Drippin’ With Success
Founders Day Festival makes a small town boom for three days
By Mariana Espinoza
Photos: Founders Day Commission
A festival that began with a small chicken cook-off years ago has grown to be a family tradition for many residents in the Texas Hill Country. The Founders Day Festival in Dripping Springs—a small city located 25 miles outside of Austin—began 31 years ago to celebrate the founding of the city, which took place in 1850. This annual event takes place over three days during the spring. There is something for everyone to enjoy—a Friday-night themed parade, BBQ cook-off, carnival, more than 150 arts-and-crafts and business vendors, entertainment, shopping, and activities for the entire family. Dripping Springs has approximately 3,200 residents but welcomes about 11,000 people to the event! The secret to this event’s success is community involvement.
The Founders Day Festival is made possible through a partnership with the city and the Dripping Springs Lions Club, the Dripping Springs Cook Off Club, St. Martin de Porres Church, and the local rotary VFW. Deputy City Administrator Ginger Faught states that the great working relationship is attributed to “the fact all of these groups are working towards a single goal—to provide a great festival for the community that also raises funds for their respective organizations.” The festival is organized by a group of volunteers who represent the partnering groups. This group, called the Founders Day Commission, works with city staff, including the Parks and Community Services Director and the Communications Coordinator. This 10-member advisory board is appointed by city council. The Lions Club holds two seats, the Cook-off Club two seats, St. Martin De Porres Church two seats, and two seats are at-large. Founders Day Commission Chair Brenda Medclaff adds that the success of the commission and the festival is due in large part to the contributions of the commissioners who “listen to each other and are able to work through any issues.” To keep all commissioners on the same page and to ensure appropriate festival planning, they meet with city staff twice a month from January through April and once a month from May through December. In the days leading up to the event and throughout the festival weekend, each group brings volunteers to help manage their areas. Volunteering at the event is one way many people celebrate and recognize the importance of this tradition.
While the spirit of volunteerism is huge at the Founders Day Festival, the commissioners still seek additional support. The event is free for the public to attend because businesses and individuals provide sponsorships. This year was a special one for the festival because more money was raised in sponsorship funds than ever! Led by the Sponsorship Chair, Jake Adams, funding to cover expenses, such as security, street-closure equipment, and trash removal, are provided through sponsorships from area businesses and individuals. Faught expresses, “We are fortunate to have a community that loves and supports this festival.” Founders Day Festival provides a small-town experience, while Dripping Springs remains a growing community with new businesses seeking ways to become involved.
When recruiting sponsors and vendors for the event, the commission does a great job of letting prospective sponsors and vendors know they may deal with a variety of issues, such as limited shade, the smell of smoke coming from the barbeque, and loud concert music—things that make this festival special. Some vendors have been coming back for over 20 years! Priority is given to local sponsors and vendors, specifically those businesses along Mercer Street, where the center of the event is located. Key to success with securing sponsorships is fostering good relationships with returning businesses and with potential ones. Depending on the level of sponsorship, they can receive designated parking at the event, tent space, and inclusion on various forms of print and social-media publicity.
Through community collaboration, the Founders Day Festival has found the formula to success. Many people refer to the festival as a “homecoming,” a time to meet up with old friends and make new ones. People plan their vacations around the festival, young adults return home from college to attend the festivities, and many others look forward to volunteering. As the commission continues to brainstorm new ideas and reach out to potential sponsors, the reason for the festival is remembered, along with the dedication and devotion that so many have for Drippin’.
Mariana Espinoza is the Parks and Community Services Director for the City of Dripping Springs, Texas. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.