Across East Texas, people are dancing to live music, going to theaters for live performances, and event organizers are preparing to make the upcoming festival season the best it’s ever been.
“It’s nice to be able to do something you really like again,” Longview Main Street Coordinator Melida Heien said. “I think there are a lot of things over the last year that we normally really like to do that we didn’t get to do. Now, we can do them again and it’s really exciting.”
From summer Fourth of July festivities across the region to fall traditions, such as Tyler’s Rose Festival, event season is in full swing.
In Longview, quarterly ArtWalks and the weekly Downtown Live concert series in the spring and the fall are among key events in the downtown area. When spring rolled around, those events drew giant crowds as people came to mingle, listen to music, look at art and celebrate the community.
Those events were the first among many planned events to come this summer and fall.
In Longview, the Fireworks and Freedom Celebration will return on the Fourth of July. Country music singer Mark Chesnutt will headline the free outdoor concert July 4 with country musician Jon Stork as the opening act.
City of Longview spokesman Shawn Hara said the concert will be outdoors, and admission and parking are free. Food and beverage vendors will be available, and fireworks will follow the concert. The annual fireworks show draws more than 12,000 people to the Longview Convention Complex and thousands more watch the show from surrounding areas.
“There are a lot of events starting back up again,” Hara said. “A lot of events, especially outdoor events, are kind of returning. This year we just wanted to focus on the concert and the fireworks.”
Other events coming in Longview include the annual Longview Kennel Club AKC Dog Show in July, the Drive to Remember Car Show in August, the Gregg County Fair and Craftoberfest in September and the Harvest Festival and Livestock Show in October.
Meanwhile, the Belcher Center in Longview has scheduled its 15th season to begin in the fall. The 2021-2022 Performance Series includes The 40th Anniversary Official Blues Brothers Revue at 7 p.m. Oct. 23; A Christmas Carol at 7 p.m. Dec. 11; The Music of Sam Cooke at 7 p.m. Jan. 15, 2022; One Night in Memphis at 7 p.m. March 26, 2022; and Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience at 7 p.m. April 23, 2022.
“If you’re looking to see the whole season or if you just want to see some single shows, we just want people to come back out and enjoy our performances,” Belcher Center Senior Director Cody Bowen said. “All ticket prices are low on purpose to encourage people to buy a ticket and come out to our shows again.”
In Kilgore, the Texas Shakespeare Festival returns in July with a full lineup of plays, including two classic plays by the Bard.
Between July 1 and Aug. 1, the Texas Shakespeare Festival will feature multiple performances of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by William Shakespeare, “The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson, “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare, and a musical version of “The Bridges of Madison County” by Marsha Norman and Jason Robert Brown.
A world premiere children’s production of “The Gnomes of Gnot-A-Hill” by Texas Shakespeare Festival alumni Grace Abele and DJ Canaday also will be performed July 21-31.
The festival has been working on the productions since 2019, and Artistic Director Meagan Simpson said the company of artists and patrons has been waiting patiently for the upcoming season.
“We are bringing Shakespeare back to East Texas this summer,” Simpson said.
Other upcoming events in Kilgore include the monthly Bluegrass and BlueBell Acoustic Jam and the monthly car show downtown as well as the acclaimed East Texas Oilmen’s Chili Cook-off in November.
At the annual chili cook-off, oilfield workers from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas gather for a cook-off in Kilgore in which about 100 teams compete and thousands of spectators enjoy partaking in the spicy goodness. The chili cook-off serves as a fundraiser for the East Texas Treatment Center in Kilgore.
In Tyler, Rose Sunday in May served as a preview of the city’s hallmark event, the Texas Rose Festival, which will return in October.
The 88th Texas Rose Festival returns Oct. 14-17 with the theme of “Secrets of the Garden.” Anna Grace Hallmark, who attends the University of Mississippi, will serve as Queen of this year’s festival. Elizabeth Reid Walker will serve as the Rose Princess, and Emily Ann Milton will be the Duchess of the Rose Growers. The court also includes 14 ladies-in-waiting and nine attendants to the queen.
The Texas Rose Festival is a celebration of the rose industry that thrives in Tyler, which is known as the Rose Capital of America. The first festival in 1933 was organized by Tyler Garden Club members, local rose growers and the Chamber of Commerce to showcase the importance of the rose industry to Tyler. It was such a success that the tradition has continued since.
“Our mission statement is pretty simple, to promote the local rose industry, celebrate community volunteerism, instill community pride and attract visitors to our incredible community,” Tyler Rose Festival President Bruce Faulkner said.
The 2021 rose fest will include the Seventh Annual Roses in the Park concert at Bergfeld Park Amphitheater on Oct. 9. Festivities Oct. 14 will begin with a ribbon cutting and morning prayer service, the opening of the Texas Rose Festival Rose Display and the Palette of Roses Art Show & Sale, both at the Rose Garden Center, and a Walk & Talk in the Rose Garden. Highlights planned Oct. 15 include a ladies’ luncheon and a men’s luncheon as well as both a matinee and an evening coronation ceremony at the Cowan Center.
Highlights planned Oct. 16 include the annual parade and the queen’s tea. The festival concludes Oct. 17 with the Rose Festival Arts & Crafts Fair and Plant Sale at Bergfeld Park as well as the Rose Display continuing at the Rose Garden Center.
Also in Tyler, the UT Tyler Cowan Center is expected to announce its 2021-2022 season this summer and the East Texas State Fair will return Sept. 24 through Oct. 3 with family activities and entertainment. The annual fair includes concerts, carnival rides and games, and exhibits such as photography, arts, horticulture and more.