Gallery: First Impressions of NIOSA

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A croup of especially passionate Fiesta revelers convene over drinks and flowers. Photo by Corey Leamon.

A croup of especially passionate Fiesta revelers convene over drinks and flowers. Photo by Corey Leamon.


Managing Editor Iris Dimmick: Last year was my first Fiesta. I moved to San Antonio in February 2012, almost entirely ignorant of San Antonio history or culture. Fiesta, as it was described to me by friends and now-former coworkers at the restaurant where I worked, was just a week of day-drinking and night night-drinking at parties downtown that no one seemed to be able to put into context in casual conversation.

What was your first impressions of Fiesta? What information, if any, have you come across about its cultural/historical significance?


Corey Leamon

Corey Leamon

Photographer Corey Leamon: 2012 was my first Fiesta as well. I’ve never come across an explanation of Fiesta’s purpose, despite my true curiosity. I didn’t understand why so much energy and festivity was thrown into one week, instead of paced throughout the year. I felt it was difficult to get the best of Fiesta because too much happens at once while most people are stuck at work, anyway. Too many events were exclusive or costly and I had no idea where all the money was going. Fiesta is a wild event that requires you dedicate yourself to it; how you approach it is up to you, but I hope you have your bicycle ready.

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DIMMICK: My roommate and I introduced ourselves to the festivities by going to NIOSA on a Thursday night – apparently one of the busiest nights. We were warned about pick-pockets and frisky revelers by a friend. It was packed, chaotic, expensive, loud, and I couldn’t seem to avoid stepping in trash and streams of dirty water leaking from some unknown source.

I didn’t find out “NIOSA” stood for “Night in Old San Antonio,” until a few days later. We probably would have had a better time if we had gathered a large group of friends or family and did a little bit of research about what to expect.

What was your take on NIOSA last year/in general?

LEAMON: I went after dinner and had a similar experience. I looked up what NIOSA was before going, and it sounded both intriguing and quaint. We all know now it’s anything but quaint. I don’t drink when I photograph, and most of the crowd was very difficult to deal with. I was verbally harassed multiple times (for being a lady), I had beer thrown on me because I was lucky enough to get my camera out-of-the-way first, there was trash and bad smells everywhere, and it was unreasonably crowded.

A courtyard in La Villita during NIOSA – standing room only. Photo by Corey Leamon.

A courtyard in La Villita during NIOSA 2012 – standing room only. Photo by Corey Leamon.

Additionally, earlier in the day I biked home from my work and South Alamo is the only bikeable route to Southtown unless you go all the way around downtown. I was yelled at by police for bicycling through the barricade outside of NIOSA. It all left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was lucky to meet a couple of kind vendors who provided me with discounted hydration as I worked.

DIMMICK: I think what was most frustrating for us was that it was mostly just food and drinks – most likely because of our bad timing and planning, we were at a loss when it came to finding a place to sit or some form of entertainment to watch/take part in. I’m guessing it’s bit more accessible and there is more going on earlier in the night(s).

What did we miss out on? It’s more than just DJs, cover bands, fried food and margaritas, right?

LEAMON: NIOSA wasn’t all dirt. Indoors I had the opportunity to appreciate the celebration of the many cultures found in San Antonio, whether that be Mexican, German, Czech, or Native heritage. There were some good bands playing and cascarones flying. Seeing a variety of dance and food is beneficial to the city and has many things to teach us, but as we know, NIOSA is also a wild spectacle that is sometimes dangerous.

A cultural dance during the NIOSA festivities. Photo by Corey Leamon.

Just one of several cultural dances/activities during the 2012 NIOSA festivities. Photo by Corey Leamon.

DIMMICK: Most people I know that live or work downtown try to avoid Fiesta, save for select neighborhood events. We have no choice but to attend the King William parade, as the procession  goes right in front of our house. Last year’s parade was a great experience: We had just moved into our apartment on East Guenther Street, were getting to know the neighborhood and our amazing landlords (considered family now), and we spent the day eating home-cooked food and drinking mimosas before, during, and after the parade.

Most of the floats were comprised of local business and community organizations’ ridiculous costumes and boom boxes. I had an afternoon shift at the restaurant to consider, so I couldn’t partake in too many mimosas – but by the time I got off, the entire neighborhood seemed to be throwing one big party and everyone was invited.

Do you have a smaller, neighborhood event that you attend every/most years?

LEAMON: I will be avoiding areas of Fiesta that are more trashy and less cultural, but I will be at work most of the time, anyway. The overwhelming drunken spectacle is just not my scene, but it’s made better with a group of friends. I had a wonderful time at the King William Fair and parade last year, and the Flambeau later that night. It helps that most of my friends live downtown and nearby because you can retreat from the madness when you need to and drink together.

