By Moses Leos III
After a three-year hiatus, Fire Fest is heading back to Buda — the place it once called home.
While the festival will be a one-day event on August 30, Emergency Service District (ESD) No. 8 Chief Clay Huckaby hopes Fire Fest’s homecoming spurs Main Street business.
“We’re excited that it’s coming back,” Huckaby said. “It’s unique because it’s going to be in downtown Buda. We are trying to interact with as many of the local merchants [as possible].”
The origins of Fire Fest date back to 1958. At that time, the Buda Fire Department held an annual barbecue cook-off and dance to help raise funds for the year.
According to Huckaby, the department raised anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.
The event expanded in the mid-2000s and Fire Fest was born.
“It was just a little thing, similar to the Kyle Fire Department Fish Fry,” Huckaby said. “Now it’s turned into this full fledged event.”
Initially, Fire Fest spanned three days, and featured a variety of family-friendly events. A regional fireman’s challenge was showcased, an event that continues to this day. The challenge drew contestants from across the state and the nation.
Bringing in concerts was the important cog in expanding the fundraiser.
“We had some people recommend that we bring in concerts,” Huckaby said. “Once the Texas music scene took off, we started to book larger names.”
Over the next six years, Fire Fest, which is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, drew in crowds of as many as 10,000 people. In 2011, the last time Fire Fest was held in Buda, the event raised more than $25,000. All proceeds supported Central Texas firefighters.
Logistical concerns at Buda City Park, however, caused Fire Fest organizers to look for another location. The Backyard in Bee Caves was tabbed as the new site. Huckaby said the venue could better handle concerts.
However, the larger venue didn’t attract similar crowds, or funds. Only $6,000 was raised in 2012.
Fire Fest hit a roadblock last year when The Backyard began scaling back concerts. That, along with low attendance, forced Fire Fest to be called off in 2013.
The event saw life again this year. However, Huckaby and the other organizers decided to scale the event back to one day.
They also moved the venue back to Buda.
Huckaby hopes a return to Buda, and the new location, bolsters downtown business.
“Hopefully it attracts local restaurants and increases local sales tax,” he said.
Buda Parks and Tourism Director Lysa Gonzalez said the unique atmosphere of Fire Fest could draw visitors to Buda.
“[Fire Fest] has some fun and interesting things that haven’t been in Buda for a while,” Huckaby said. “It’s bringing people from outside the city, and it’s showing them what Buda has to offer in the downtown district.”
Creating higher traffic downtown is key for Julie Renfro, owner of Tavern on Main. With Fire Fest organizers helping the bar book musical acts, drawing crowds downtown is imperative.
According to Renfro, the Tavern could bring in “half, or maybe twice as much than we normally do.”
“We need to work hard for the traffic flow to keep going through downtown, and not stop at [City Park],” she said. “Having people stop and see what’s in Buda is great for local businesses.”