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Arts & Culture

Fiesta tackles new wellness initiatives, events, and royalty in quest for international attention

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Robby Middleton of Southwest Parades has been making parade floats for "about 37 years," he says. "Me and my wife started the business, and she's still working, and we're still plugging along." Their company runs a crew of six to eight craftsmen, who turn a customer's notion into a sketch, then fabricate the float out of wood and metal, and cover it with plastic sheeting. Then paper flowers are stapled on to brighten it all up. Figures of horses, cartoon characters and the like are sculpted around a wood armature covered with foam, chicken wire, and paper-mache and set on top next to the onboard sound speakers. This year their warehouse holds 31 floats for the Battle of Flowers, 13 for the Fiesta Flambeau Night Parade, and a dozen more that are going to Corpus Christi the following week. Set pieces for the Queen of the Alamo were locked up under wrap. Middleton says his outfit pretty much covers the state, sending floats to the State Fair and all the big events. But they also work for small country towns, too. "Most small towns have what they call a travel float," says Middleton. "They go to each others' parades and that's how to get 30 to 40 floats in a small town parade." — Scott Andrews

Depending on your feelings about tradition, maybe there's no room in your heart for any modifications to the excesses of eating and drinking during Fiesta. Yet time marches on. It can't be all ugly kings and Tejano Explosions anymore.

"Fiesta has had good and bad like everything else," says John Melleky, a certified fundraising executive and the recently named CEO of the Fiesta San Antonio Commission. "But they learned from it and expanded and changed. And people need to be willing to change."

To that end, this year the city has encouraged Fiesta to go green. Or rather, according to the new slogan, "Green. Fit. Friendly." Recycling bins will be conspicuous additions to the events (seeing how it sits smack dab on Earth Day this year, it's the least they could do), but the green initiative has two other big features. San Antonio B-Cycle, the city's bike-share program, lets you tuck a corn dog into your pocket and pedal from one downtown event to another. Cutting down on auto traffic is of course a major goal, but the fitness considerations are up there too. There's a sense that the powers that be are still smarting from San Antonio's 2009 third-place ranking among America's fattest cities by Men's Fitness. Surprisingly, we snuck onto the fittest cities list this year at number 25. Suck it, Men's Fitness: we got bikes now.

Add to that the other big Fiesta change: smoking is now prohibited in the public right-of-way along streets and sidewalks and during the Texas Cavaliers River Parade, Fiesta Battle of Flowers Parade, and Fiesta Flambeau Parade. There's also an emphasis on eating better, says Jim Mery, interim director of the City's Downtown Operations Department. "We all love our gorditas — God knows I do!" said Mery, "but at the same time: moderation, knowing that there are alternatives." Fruit cups, water instead of sodas, that kind of thing. I know. I'm just passing it along.

New events have been added this year, too, in the hopes of elevating Fiesta into national and international awareness, said Melleky. Nonprofits run all the events, so there's constant growth as new organizations come into the mix.

Last weekend, Fiesta hit the UTSA community with the Roadrunner Spring Football Fan Fest, a free game at the Alamodome. The game was April 15, but worry not, UTSA says this will become an annual event.

Last year's appearance of the Fiesta de los Veteranos, a motorcycle ride and rally at Audie L. Murphy Veterans Hospital (7400 Merton Minter), returns this year with a motorcycle judging contest, food and vendors, live music, and the good ol' moon bounce. This free event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 21.

That same day, The Best Little Hoedown in Texas brings a country-western themed to-do to Freeman Coliseum (3201 E Houston). The San Antonio Parks Foundation hosts the party with barbecue, Western bands, a mechanical bull, cloggers, and one of those deals where you can get your friends thrown in jail, running 6:30-11 p.m. Tickets are $50. Check out for more information.

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