October Fall Fest
by P. Dubose, October 2010
While East Texas lakes lure hordes of sports fishermen every Summer, most traveler find Autumn the best time to visit the region. By October, one or more cold fronts have pushed out the high humidity and high temperatures. Temperate weather makes it easier to enjoy the beautiful piney woods, the lakes and “local flavor.”
Chief among the must-see attractions in East Texas is the Pinebox Fall Fest. Beginning on Halloween and ending on the Day of the Dead, the town of Pinebox holds an enormous celebration that draws thousands of visitors each year. “I like Fall Fest because we get out of school,” said Joni Hightower, age 9. With so many civic organizations involved in the festival, even the local school district incorporates the days off into their calendar.
The Pinebox Fall Fest tradition began in the 19th century, although it was discontinued for a time at the behest of local religious leaders who felt the celebration promoted paganism. The modern Fall Fest capitalizes on the fun and frivolity of Halloween ghost and goblins while acknowledging religious sensitivities through more serious religious services incorporated throughout the festival.
The annual Fall Fest begins on Halloween morning with an interfaith blessing of food and drink. In generations past, Fall Fest was celebrated with a city-wide potluck dinner. In the days before refrigeration, some meals didn’t preserve as well as others, leading to food poisoning, “strange behavior,” and even deaths during the celebration. Thus it became tradition for local religious leaders to bless each individual dish. Today, a team of religious leaders from local churches bless the contents of each booth in the food and drink vending tents.
“I’m not superstitious, but ever since pastor Fennel started blessing the Kwanis Club hot dog booth, 15 years ago, we haven’t failed a single health inspection,” said club treasurer Jay Boatwright. “It’s all in good fun… But, why take chances?”
After the morning blessing, a Fall Fest parade winds its way through the normally quiet streets. Some kids participate in the parade two or three times, marching at the front of the parade in the high school band then running back to the beginning to join a float. At the parade’s conclusion, revelers filter to the square in front of the county courthouse, where tents provide shelter for food vendor booths, a live music stage and more.
As the sun sets on Halloween and the shadows lengthen across the square, hundreds of costumed revelers descend on it. Early in the evening, parents take the children through the food vendor tents for safe trick-or-treating.
“We’re glad to promote a safe alternative to going door to door,” said Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Ramona DeLeon. “As a parent, I know that I can give my kids a Halloween experience at the Trick-Or-Treat Tents without worrying about razor blades in the candy or disappearing for three days with no memory of where they had been.”
“I like it but it’s a little scary too,” says Lashawna Curtis, age 8. “You can’t tell who anyone is ‘cause they’re all in masks. You don’t know who is really behind the mask.”
As the night grows later and the little ghost, superheroes and princesses go home, live bands draw adult costumed revelers through a cordoned-off street for an outdoor concert and block party. Midnight is marked the Grand Unveiling when partiers all remove their masks – sometimes finding surprises at whom they’ve been dancing or flirting with.
“Sure, back in the ‘90s we had a problem with underage drinking and a lot of shenanigans with mistaken identity, but we have that all under control now,” says Sheriff Butch Anderson. “The street dance is probably one of the safest places to be during Fall Fest. We have more than a dozen uniformed and undercover officers on site to keep trouble from happening.”
Trouble is something the Fall Fest has struggled with from time to time. During Fall Fest the town’s population triples in size, causing accommodation and parking shortages, traffic accidents, and even the occasional missing partier.
“Fall Fest is a great time – don’t get me wrong. But with all the folk walking around here and there at night… well, it pays to be careful. Sometimes it’s just older kids being mean, you know? But sometimes it isn’t.” DeLeon says. “I guess it wouldn’t be Halloween if something didn’t go bump in the night.”