Fiesta Newbie or Longtime Local, Your Guide to SA’s Revered Celebration

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(From left) Emma, 10, Zoie, 10, and Valerie, 10, smash cascarones on their own heads during the Fiesta Flambeau Parade.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

(From left) Emma, 10, Zoie, 10, and Valerie, 10, smash cascarones on their own heads during the Fiesta Flambeau Parade in 2017.

Can you imagine thinking that “Battle of Flowers” is just the title of local band Buttercup’s latest album? Or thinking it’s only water in those big, white plastic cups Fiesta royalty sip from all day? Did you know that "Pin Pandemonium" has nothing to do with bowling?

As a recent transplant from Milwaukee, this will be my first Fiesta and it just so happens to be during San Antonio's 300th anniversary year. For a total newbie, scanning the 11-day schedule of events is overwhelming. Learning the whos, hows – and especially – whys of Fiesta is truly a mystifying exercise.

The annual festival that literally takes over downtown for over a week, I am assured, is perhaps best summed up by a co-worker in the Rivard Report office: “It’s a thing.”

I naturally sought advice from friends and colleagues around town on the must-see and cant-miss Fiesta events: the new and the weird, the fun and the bizarre, the central and out-of-the-way doings, the revered traditions, and the irreverent new twists.

The following is a list of events that will appeal to relative newcomers to Fiesta and old-timers who’ve seen it all, but are still on the lookout for the new and exciting possibilities. Many events are ticketed, follow the links to find out prices and further information.

The New

The Mission Reach Flotilla Festival on April 21 brings the Mission Park Pavilions into the official Fiesta partner fold, with a free, “family-friendly” Saturday of floating aimed at highlighting "the newly developed mission reach ecosystem restoration,” according to event sponsor the San Antonio River Authority. Pets welcome, and for a costume contest, no less.

Tug of war and obstacle courses feature in the new San Antonio Sports Team Tough: 2018 Fiesta Challenge at Heroes Stadium on April 27, with free admission for spectators. Booster clubs sponsor high school campus teams, with proceeds benefiting the clubs.

Also new to Fiesta this year is the April 28 - 29 Festival de Animales at the San Antonio Zoo in Brackenridge Park. “Take a tour of South America,” touts the official description, which specifies that the event will highlight the Zoo’s conservation efforts in Latin America, and help guests identify which native Latin American animals live at the Zoo.

Must-See

The Texas Cavaliers lower a barge into the river on "Barge-in" Day so they can be decorated for the upcoming Texas Cavaliers Fiesta River Parade.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Workers lower a barge into the river on "Barge-in Day" so they can be decorated for the upcoming Texas Cavaliers Fiesta River Parade.

“The big ones,” according to a colleague, are the Texas Cavaliers River Parade on April 23; Night In Old San Antonio (NIOSA) in La Villita April 24-27; the classic Battle of Flowers Parade on the morning of April 27; and the neighborhood King William Fair and night-time Fiesta Flambeau Parade, both on April 28.

Billed as “the most unusual parade in America,” the April 23 Texas Cavaliers River Parade presents its “Magnificent Missions” theme with more than 45 decorated floats. King Antonio XCVI reigns over the evening’s festivities, having raised funds for children’s charities.

Texas Cavaliers wave as confetti floats down at Arneson River Theater.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Texas Cavaliers wave as confetti floats down at Arneson River Theatre.

NIOSA takes place in La Villita, April 24-27. La Villita is one of the oldest neighborhoods of San Antonio and is now a hub for arts, food and festivals. The volunteer Cascarónes Committee has been busy stuffing more than 50,000 colorful eggs with confetti for weeks, waiting to burst onto the heads of revelers.

Stop by NIOSA headquarters on the corner of Presa and Nueva streets to see the Rain Rock hanging on the porch, a tradition that dates back to the 1970s to ward off bad weather for the festival. Proceeds from NIOSA go towards the grants and programming offered by the San Antonio Conservation Society.

The April 27 Battle of Flowers Parade was the centerpiece of the first Fiesta celebration in 1891, during which society ladies pelted each other with flowers to commemorate the 1836 battle of San Jacinto. An alternate viewpoint has the parade inspired by an older, traditional Mexico City celebration unrelated to the famous battles between Texas and Mexico. Ironically, according to curator Ruben C. Cordova, “The defeat of Mexico is celebrated in San Antonio on a massive scale with Mariachi music, Mexican food and beer, and tequila-fueled Margaritas.” The vanguard for the parade will start at 9:30 a.m., two hours earlier than previous years.

The April 28 King William Fair is described as a “small, but quirky parade” past the stately homes of the small, but quirky historic neighborhood. (Keep your eyes out for a Rivard Report float.)

The same evening, the Fiesta Flambeau Parade celebrates its 70th year with “spectacular themed floats” and “illuminated entertainment,” led by the University of Texas Longhorn Band.

Curiosities

Having experienced Mardi Gras, with its plentiful Oyster Rockefeller and Fried Oyster po'boys, the Fiesta Oyster Bake at St. Mary’s University on April 20-21 holds interest. After 102 years, the oyster bake expects 60,000 patrons to consume more than 100,000 of the little sea creatures, in fried form, baked, or raw, while being feted with music and fireworks.

