the 1925 Runnels County Jail, Inc., 501c3 non-profit that is using donations to restore the jail for historic and educational purposes. The tours have no set entry fee, but donations are appreciated.

A young dancer from the Sahawe Indian dancers perform a home blessing dance at Ethnic Festival in 2019.

One of the most popular draws at the festival is the No Man's Land Chili and Barbecue Cook-off organized by lieutenant Stan Maresch and the Ballinger Police Department. The cook-off begins on Friday and runs through Saturday. Categories for the cook-off include beans, ribs, chicken and brisket. In case you're wondering, no beans are allowed in the chili. The entry fee is $25 per category, or $110 for all. First Responders, FFA and youth can enter for $100. There are also jackpots for margaritas, poppers, Chef's Choice, salsa and kid's burgers. The fee is $15 per category. The showmanship category has free entry. The grounds open for set-up at 4 p.m. on Friday. Meat checks start at 7:30 p.m. There is a cooks/safety meeting at 8 p.m. The margaritas and poppers turn-in is a t 9 p.m. Closing out the day will be a Cook's party at 10 p.m., complete with live music. The deadline for entry is April 16, 20201. For more information on the chili cook-off, call 325-206-1183 or 325-374-6964. Entry forms should be mailed to: 106 N. 9th Street, Ballinger Texas, 76821.

The Ballinger Noon Lions Club host the The Everett J. "Ebb" Grindstaff "Journey for Sight" Memorial Bikefest. There are several categories for entry. The race begins at 8:30 a.m. on the west side of the Runnels County Courthouse square. For more information on the Bikefest, call (325) 242-5811 or visit the www.ballingernoonlions.org website.

For more information on the Ethnic Festival, call 325-365-2333 or email: BallingerAreaChamberOfCommerce@gmail.com. The deadline to reserve a booth location is April 15. The Ballinger Visitor's Center is located at 811 Hutchings Avenue.