By Jonathan Kubena
SFA graduate, class of 2012
The 23rd annual Texas Blueberry Festival - presented by Brookshire Brothers - arrives June 9 as more than 19,000 people converge on downtown Nacogdoches for a day of food, frolic, music and shopping.
Michelle Smith, festival chair, feels the hundreds of volunteers are the most important aspect of the event. “Our volunteers are so valuable because they take time out of their personal lives,” said Smith. “We really appreciate the employers, the families and the volunteers for their help.”
This will be Smith’s fourth year as festival chair.
The Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce created and coordinates the event. With the guidance of nine executive officers and more than 100 volunteers, the festival is in excellent shape for 2012.
Linda King serves as volunteer coordinator for 2012. She works with all areas of the event, helping recruit and assign volunteers from the community. “We are always looking for helpful hands,” King said. “We’ll guide you to the area that fits you best!”
King organized a volunteer roundup earlier in May. “I can still place new volunteers,” she said. “Just call me at 371-3208 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Logistics chair Teresa Darby keeps more than 100 vendors happy. At least half of the vendors are from Nacogdoches, and the rest from out of town, selling food, beverages, gifts, crafts and games.
“Although there are many areas of logistics at the festival, we must keep our vendors happy, because they are essentially the face of the festival, and even Nacogdoches,” said Darby.
Darby also works on traffic flow of people throughout the festival grounds, keeping visitors safe, happy and hydrated.
Darby and her husband David own and operate Glass Castles Stained Glass Studio and Gifts downtown. She has volunteered for the Texas Blueberry Festival since 2004, making good use of her previous experience as a craft vendor at the Texas Renaissance Festival.
With the new ideas every year from the officers, volunteers and the public, the Texas Blueberry Festival has evolved into a wonderful event for the whole family.
The community and visitors enjoy the down-home feeling of the festival, with a pet parade, blueberry pie eating contests, musical entertainment, cooking demonstrations, a sweet shop, antique car show, motorcycle displays, kids’ arts and crafts and more.
Holly Musick, co-chaired of the festival from 1994 to 2001 with Steve Whitbeck and Scott Ingalls. In the beginning, basics had to be addressed first.
“I remember when we struggled every year with the question, ‘Are we going to do the blueberry festival next year?’” said Musick. “We did a lot of research and found that it takes roughly 12 years to make a festival stable, profitable and able to draw a steady crowd.”
Now the Texas Blueberry Festival is the state’s official and only sanctioned blueberry-related festival with crowds calculated at 19,000 patrons.
Preparation for the festival is extensive.
“People might not know we start planning for next year’s event immediately at the completion of this year’s festival,” Smith said. The planning committee gathers in December, about the same time Chamber staff and the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitors Bureau coordinate initial publicity statewide and beyond. By February, regular meetings take place, and in May the group convenes every week.
New for 2012 are the Little Miss Blueberry Pageant for children 13 years old and under, CASA Kids Blueberry Cupcake Contest and an art poster contest for students.
The Chamber produces the festival because the impact of the festival is significant. In 2011, large commercial producer Mill Creek Farm sold 13,000 pounds of fresh-picked Nacogdoches County blueberries, selling out by early afternoon the day of the festival.
“The festival keeps locals here, and draws in visitors from outside the community. Both groups then shop here in Nacogdoches,” Chamber President Bruce R. Partain said. “That causes a boost in expenditures at hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and other local businesses.”
According to Partain, almost 5,000 out-of-town visitors (a conservative 25 percent of total attendance) attend the event. Over-night visitors spend an estimated $108 per person the weekend of the festival. Total income generated by out-of-town visitors is estimated to be in excess of $500,000, with an economic impact of $1.5 million. “The festival also provides additional quality of life that makes Nacogdoches even more attractive for current and future residents,” Partain said.
To produce a successful major festival, the chamber leads as the host and works with local government, service clubs, chamber business members, sponsors and volunteers.
Each group is helping to build a better Nacogdoches, and having a ton of fun doing it.
Sidebar, or could continue with above story…
The Texas Blueberry Festival presented by Brookshire Brothers is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 9 in Nacogdoches. Attractions include live entertainment on four stages, Brookshire Brothers Blueberry Pie Contest, CASA Kids Cupcake Contest and Cupcake Decorating, Little Miss Blueberry Pageant, Blueberry Festival of Quilts, Running of the Blueberries 5K Run/Walk, Blueberry Pancake Breakfast, Fresh Blueberries for Sale, Blueberry Farm Pick and Peek, Bob Murphey Storytelling Contest, Goldwing Motorcycle Show, Deja Blue Classic Car Show, Cookin' Up the Blues, Cowboy Max live entertainment, Blueberry Hill Soda and Sweet Shoppe, Blue Threads Costume Contest, CBTx Art Show, Paul Kendrick Memorial 42 Tourney, Blue Washer Board Tourney, True Blue Pet Parade, Blue Pies Smiling at Me Pie Eating Contest, Blueberry Kids activities with the Kroger Kraft Corner, Big Blue Mural, Kids Get Wet Water and Bounce Park, mom and baby friendly space, Too Blue Petting Zoo and Cool Zone with a teddy bear check-up station. Admission to the festival is free of charge.
For more information, visit the festival website page at www.nacogdoches.org or contact the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce at (936) 560-5533 or at 2516 North St.