By Helena Rodriguez: Local columnist
I’ve never been to a hootenanny, but with a name like that, it’s got to be a lot of fun. I bet it’s a lot like a pachanga, another word I like.
For the summer outdoor party naive, a hootenanny is a gathering in which folksingers entertain. As for a pachanga, it’s a lively Mexican party in which folks who think they are singers entertain. Just kidding, but I’d been willing to bet hootenannies and pachangas are all one and the same. There’s a lot of storytelling at both, be it folktales or gossip, dancing, and singing and, I’m sure, lots of good eats and beverages, too.
Summertime is usually festival time in most communities. As a former arts and entertainment writer for the Abilene Reporter-News, in Abilene, Texas, I can tell you there is a festival that pays homage to almost everything imaginable, mostly fruits and vegetables, but other stuff too — from the DeLeon Peach and Melon Festival (Aug. 9-12) to Dr Pepper Days (June 5-10) in Dublin, Texas, home of the oldest Dr Pepper bottling plant on the planet and they don’t let you forget it. From the Tomato Festival (June 10) in Jacksonville, Texas, to the Polka and Chicken Fest (June 9) in Sweet Home, Texas.
Closer to home, we have Old Fort Days (June 9-11) in Fort Sumner, Heritage Days (June 16-17) in Portales, Border Town Days (July 28-30) in Texico/Farwell. Then there’s the out-of-this world Roswell UFO Festival (June 30-July 3). And of course we can’t forget the Peanut Festival in the fall that pays homage to our homegrown Valencia peanut.
One summer fest that stands out in my mind is the Cross Plains Barbarian Festival in Texas, also known as Robert E. Howard Days. Howard, the creator of “Conan the Barbarian,” is this town’s claim to fame.
While working in Abilene one summer, I was asked to do a write-up on this annual festival, which I envisioned as a gathering of people in cavemen’s clothing walk around eating turkey legs like savages. In 2002, because of Sept. 11, 2001, which was not a funny event, the festival organizers decided to take the word “barbarian” out of the festival for fear that people would associate the event with terrorists. Remember President Bush referred to the terrorists as “barbarians.” This was a stretch, but they took out the name that year, only to refuse to comment about it a year later when they restored the word “barbarian” back into the festival’s name.
I also remember the year when DeLeon left out the “peach” from its annual Peach & Melon Fest because, well, things just were not very peachy that year.
A lot of these summer events are filled with hometown pride, but while they are simply a part of tradition in many communities, some of these traditions can appear weird and downright crazy to out-of-state visitors who may have never heard of an event as legitimate as a cow pie bingo.
I remember the year when I was working for the Hobbs Daily News-Sun in Hobbs and a family picked their summer vacation by simply pointing a finger at random on a map. The finger landed on Lovington, of all places, and I can just imagine their utter excitement when they saw a septic tank float by as one of the entries in the Lea County Fair & Rodeo parade.
As for pachangas, my family has had a few memorable, mostly impromptu pachangas sparked by a simple firing up of the grill.
So whether it’s a summer festival in tribute to a great fruit, vegetable, soda or alien of some sort, an old-fashioned hootenanny or an impromptu pachanga, it wouldn’t be called “the dog days of summer” without these special events.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: