Day Trips

San Antonio's Texas Folklife Festival

The Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio
The Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio is to festivals what the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is to museums. Throughout the year and across the state, gatherings celebrate the cultural diversity of Texas, but no other celebration brings it all together with the same inclusiveness as the event sponsored by the Institute of Texan Cultures. This year the event commemorates its 30th year, June 7-10.

Wandering the fairgrounds is like taking a trip around the world. The sights, sounds, and smells of a hundred activities going on at once makes it hard to decide which direction to go first. The food booths offer an assortment of delectable delights, while some of Texas' favorite regional bands crank out lively dance music under colorful tents. Scattered around the festival grounds are artisans demonstrating traditional craft techniques or selling their handmade wares.

A major mission of the Institute of Texan Cultures is to dispel the notion that the frontier was tamed solely by quick-drawing Anglo cowboys. Although the state may not always have been tolerant of all ethnic groups, the vast openness of the landscape has attracted legions from nearly every nationality. More than 40 ethnic and cultural groups are represented at the festival from Africans to the Wends.

One of the most popular aspects of the festival is the great variety of food booths. Visitors can sample foods from Alsace, Belgium, the Canary Islands, the Czech Republic, China, Denmark, Greece, Hawaii, Italy, Israel, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Turkey, and Wendish noodles. The folks from Wurstfest in New Braunfels alone bring more than 8,000 pounds of German sausage to the San Antonio park.

The musical lineup features world-class entertainment all weekend long. Conjunto accordion player Santiago Jimenez Jr. and his band are scheduled to play. The Gulf Coast Playboys always thrill the crowd with their brand of Cajun music. There will be plenty of zydeco, German oompah, and country & western music, mixed with a little folk music, and even a Czech-Moravian band.

More than 280 organizations representing 64 Texas counties participate in the annual event. Folk dancers demonstrate traditional twirls and jigs while storytellers weave well-worn tales that have been passed down through the generations.

The idea for the Folklife Festival began in 1968 when representatives from Texas participated in the Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. The annual national event brings ethnic and cultural groups from around the country together on the Mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The late Hondo Crouch kept the tension high with a gunny sack that he said was full of rattlesnakes.

The Texas delegation had such a good time in D.C. that they brought the idea back to the then-new Institute of Texan Cultures, an extension of the University of Texas System, which was taking over the Texas Pavilion built for HemisFair. In 1972, 2,000 participants put on a show for 10,000 visitors. This year, close to 10,000 volunteers will entertain and thrill around 100,000 guests over four days.

The festival was originally held in September, but was plagued with rain every year. In fact, the 1973 festival was caught in the middle of Hurricane Delia. In 1975, the event was moved to August to avoid the monsoons, only to be cooked in the summer heat. After an extensive market study, the festival was moved to the second weekend in June last year with resounding success and much cooler weather.

Festival hours are Thursday and Friday, June 7 and 8, 5-11pm; Saturday, June 9, noon-11pm; and Sunday, June 10, noon-9pm. Ticket prices range from $8 for 13 years and older and $2 for children; children under 6 are always free. Sunday is Kids' Day with all children 12 and under admitted free when accompanied by an adult. For more information, call 210/458-2300 or visit the Web site Parking in the area can be difficult, so it is recommended that visitors inquire at 210/362-2020 about bus service from park and ride lots around the San Antonio.

One of three University of Texas campuses in San Antonio, the Institute of Texan Cultures, got its start as the Texas State Exhibit for HemisFair '68. The grand museum in the shadow of the HemisFair Tower has become a premier collection of Texana history in the state. The multiple galleries tell the story of the state's development from coastal Indians to the legacy of Barbara Jordan. Besides the exhibits, several buildings behind the museum on what is called the Back 40 preserve historical buildings like a Hill Country barn, an adobe home, and a one-room schoolhouse.

The Institute is in downtown San Antonio at Bowie Street and Durango Boulevard. The building opens 9am to 5pm, Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children. All areas of the exhibit space are wheelchair-accessible. Call the numbers listed above for more information.

Coming up this weekend ...

Habitat for Humanity Garage Sale in Wimberley offers donated items from the community for sale, June 9. 512/847-7281 or

Texas Water Safari takes off from City Park in San Marcos on a 260-mile endurance race to the coast, June 9. 915/235-5488.

Texas Midwest Soapbox Derby in Sweetwater is one of the last soapbox derbies remaining in the state. It is a thrill to watch the silent racers zoom down the hill for trophies and prizes, June 9. 915/235-5488.

Coming up ...

River 2001 Cleanup hopes to get 650 or more canoes and kayaks in Town Lake to break the Guinness World Record for the largest free-floating canoe raft while ensuring a record-breaking cleanup along the Colorado River. For information on the river cleanup June 16 on the Colorado River between Austin and Bastrop, call the LCRA at 473-3200x3512. For information on the Town Lake Cleanup June 17, call 499-7625. For information on the Guinness record attempt on June 17 at 10:30am, call 473-2644.

Texas, the spectacular stage show in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, runs June 7-Aug. 19. 806/655-2181 or

Classical Concerts at Festival Institute in Round Top features James Dick and distinguished guests, June 9-July 14. 979/249-3129 or

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