Fall in Texas brings cooler weather (eventually), football, and Fall Festivals in abundance.  It seems like every town and city is celebrating the turning of the season in some fashion, usually by a festival of one sort or another.  It’s as good excuse as any to walk around, drink beer, eat a turkey leg or BBQ, shop at vendors stalls and enjoy whatever special event has to offer.  Two that we checked out this year for the first time were, The Scarecrow Festival in Chappell Hill and the Hogeye Festival in Elgin.

Chappell Hill is a small community 8 miles east of Brenham, almost exactly 2 hrs east of Austin on 290.  They have two festivals every year, one in the fall and a Bluebonnet Festival in the spring.  Vendors selling clothes, jewelry, arts and crafts, plants, yard art, birdhouses, homemade salsa/sauces/dips, candles, honey, homemade soaps and lotions, paintings, and food trailers were among many others at this event.  I had heard for years about the Scarecrow festival but was not really prepared for the size and number of booths.  After the quiet scenic drive to the area, we followed the signs to a huge field for parking, $5.  We joined  a crowd through a small sidestreet to the main street of Chappell Hill, which consists of approximately 6 buildings.  The street was blocked off to traffic and there were booths as far as the eye could see.  We followed the tried and true plan of attack, always go to the right and make a loop where you will eventually see it all.  As we browsed through the vendors, we quickly realized it was even bigger than we thought.  In vacant lots and  alleys, more vendors set up  for business so it was a larger gathering than I had thot.  While passing on the turkey legs and funnel cakes (smelled heavenly) we did try an ice tea slushy that was refreshing as the day grew warmer. Think of it as an Icee but sweet-tea flavored. Sounds strange but very good.  The aroma of BBQ and fried Oreos wafted over the whole area.  There were several makeshift stages where live music was playing (I wish my favorite band was there—The Dazzling Weasel Faces.  They would have been perfect for that venue. Oh well, maybe next year).  There was also no sign of Redd Granite, but the performers we heard, a 3 man group doing oldies and a solo guitarist doing country, were both talented and worth listening to.  However, we didn’t have much time to rest as more vendors beckoned.  There were over 250 booths all in all, people bringing their wares from as far as Houston, Dallas, Beaumont, Austin, Kerrville.  A large number of these merchants travel to various fairs and festivals every weekend during the fall and spring to sell their (mostly) homemade items.  I saw several meet and greet each other as old friends, which they probably are, going to similar events for a good portion of the year every weekend.  I think it is a fascinating sub-culture, working during the week at a day job, at night working on your particular art/craft items to sell, then on weekends packing everything into a trailer, van, truck and driving to whatever festival you have paid for a vendor spot at, setting up your wares for Sat and/or Sunday, then packing it all up, driving for hours home, then doing it all again next week.  Some vendors are obviously retired folks, some are obviously not.   All seem to enjoy what they do.  It is amazing the creative items that people can make and with quality that make them worth buying.  After half the day, we finally managed to go by every booth.  We had picked up a few decorations for our yard and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The crowds were heavy and sometimes made for a challenge to navigate and were still coming in as we made our way back to the parking lot and headed home, tired but pleased at the experience.

The second festival was the Hogeye Festival in Elgin, which lies about 20 minutes east of Austin.  This annual festival is a fundraiser for the community for Arts, and Parks programs.  It turns out that Hogeye was a small community in the area.  The theme of this fun festival is, logically enough, the Hog.  There was a BBQ Cook-off, a Chili Cook-off, a Car Show, live music, an appearance by the Sow-premes a group of ladies in eye-searing pink outfits performing on stage but arrived each perched on the back of an ear-splitting Harley Davidson (a Hog, get it?), vendors booths, and more.  Parking was not centralized, but people found spots up and down the side streets of town.  The main street was again blocked off to traffic for several blocks.  While the vendors were not as numerous as the ones in Chappell Hill, they were from more local areas, like Austin, Georgetown, and San Marcos.  This was what I consider more of an old-time city fall festival.  More Old-School as it were.  They had lots of games and art for the kids to do, they had a booth where you could shoot paint guns at targets, they had a brick-toss game where you try to toss a brick that has not been fired (hence still sorta spongy) into a trash can from a distance ranging from 15 to 40+ feet into a large garbage can.  My distance was just about as if I was pitching slow pitch softball again.  While “back in the day” I threw a few “bricks” I had never really pitched a brick before.  I did use the same pitching motion, but alas, out of three tries the closest I got was clanging one off the side.    The smell of the food booths, cotton candy, made-on-the-spot Kettle Corn, shaved ice, peanuts and pecans, corn on the cob, enticed us until we were suddenly stopped, mesmerized by the overpowering aroma of BBQ and chili being lovingly smoked and prepared by the competitors in the area set aside especially for them.  There were over 25 different teams each cooking and smoking, each with their own elaborate set up from small pull-behind trailers with a smoker on top, to huge rigs with wood carved tables and chairs in front. The smokers themselves were worth the visit, just to see the different kinds and sizes.  Almost all had brought stacks of the preferred wood to use for smoking. Some had mesquite, some oak, some hickory (where did they get hickory?).  Alas, we were too early to sample the mouth watering meats,  as most teams were still hours away from being able to offer bites.  We did try some chili from one team—outstanding!

After perusing all the vendor booths, buying a few Christmas presents, and checking out the antique cars and souped -up cars from the 50-70’s (my fav was the purple Dodge Charger, it looked like it was going 85 just sitting there—power personified)it was time to  buy tickets for Cow Patty Bingo.  This fundraiser sounds too much fun to believe.  There is a small area fenced off with hundreds of squares painted on the ground.  Each square has a number assigned to it.  At the appointed time, a cow, in this case a young longhorn, is led into the fenced off area where the crowd waits for him to walk around and uh–  leave a deposit.  The judges then decide which square has the largest contribution and that square wins the grand prize.  Surrounding squares win smaller prizes.  Alas, we were not winners, but what a hoot!

To summarize, both Festivals were worth a Saturday day trip– fun, food, shopping, people-watching.  The Hog-Eye Festival was more “home-grown” and family friendly.  I will be back next year for more brick-tossing and Cow Patty Bingo!

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