We headed into Texas Hill Country at the peak of the bluebonnet season and on the weekend of the Burnet Bluebonnet Festival. When I was planning our itinerary for Marsha’s week in Texas, I latched onto this festival as a perfect opportunity to experience Texan country life. The nearest state park was booked for the weekend, but I found us a nearby Passport America place for just $15/night, and we set up there before driving into Burnet (pronounced burn-it) for Friday’s evening festivities.
We arrived about 6:00, just as the Pet Parade contest winners were being announced on the Main Stage. The winners, a pair of good-natured sharpeis, were dressed in elaborately tailored costumes and took all the attention in stride. There were plenty of other kids and pets in costume, and Marsha and I went to town with our cameras before the crowd dispersed.
The craft booths were just closing up for the night, but we had time to browse a few. Several displayed Confederate flags, and many of the booths had a Christian theme. There was even a Border Patrol booth. We were definitely “not in Kansas anymore,” and to the locals we must have looked as out-of-place as a busload of camera-happy Japanese tourists. But we kept our comments to ourselves and tried to just appreciate the down-home flavor of this wholesome, happy event.
The carnival ride section was impressive for such a small festival. Lots of rides, but no lines and no entrance fee. Kate and Marsha declined my suggestion of a Ferris wheel ride, but it was fun to just walk around and take photos. We indulged in a fair-food dinner: pulled pork sandwiches, roasted corn, and fresh cinnamon doughnuts for dessert. Then we moseyed back over to the Main Stage in time to catch the Miss Bluebonnet Pageant.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m no fan of pageants, even if they call it a “scholarship” pageant now. I lived in Santa Cruz when the Miss America pageant there was protested by hundreds of feminists. My friend Ann Simonton, a former Covergirl model, joined the protest in a gorgeous evening gown she’d constructed entirely of stitched together baloney, with an elaborate banner of sausages. It was quite a statement, and after the protests, the Miss America pageant moved to another location.
Still, here we were in the heart of Texas, at a small town Bluebonnet Festival, and it only seemed right to join the crowd. It was interesting to watch the girls of various ages sashay across the stage. Even the young ones seemed to know the rules of the runway walk, pivoting in place with one hand on a hip, shoulders back, flashing a toothy smile at the crowd, a confident wave.
It took me right back to high school, where the popular girls wafted through hallways with molded smiles and an air of ownership. Even among the contestants you could see which girls were in the golden circle of popularity and which hovered nervously on the outside. It was hard not to feel sad about it, especially when younger rejects left the stage in tears. But it was heartening to see that some of the winners were not the ones that you’d peg as traditionally the most beautiful, and some seemed to emanate a true sense of grace and warmth. I tried to suspend judgment and just appreciate the excitement of these girls and their families.
It was dark after the pageant, and I wanted to walk through the carnival area one more time and try some experimental photos with show shutter speeds. I loved the effects of the flashing colored lights and moving rides, and it was fun to watch the excitement of the younger crowd. This is just the right size of a carnival/fair for me. Enough people to feel festive, but not too crowded to walk around easily.
There were two more days of the festival, and we had planned to return on Saturday for some of the other events: a bluebonnet-decorated bike parade, a Western shoot-out, a clogging dance performance, and lots of country music. It would have been entertaining. But our days were limited, and when the weather was cooler and rainy the next day, we decided to drive to Fredericksburg instead. But we really enjoyed our little taste of the Burnet Bluebonnet Festival.