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Westfest highlights Labor Day weekend events

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Area Labor Day festivals and fairs edge closer to their pre-pandemic form this weekend, the second year of returning after COVID-19 disruptions, with offerings mirroring familiar blends of music, food, live entertainment and more.

Westfest, West’s annual festival highlighting the town’s Czech culture and heritage, marks its 46th appearance with the new wrinkle of a carnival ride expansion that will add an extra night of entertainment. Friday’s country-themed Preview Night also will feature performers William Beckmann and Taylor Branch making Westfest debuts.

The Central Texas State Fair has some of Texas country’s most popular stars capping the evenings of the fair, with Kevin Fowler, the Eli Young Band and Flatland Cavalry on the lineup.

And Homestead Village’s Sorghum Festival presents its annual mix of craft and agricultural demonstrations on Monday, with the major change a forecasted break in the weather from the blistering heat of past Labor Day weekends in Central Texas.

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Westfest organizers hope to build on the turnout from last year’s event, the first after a 2020 shutdown, increasing the number of carnival rides and adding a Carnival Sneak Peek night on Thursday.

“We had a pretty good bounce-back last year, maybe about 15% to 20% less than usual,” noted Brian Muska, board vice president for media. With less than oven-like heat forecast for the weekend, he’s optimistic that this year’s festival will see a turnout closer to pre-pandemic norms of 15,000 to 20,000 attendees. “It’s not going to be dusty. It’s not going to be hot,” he said.

The Westfest parade formally kicks off the festival at 10 a.m. Saturday, proceeding from downtown West to the fairgrounds.

Westfest 2021 parade

West High School FFA members ride on their float “Honoring Our Hometown Heroes” during the 2021 Westfest parade.

Food and refreshment options will be grouped in a single area, much like a food court, Muska said. New food additions include Fletcher’s Corn Dogs, a State Fair of Texas staple, and carnival offerings joining Czech favorites such as sausage, beer-bread sandwiches and kolaches. Those are added to the festival’s usual culture-crossing mix of street tacos, carnitas, pierogies, gorditas, pizza and hamburgers.

Brewery and hotel Pivovar Waco will provide two special beers drawn from Czech recipes and brewed for the weekend celebration.

Live music bookends the weekend fest, with Friday’s Preview Night featuring headliner Casey Donahew at 10 p.m., with openers William Beckmann and Taylor Branch and the Lone Star Rambers beginning after the naming of Miss Westfest at 7:30 p.m. Veteran Texas singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard will close out the festival at 10 p.m. at the Shutdown Party on Sunday night, with Tejano musician Sunny Sauceda opening for him at 8 p.m.

In between the concerts is polka music for dancing at the East and West Pavilions with eight bands playing from noon to midnight Saturday and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday. Denton-based world music/polka band Brave Combo, a Westfest fixture, will play from 9 p.m. to midnight Saturday and 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

As was the case last year, folk dancing and gymnastic demonstrations will take place only on Saturday, from 2 to 5:30 p.m. at the Sefcik Amphitheater. Sunday Westfest activities include the Kolache 5K run at 8 a.m., a polka mass at 10 a.m. and a kolache eating contest at noon.

  • The Central Texas State Fair opens Thursday and runs through Sunday with carnival rides, concerts, bull riding competition, a demolition derby and livestock shows at the Bell County Expo Center.

Concerts will highlight the fair’s evenings at 9:45 p.m. with the Eli Young Band on Thursday, Kevin Fowler on Friday and Flatland Cavalry on Saturday. Austin-based Charlie Crockett, performing in support of his album “The Man From Waco,” closes out the fair on Sunday night.

Professional Bull Riders competition takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday with a Twisted Metal Mayhem demolition derby at 7 p.m.

Fair hours are 5-11 p.m. Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday, noon-midnight Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $15, free for children 12 and younger, with bull riding tickets priced at $30 for reserved seats, $20 for general admission and children’s seats $20 and $15.

  • Homestead Craft Village hosts its 28th annual Sorghum Festival on Labor Day with sorghum cane pressing and syrup cooking added to the day’s demonstrations of handcrafts, craft activities and horse-drawn hayrides. The festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The village’s regular hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
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