David Zamarripa reaches for his beverage after preparing a bucket of oysters. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

David Zamarripa reaches for his beverage after preparing a bucket of oysters.

The famous chili queens first came to my attention via artist Ana Fernandez, who made a float in their honor for last October’s Muertos Fest, and they can now be spotted in a diorama at the Witte Museum, selling their wares in the Main Plaza of many years ago. On April 22, Fiesta includes a tasty (and competitive!) Texas tradition with the Chili Queens Chili Cook-off at the equally tasty Bonham Exchange. We’re told the competition includes “the one-and-only Whoochie award going to the tackiest queen,” and that the free event is adults-only.

The Beethoven Mannerchor has a culture all its own, dating back to the Germantown neighborhood lost to HemisFair '68. The April 26 German-themed Fiesta Gartenfest will take place at the organization’s headquarters, the festive Beethoven Halle and Garden on Pereida Street.

And what Fiesta would be complete without Cornyation? King Anchovy LIII Charlie Biedenharn will preside over six pompy, campy theatrical events at the Empire Theatre over three days, April 24-26, satirizing celebrities, political figures, and current events. The Cornyation nonprofit organization has donated more than $2 million to the community, to support people living with HIV/AIDS, and for scholarships for students in the arts.

Actors performing in "The Pointless Sisters" during Cornyation get ready before the show.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Actors performing in "The Pointless Sisters" during Cornyation get ready before the show.

Slightly Off the Beaten Path

Fiesta doesn’t forget the silver set. At Piñatas in the Barrio on April 21, El Rey Feo will crown the Senior Citizen King and Queen of the Barrio. The “Barrio’s Largest Piñata” will also be unveiled, for a big bash! The event is sponsored by Action United for Entertainers and Diverse Artists, and proceeds benefit the Westside art community.

The St. Philip’s College Culture Fest and Rib Cook-Off on April 26 celebrates one of the city’s “most historically distinguished and ethnically diverse institutions of higher learning” – and BBQ – with on-campus soul and gypsy music, and celebrity judges including Amy Shaw, chief executive officer of the San Antonio Fiesta Commission.

The April 27-28 10th Street River Festival honors VFW Post 76, the “oldest post in Texas” with Tejano, oldies, blues, and country western live music.

The April 28 Lockwood Park United Way Kids Festival invites families from all over the county to a free celebration of early childhood development, with information booths and an events . stage with mascot performers.

Fiesta includes a note of solemnity by honoring military vets at the All Veterans Memorial Service in Veterans Plaza on April 29. All are welcome to the free event, including “Veterans and their spouses and survivors,” and participants are encouraged to bring a floral tribute.

One way to close Fiesta would be the 4-6 p.m. Praise Dance Celebration on April 29, at the Carver Community Cultural Center. Put on by the Alpha Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the blend of dance and song traditions “adds a touch of spiritual zest” to Fiesta. 

Advice From a Local

Amy Shaw said her favorite Fiesta activities in years predating her current role as executive director of the Fiesta San Antonio Commission both happen on Sundays: the Day in Old Mexico and Charreada, and San Antonio Symphony’s Fiesta Pops Concert.

Charros compete in the piiales event in which a running horse is roped by the hind legs and brought to a stop at the 70th anniversary of Charreada in San Antonio.

Hannah Whisenant / Rivard Report

Charros rope a horse by its hind legs during the 70th anniversary of the Asociación de Charros San Antonio.

April 20-22, the San Antonio Symphony joins in the fun with Fiesta Pops concerts at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, with musicians decked out in their own colorful regalia. The orchestra will be joined by Innovative local mariachi band Campanas de America, and the Guadalupe Dance Company, for these special performances of Mexican and Latin American dance and music.

“Before I was ever involved in Fiesta, one of my favorite things to do was to go out for a Mexican or Tex-Mex dinner and then to the Fiesta Pops concert,” Shaw said. The Symphony “does it up right,” she said, blending classical music, mariachi, and folkloric dance. “If you want to introduce an older child to the symphony, this is the concert to attend,” she advises.

Charerría is “the national sport of Mexico,” according to the Asociacion de Charros, a competitive event involving horsemanship and animal husbandry. “Please expect 3 hours of rodeo time,” advises the website, each day of the April 22 and April 29 afternoon A Day in Old Mexico & Charreada, harkening back to centuries of hacienda tradition. Additionally, the 2018 Rey Feo LXX will be honored on April 22, and King Antonio XCVI will be honored on April 29.

Lastly, for true insiders, greet the Fiesta King as “King Selamat,” to see what kinds of looks you get. (Read the name backwards to glean its meaning.) That name dates back to the early 19th century, long before the name changed to King Antonio, said Rivard Report contributor Rick Casey, a longtime San Antonio journalist and 1996 King Anchovy.

Even people of words like Casey have trouble describing the all-encompassing celebration of Fiesta. “There’s nothing like it,” he said.

 

3 thoughts on “Fiesta Newbie or Longtime Local, Your Guide to SA’s Revered Celebration

  1. The Fiesta Arts Fair, the King William Fair, and Cornyation are my favorite events. The day and night parades are great, but it they both are somewhat of a logistical nightmare since they involve nearly a dozen family members and friends, and I’m the one who is the designated Fiesta corraller!

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