Ethnic Festival attracts over 1,000 people
It's been a long 2 years since the last Ethnic Festival in Ballinger. The event that celebrates cultures from around the world brought in an estimated 2,500 people in 2019. Last year's event was cancelled due to COVID. This year's event made up for 2020.
The event can mean thousands of dollars for merchants in Ballinger, as well as for vendors at the Lone Star Market located a block away from the festival. The cancellation last year hit many local businesses in the pocketbook. This not only had a detrimental effect on local businesses, it also effected the City of Ballinger that lost sales tax dollars.
The festival, officially titled Texas State Festival of Ethnic Cultures Arts & Crafts, celebrated its 46th year on Saturday. True to form, the festival brought in an estimated 1,000 people. There was no shortage of vendors and food on the lawn of the Runnels County Courthouse. Many people have been chomping at the bit to get back to some semblance of normalcy, and Ethnic Fest was the ticket.
The festival was precipitated by 2 days of intermittent showers, cooling the temps into the 60s and 70s. The weather cleared up early Saturday morning as Mother Nature offered blue skies and mild temperatures in the low 80s for the festivities. The courthouse grounds and vendors were inundated with hundreds of attendees immediately after the parade concluded.
The event started with their annual parade down Hutchings Avenue at 10 a.m. Colorful floats lined up for blocks, including the big, impressive Ladder 1 fire truck of the Ballinger Fire Department. Civic groups from Ballinger Rotary to Ballinger Noon Lions Club had floats in the parade. The Ballinger Rotary Club had their Rotary Sweetheart, Emma Cullen, riding in her father's classic car as she waved to the crowds. Many other civic groups had their celebrated representatives in the parade.
Tractors, horses, classic cars, Mexican dancers and many others took part in the parade, that had 40 or so float entries. Those who lined up to watch the parade were greeted with candy thrown to the crowd by people on the floats.
Prior to the parade, there was the Everett J. "Ebb" Grindstaff "Journey for Sight" Memorial Bikefest at 8:30 a.m. Grindstaff was a former president of Lions International from 1982-1983. Grindstaff served as the Ballinger city attorney for 60 years. He promoted the Juvenile Diabetes Program in Texas from 1969-1971. The program that Grindstaff so passionately promoted still continues. The Lions State Office and Museum in Kerrville will be named in honor of Ebb.
Coupled with the festival was the Lone Star Market at the Wool and Mohair building a block from the courthouse grounds. Vendors from all over the state gathered under one roof to sell everything from home decor to sports cards. Local businessman Stan Bickel said that the market expected around 1,000 people on Saturday. On Friday, the market brought in approximately 700 customers.
Across the street and behind city hall, the Ballinger Police Department hosted the No Man's Land Chili Cook-off. This was the 2nd year for the event that is growing in popularity. It wasn't just the chili that was being judged. Ribs, chicken, brisket, poppers, margaritas, salsa, kid's hamburgers, and more were on the menu. Ballinger Police lieutenant Stan Maresch has been working to get the competition approved as a qualifier for granddaddy of chili cook-offs, the annual Terlingua Chili Cook-off.
The smell of smoked meat and chili drifted across the street and over the courthouse lawn, signaling hunger pangs as it encouraged attendees to seek out food. Fortunately, there wasn't any shortage of food available. The festival offered the best of everything, from Cajun shrimp to food trucks.
For the first time in the history of the festival, tours was offered at the 1925 Runnels County jail, located on the courthouse grounds. Runnels County clerk Julia Miller and jail administrator Kimberly Dunn formed a 501c3 non-profit, The 1925 Runnels County Jail, Inc., to restore the old jail for historical and educational purposes. The tours were free and started at the top of each hour.
The jail is also becoming a popular go-to destination for paranormal investigators, including Dan and Connie LaFave who own the Old Park Hotel across the street from the courthouse. To date, there have been 2 ghost hunts organized by the LaFaves.
In the big tent, the Ballinger High School Jazz Band, Sahawe Dancers, and others entertained guests for hours. The Sahawe Dancers are based in Uvalde, Texas. The youth dancers celebrate Native American cultures with dances performed to the rhythm of a drum. They perform in authentic Native American dress and bring a history of Native American tribes from Texas to Canada and from Seattle to New England. They are one of the big draws at Ethnic Festival.
This year Texas Parks & Wildlife had 3 game wardens on the courthouse grounds with the TPWD catfishing pond. Youth of all ages were handed fishing poles, baited and rigged by the game wardens, to try their hand at catching and landing a catfish. The parents enjoyed watching their children fish as much as the children enjoyed doing the fishing. Many of the youth hooked the first fish, ever. The pond was popular, with people lining up with their kiddos to watch them get hooked on angling.
Another new event this year was the 3-on-3 basketball tournament organized by the Ballinger Youth Sports Association. The association's director, Ken Manley, said that they had 8 teams playing in the tournament. Parents gathered around as the teams competed throughout the day. The tournament was held on Strong Avenue, immediately behind the courthouse.
No Man's Land Chili Cook-off results: Grand Champion: Beast BBQ; Reserve Grand Champion: TX Smoke; Chili: 1st – Beast BBQ: 2nd – Texas Smoke: 3rd – Dime Bag BBQ; Brisket: 1st – Beast BBQ: 2nd – Texas Smoke: 3rd – Up In Smoke: Ribs: 1st – Beast BBQ: 2nd – Texas Smoke: 3rd – Law & Water; Chicken: 1st – Beast BBQ: 2nd – Bears BBQ: 3rd – Law & Water; Beans: 1st – Beast BBQ: 2nd – Texas Smoke: 3rd – Bears BBQ.