Central Heat (No AC)

The 12th Annual 'Austin Chronicle' Hot Sauce Festival Sunday, August 25, Waterloo Park

Central Heat (No AC)

If Enron, Dynergy, and Arthur Andersen taught me anything, it's how to count creatively. If we had started this little hot sauce fiesta in my new hometown of Houston, the numbers would be a lot different. We'd be claiming that this was at least the 20th annual festival, and we'd be showing millions of dollars in revenues, as well as an attendance that exceeded 300,000. But the accountants at The Austin Chronicle are way too small-time for that sort of real business thinking -- these guys would never survive in Space City!

Let's face it: In Austin, barely getting by is an art form. Nobody with any real gumption ever lasted long around here. Since I moved to Houston, I have developed a highly acute bidness sense. And now I see what this Hot Sauce Festival could really be if we just demanded a little more out of Austin. For instance, do you realize that Houston got themselves both a Major League Baseball and National Football League franchise by providing the teams with their very own air-conditioned stadiums? What a concept! I'm thinking, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival is like the biggest thing going in Austin since AquaFest dried up and blew away as a result of having boring accountants. So why the hell can't the city of Austin air-condition Waterloo Park for the contest? Of course, we already mostly fill up Waterloo Park even without air conditioning. So if we are going to do this Houston-style, we get the city to air-condition Zilker Park for the contest. And then we charge $30 to get in. Pretty soon we are looking at some real numbers.

But if most Austinites are unimaginative in their financial thinking, the management of The Austin Chronicle is duller than dishwater. They lie awake at night trying to dream up ways to make the business smaller! Turning this little old Austin Hot Sauce Festival into an international multi-million-dollar zesty foods extravaganza is the last thing on their minds. Believe me, I've tried to talk sense into them but they just won't listen!

And so here we are again, getting ready to stand around in 100-degree heat in an un-air-conditioned park with 10,000 other sweaty people -- eating hot sauce and listening to rock & roll -- with no entry fee whatsoever, except a couple of cans of food for the Capital Area Food Bank. Whose dumb idea was this, anyway?

Okay, for the sake of visitors and those with major memory lapses, I will recount the history of the event: The first "hot sauce contest," as the event was originally known, took place at the Travis County Farmers' Market in 1991. Hey, it was a slow year. Jobs were scarce, rents were cheap, and we had nothing better to do than stand around in the hot sun and eat hot sauce. It was just supposed to be a little Farmers' Market event, you know, like judging pies or pickles at the State Fair. We thought we might get a couple of dozen hot sauces. There were hundreds. We expected a few spectators. There were thousands. The Farmers' Market where we held the event overflowed. Every year the event got a little bigger. Of course, the hundreds of gallons of free hot sauce, great free music, and kegs of beer were a big draw, but when the crowd swelled to more than 10,000, we got concerned.

In 1997, we went looking for a new venue. The seventh annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival was held in a clearing in the woods of Waterloo Park. There was a lot of apprehension about the move, but as it turned out, the sylvan grove fit the event like an old pair of slippers. It looked like Woodstock with hot sauce. We spread out and enjoyed ourselves under the trees and we've been there ever since.

Somewhere along the way, newspapers and magazines around the country began to refer to our little picante picnic as Austin's hometown festival. By 1999, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival had risen to the status of a defining civic event on par with such classics as the Luling Watermelon Thump, the Gilmore Yamboree, the FireAnt Festival in Marshall, or the Peanut Festival in Gorman.

As anybody who has ever lived in Houston will tell you, Austin isn't really a city. It's a small town with a Peter Pan complex. (We won't grow up!! We don't want to be a major urban area!!) Austinites like to act like hicks so that citizens of more sophisticated cities won't take them seriously. And so we convene our small-town selves at the 20th, oops, I mean 12th annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival this Sunday at Waterloo Park. Come listen to the free music, drink beer, eat free hot sauce, and find out what this hick thing is really all about. And don't complain about your hairdo wilting because there isn't any air conditioning. end story

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