The King William Fair: Mike Casey Shows Us The Ropes

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We’re sitting in the cool of a classic sleeping porch on a balmy April afternoon in the King William Historic District. It is 2014, but it could easily be 1914. Page Graham and I are having a Lone Star and chatting with Mike Casey about the upcoming King William Fair. Casey’s community involvement dates back to the early 1970s and he has served as Fair president, as well as putting in time on the King William Association board of directors over the years. His is a distinct point of view.

Over the years, Mike Casey has been essentially woven into the fabric of King William. Living, working, acquiring properties, finding himself landlord to the creative community. His beneficent practices are widely appreciated, seeing that affordable housing allows artists of all stripes to continue to do what they do best. Casa Chuck, a guest house dedicated to the memory of artist Chuck Ramirez, provides a comfortable nest for visiting artists working on projects at Artpace and other residency programs in the city. His passion among passions at this point in time is Sala Diaz. That he is an earnest lover of art, one could never doubt.

Page, ever the skeptic, remembers when he first lived in King William back in 1984, a young boy-man, fresh from northern Ontario, working as an intern at KWEX-TV, Channel 41. The fair was free back in those days, a much looser shindig than it is today. Page asks Mike, “Are the changes over the years a good thing?”

“Well, I moved here in 1972 and rented this place for $95,” Mike gently unfolds his tale. “Am I saying do I still wish I paid that? No! I am happy with the way the community developed, and the King William Fair has grown with it.

This faded beauty is home to a new generation. Photo by Page Graham.

This faded beauty is home to a new generation. Photo by Page Graham.

“The truth is that part of the reason we finally started charging for admission (back in 2005) was the complaint of ‘too many people.’  It is a safety issue. Yes, it is nice to generate the income for our programs, but we had to control the crowds. Look, it’s a festival and I don’t complain. It is part of the reality of our success.”

We have been schooled by perhaps the most visible advocate for the King William neighborhood, the state’s first — and oldest — residential historic neighborhood. In his simple, logical, and gentle way he has stated in no uncertain terms that this is a place deserving of community support — and it is a community that gives back.

A vintage fair poster by Danny Geisler is part of Mike Casey's memorabilia collection. Photo by Page Graham.

A vintage fair poster by Danny Geisler is part of Mike Casey’s memorabilia collection. Photo by Page Graham.

In 2013 the King William Association made more than $80,000 in grants benefiting education, the arts, and preservation. 2014 recipients of support will include Bonham Academy, Page Middle School, Brackenridge High School, The Classic Theatre of San Antonio, Say Sí, Jump Start Performance Co., Literacy San Antonio, and neighborhood honey-do projects such as tree planting, park and sidewalk improvement, and graffiti abatement.

In the early days of the festival, Casey relates how all of the food concessions were put together and run by the residents. “A good friend of mine — I thought — was the food booth chairman, and I was chair of the festival. I suggested that since we had run out of food early with the three booths that we had, that we should add another booth. She said that was fine and suggested that I should do it myself.” Mike had a chalupa booth that year…

Fast forward to 2014 where there will be more of everything:

  • 50,000 expected to attend

  • More than 50 food concessions

  • Nearly 200 exhibitors featuring a broad range of art, fine craft, and other merchandise

  • More than 35 performing groups with a broad range of music, dance, magic, and various shenanigans on four stages with street performers, as well.

If you want to see the parade, you will have to kick it in gear on this fine Saturday morning and head on down to King William. The festivities kick off promptly at 9 a.m. for what is perhaps the most eccentric Fiesta parade. There will be pooches in all their glorious Fiesta finery. There will be lots of super great kids representing Bonham, Page, and Brackenridge. There’s rumor of 22 cross-dressing Taylor Swift wannabes. Tickets go on sale at the perimeter ticket booths at 8 a.m. Adults are $10 and kids under 15 get in for free. And speaking of kiddos, there is the Kids’ Kingdom with lots of interactive art play and even has its own stage.  This is a one day-only opportunity with the gates closing promptly at 6 p.m.

Mike offers sage reflection and some great advice for enjoying this, or any other parade or festival during Fiesta season. “We are shackled by nostalgia. There is a purpose to remembering, but we don’t need to be great grandpa here. Just realize what you are looking at. We say, ‘We’re gonna throw a parade.’ Whether you are enjoying the fair from a private party or you are down in the middle of it, look at where you are. There is opportunity for everyone to enjoy.”

Mike Casey holds the "disclaimer" banner that reflects the unusual character of the King William Fair parade. Photo courtesy Belinda Molina.

Courtesy / Belinda Molina

Mike Casey holds the “disclaimer” banner that reflects the unusual character of the King William Fair parade. Photo courtesy Belinda Molina.

Casey allows as how he doesn’t stay at any one place for too long. Private parties are a tradition of the Fair, and if you have an invitation to one or several, they are a great platform from which to enjoy the ride. “There are a number of parties and I enjoy stopping for a drink, but I want to be out on the street. I’ll stop in to visit and say my hellos, but the fair is a wonderful background.” Mike reminds us to stop and smell the margaritas. It is all about the experience — quite Zen, actually, and an embrace of life to consider.

Another thing Mike is excited about is the wonderful music line-up. “The music is amazing. It is so good!” Mike and Page remember that the Los #3 Dinners have been performing at the fair since they were the Los #2 Dinners. They had started out at a former service station turned icehouse called Mr. Macias’s Friendly Spot, the antecedent to the present incarnation run by King and Queen Anchovy, Steve and Jody Newman. It is a great gathering of San Antonio favorites running like clockwork from 10:30 a.m. until 5:45 p.m. Check out the schedule here.

So, come on out to the best block party in town. There are full details on the King William Fair website. As always, parking will be a challenge, so if you live in the city, hop on your bike and ride on over. And I certainly hope that you have the good fortune to recognize good advice when you hear it. I’ll leave the simple and eloquent last word to Mike:

“I think back on ‘the good old days,’ and I also think about last year and how much fun I had.”

*Featured/top image: Mike Casey in his King William home. Photo by Page Graham.

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