This year I am hoping to see some things I missed last year, like the River Parade and some dancing around town, but you’ll find me back at the King William Parade and Fair. It is three blocks from where I live!

A group of especially passionate Fiesta revelers convene over drinks and flowers. Photo by Corey Leamon.

A group of especially passionate Fiesta revelers convene over drinks and flowers. Photo by Corey Leamon.


For more of Corey Leamon’s work check out her website: or Photos by Corey Facebook Page.


So what do you think?

We hope to start a dialogue about how locals and visitors can get the most out of Fiesta. We encourage readers to provide advice for how new-comers can approach the festivities in the coming weeks as it’s an excellent opportunity to explore San Antoni0 culture, history and downtown life.  We’ll be publishing a story this week that explores these concepts.  Your input is valuable!


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Gallery: Rodeo Valentine from Corey Leamon

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Gallery: Bike It! Mural Tour by Tom Trevino


5 thoughts on “Gallery: First Impressions of NIOSA

  1. When it comes time to step into the frenzy of Fiesta activities for the first time, you definitely need a hometown guide. As natives, it’s in our blood and the crowds just add to the appeal of celebrating our diversity with 100,000 or so of our dear friends and neighbors each night. As a past Chairman of A Night In Old San Antonio (NIOSA), I always mention to newbies that volunteering at an event is the best way to become acquainted with the unique celebrations, assist the various host organizations and observe from behind a booth (if the swell of party-goers is a bit overwhelming.) You become a part of the activities and better understand how organizations host each ‘party with a purpose’ during Fiesta. NIOSA, for example is a means for the San Antonio Conservation Society to provide funding for historic preservation. Yes, people enjoy Fiesta events with music, food and drink, sometimes with a little more of each than wise, but the event organizers do their best to curtail excessive alcohol consumption and provide hundreds peace officers to ensure safety. My best suggestion to you girls (after 40+ years of participating in NIOSA) is: wear comfy shoes, expect a little of bumped beverages on your clothes, find a vantage point to sit or stand and people-watch, scour the grounds for new foods to try and give the bands an opportunity to make your visit memorable for all the right reasons.

    • Thank you, Deborah!

      Looks like the folks that get up above the La Villita Cafe (see Corey’s photos) found a great people-watching perch.

      I’m glad you mentioned the “party with a purpose” aspect of it. I think that gets lost during a lot of Fiesta events … it’s good to know that those (often annoying) tickets you have to use instead of cash are being put to good use!

    • Thanks, Deborah! What you said echoes the sentiments of a couple I know that volunteers at NIOSA each year. I’ve also taken into consideration that my experience as a person attending alone is very different than someone in a group. I imagine I was more unlikely to be heckled and harassed, for instance, if I was in a group and without a “fancy camera”. I always expect a “little bit” of beverage on me, but not a full-on pour aimed at my camera by drunks; I would recommend to myself and others to go earlier in the evening to avoid the sloppy side of people.

      While some couldn’t care less about the purpose of the funds, I for one find it a great aspect and incentive. I wonder if there’s a way to more successfully communicate that purpose? Being able to see the behind-the-scenes of tickets was fascinating, as well!

  2. If you think NIOSA is smelly, rank, and dank during the event, I invite you to experience it “the day after the night before”. Actually come down to my shop a week after the event. The funk and foul gets worse as the garbage rots in La Villita’s flower beds, the urine/feces decomposes and the beer ferments in the cracks of the pavers. No, they don’t clean it up right away. Their strategy is to leave it laying around until we, the shop owners, get so exasperated that we clean it up ourselves. We play this game every year. La Villita, our quaint charming historic arts village that’s the original village of San Antonio, for those of you who are new to our town, that is the site of NIOSA, in four days is turned into a toxic waste dump. Try operating a business under those conditions. It’s a public health hazard.
    Oh, and the point of the whole Fiesta thing is to celebrate beating the hell out of Mexican General Santana at the Battle of San Jacinto (over near Houston). He was the dude who killed all those Texians at the Battle of the Alamo a few months earlier. So every year since we’ve taken sweet revenge by drinking ourselves silly for 10 days.

    • I was always curious of the La Villita shopkeeper’s take on NIOSA. It smells bad enough just biking down the parade streets the week after, so I can’t imagine being stuck in an enclosed space. It reminds me of trying to go read at Hemisfair after Luminaria and not being able to find a spot of grass without shards of those plastic cups from the fence art. I wonder how we can work with the city in fixing these issues more promptly? Thanks for your input, and the tip on Fiesta’s connection to Texas history!

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