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Festivals cancel, reschedule due to the pandemic

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    A crowd of onlookers gather on Main Street to welcome last year’s Western Days parade downtown. File photos
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    A dance team from Lavysh Dance Company performs for the crowd at last year’s Elgin Juneteenth Celebration.
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    A volunteer at last year’s McDade Watermelon Festival cuts slices of watermelon for the contestants in the watermeloneating contest.

As summer approaches, Elginites will have a few less annual celebrations to look forward to this year.

Many local festivals, such as Elgin’s Juneteenth celebration, Western Days and the McDade Watermelon Festival, have been canceled in light of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, and other events have rescheduled or are still uncertain.

On Saturday, May 2, the City of Elgin released a letter announcing that the organizers of both the annual Juneteenth parade and festival and the Western Days parade and festival have decided to cancel their events. Additionally, other festivals and large events around the county have made decisions about their plans this year.

Smithville’s Eco Fest, which has been combined with the annual Texas Photo Festival, is scheduled for June 13 this year. The status of the festivals is still up in the air at this point, according to Smithville Chamber of Commerce event coordinator Bridgette Padgett.

Bastrop’s Juneteenth Freedom Weekend, scheduled for June 19 through 21, has also been canceled this year, according to their Facebook page. They are hoping to still hold events later in the year, and will soon announce the recipients of their scholarship this year.

This year’s Watermelon Festival in McDade, scheduled for Saturday, July 11, has also been canceled due to safety concerns, said festival member Christine Walla. It would be too difficult to enforce distancing, she added, and they didn’t want to risk potentially spreading the virus.

The Texas Lost Pines Riding Club, which hosts the annual Elgin Rodeo, has postponed a number of their events for early August due to the virus, their Facebook page says. The 51st Elgin Rodeo, originally planned for July, is now scheduled for August 7 and 8.

A decision about Elgin’s annual Hogeye Festival, held at the end of October each year, will be made after July 1 with the most current information available at that time, said Elgin community services director Amy Miller.

Elgin’s Juneteenth festival and parade is regularly scheduled for early- to mid-June and includes a Friday night street dance, a parade down Main Street on Saturday morning and various activities and programs in Veteran’s Memorial Park throughout the day on Saturday. This year would have been Elgin’s 21st Juneteenth celebration, which was preceded by a county-wide Juneteenth celebration that began in 1987.

“The Elgin Juneteenth Organization will regrettably have to cancel their 21st Juneteenth Celebration due to the COVID-19 virus,” said Bettye Lofton, the president of the Elgin Juneteenth Organization. “It was a hard decision to make, but we value the health and lives of the many citizens more than a few hours of recreation, and we knew that it would have been too hard to adhere to the distancing in the parade as well as in the park.”

Although June’s celebration is canceled, Lofton said the Elgin Juneteenth Organization will still give away their $500 scholarships to two students to help defray the costs of college. Additionally, if everything begins to open up by December, the Elgin Juneteenth Organization will sponsor their annual Shop With a Cop program, where children are paired with an Elgin police officer to shop for toys and clothes with gift cards, as well as the Gala of Classes.

“We would like to thank all of our sponsors for your generous contributions, and we definitely look forward to your continued support,” Lofton said. “We will be sending notifications and updates via multimedia and newspaper articles to keep everyone posted as the months progress.”

Western Days, a multi-day festival celebrated in June and hosted by the Elgin Chamber of Commerce, includes a carnival, street dance, parade and a festival, as well as the Miss Western Day Pageant and a number of high school reunions. Last year, Elgin celebrated its 50th Western Days festival, and this year’s festival was scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 27 and the preceding days.

Elgin Chamber of Commerce president Gena Carter said canceling Western Days was a difficult decision to make, but the board of directors voted unanimously for it. She added that it wouldn’t make sense to postpone Western Days to the fall, since it would affect the Hogeye Festival in October.

“This was for the safety of everyone concerned,” Carter said. “Not knowing what officials may say as far as group gatherings, we just felt like we had to go ahead and make a decision. We hope to bring it back in 2021 bigger and better.”

Since Western Days is the Chamber’s biggest fundraiser each year, the Chamber is looking for a way to offset that $30,000 loss to its income, Carter said. Additionally, she added, the cancellation of Western Days will hurt organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, who raise funds with booths at the festival, as well as local businesses who would normally see more people come into Elgin for the festival.

Carter said the Chamber is talking about alternative fundraising options, as well as backup plans for some events later in the year. One possibility is conducting the Miss Western Days Pageant and high school reunions in the fall.

“Our hope is that, maybe, some of those things can be done in conjunction with other events,” Carter said. “But if not, that’s okay; we’ll move forward and have it bigger and better next year. Right now, we’re in just such an unstable time.”