Frontier Fiesta tries to break from stereotype

Frontier Fiesta in the 1950s/The Daily Cougar

Frontier Fiesta in the 1950s/The Daily Cougar

If one were to ask an average UH student what his or her favorite tradition at UH is, the student would probably make a joke about his or her morning tradition of attempting to find a parking space.

The lack of tradition is something UH struggles with. We can try to blame it on our high commuter rate, but we cannot place all of the responsibility on that.

After all, a particular UH tradition has managed to stay with the University for an extended period of time — Frontier Fiesta.

For those who are unaware of the twists, turns and tidbits of this celebration, it can most accurately be described as one of the few annual traditions UH has maintained throughout the years. While it does stand among other UH traditions, like Shasta and the Frontiersmen, Frontier Fiesta is a tradition that is often heard of but not always participated in.

Frontier Fiesta, a rodeo-esque celebration, was founded in 1939. The festival went through periods of time when it was discontinued — such as during WWII — but eventually continued after years-long hiatuses.

It restarted in 1991 and has been an annual celebration for Cougars ever since.

However, despite this longstanding tradition, Frontier Fiesta has still taken an unfortunate dive in recognition since its conception. Once called the “Greatest College Show on Earth” in 1958 by LIFE Magazine, Frontier Fiesta would now more commonly be known as the “Thing that Stole My Parking Space.”

In the beginning, UH students and other members of the Houston community looked forward to Frontier Fiesta weekend. The celebration was a great way for the University to bring in performers as well as families who wanted to participate in the activities that included a wagon ride, carnival booths and a petting zoo.

According to Houston History Magazine, the first festival featured “talent shows, musical and dance acts, concessions and games along with what became a long-time festival highlight: the beard-growing contest.”

Over time, Frontier Fiesta brought in groups and members of the community to compete in a BBQ cook-off, as well as offering scholarships opportunities for incoming freshmen.

Currently, Frontier Fiesta continues to offer much of the same things, as well as a few additions, with famous performers, variety shows, Mr. and Mrs. Fiesta, the Frontier Fiesta 5K and the cook-off.

Creating scenery is something that Frontier Fiesta has maintained since the beginning. Clad in a rustic, country feel, Frontier Fiesta continues to embody the general feel of the inaugural Frontier Fiesta with an old-town setting.

Frontier Fiesta’s Director of Operations Brandon Blue is part of the team that puts Fiesta City together. Blue and numerous volunteers work year-round to build an entire city space for the three-day event as they push to bring the celebration back to the glory of its heyday.

Though it is a tradition, Blue recognizes that Frontier Fiesta has understandably changed since the original celebration in 1939.

“It’s obviously become a little bit more modern. We have not just country artists, but we are bringing in a wide variety of artists so that everyone can enjoy the music selection we have,” Blue said. “I believe we have stepped up our student-body involvement since the rebirth. We have added things … that have really pushed us in a direction that includes everybody.”

Although Frontier Fiesta attempts to include the entirety of the student body, there are some students that do not recognize the attempts at inclusion.

Some people find Frontier Fiesta to be a rootin’ tootin’ rite of passage for all UH students that is the embodiment of merriment with concerts, events and food. On the other hand, there are others who see it as an elitist festival intended mainly for members of Greek life that bombards our already-limited parking options with tents and booths.

In previous years, Frontier Fiesta has seemed to be steamrolled by Greek life, with members of sororities and fraternities being the main contributors to the festival with their variety shows and booths.

However, it now seems that Frontier Fiesta is attempting to break out of this norm by reaching out to the Cougar community. With more advertising tools erected around campus, Frontier Fiesta looks to extend its attendance to all members of the community.

“I think (Greeks) are the ones who started off doing it, and they’ve just continued like that,” Blue said. “No one else really knows that they can do it. And so we’re really trying to push out that any student organization can do a variety show.”

There are at least 13 carnival booths run by student organizations, only a few of which are Greek. However, because Frontier Fiesta appeared to be a predominantly Greek festival in the past, students are wary of attending.

Theater education sophomore Mason Patterson has no intention of attending the festivities because of the general exclusive air of the event. He also suggests reaching out to more of the University.

“I think by branching out and getting an overall consensus of what the community really wants, entertainment-wise, and what would bring our population together would help,” Patterson said. “I think that the people they invited to come are only serving them; they’re not really serving the entire University and what the entire University has to offer.”

Patterson suggests branching to more of the colleges to bring the University together. Instead of sticking to student groups such as the Student Government Association, reaching out to the colleges would be helpful, he said.

“If Fiesta is a tradition, it doesn’t feel like one. It just feels like another pamphlet.”

In response to students who feel similarly, Frontier Fiesta chairman Hunter Lewis feels the opposite.

“Throughout the year, we have undertaken numerous surveys and polls to discover what students want most out of Frontier Fiesta,” Lewis said.

“For the first time ever, in a campus-wide poll, we asked what artists in particular students would like to see from us so that their voice would be the deciding factor in the direction this event heads. The results of this poll were the driving force behind our selection of B.o.B. as our headliner through the support of the Student Program Board.”

Instead, Lewis urges students to try again.

“I think that may have been a fair characterization in the past, but I would encourage anyone who thinks that way to come out and enjoy everything Frontier Fiesta has to offer.”

Personally, in my three years at UH, I have never attended Frontier Fiesta — but I plan to this year. Recognizing that Frontier Fiesta is a UH tradition is one thing, but becoming part of the tradition is another.

We can stand idly by and complain about lack of traditions, or we can attempt to actually be a part of one of the few stable traditions UH has maintained.

Senior staff columnist Kelly Schafler is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]


  • I’m an alumna now since December of 2013 and I went to Frontier Fiesta twice and I’ll tell you why the tradition is lacking… It’s because all the tents set up are almost exclusive to a certain Frat, Sorority or club. I mean that’s cool and all, but what about the regular students? You have to know someone who knows someone to get into tents or you have PAY? So… that just leaves us regular students wandering around and looking at all the fun everyone is having from the outside of tents. Womp, womp, no fun ):

      • What was different about this year? I showed up, and found 99% of tents to have the same old “Private Party” sign. Private parties SHOULDN’T EVEN BE ALLOWED at a public, school-wide festival. This is supposed to cater to the community at large. What about the carnival rides for the kids? How about large areas to eat and drink that ANYONE can stroll into? How about lots of small bands playing at all times of day? Several years ago, Frontier Fiesta was just that. Bring it back. This is not simply some greek tradition.

        • >I showed up, and found 99% of tents to have the same old “Private Party” sign.

          You seemed to be in the cook-off section of the event, a portion catered to groups around campus and Houston who come from a tradition of supporting our school and giving back. I’m not sure I understand your frustration, as 99% of cook-offs in the world function as a collection of private parties, including the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

          > Private parties SHOULDN’T EVEN BE ALLOWED at a public, school-wide festival. This is supposed to cater to the community at large.

          The whole event is not private, and is free to all at the University and community.

          > What about the carnival rides for the kids?

          They were present Saturday morning at the annual Family Fun Day.

          >How about large areas to eat and drink that ANYONE can stroll into?

          The Budlight Pavillion was a massive entertainment area free and open to everyone located right as you walk in from the main entrance. It featured two stages, food and drinks sold throughout the weekend with a large seating space to hang out and have a good time, exhibits and carnival booths all weekend, awards shows, and much more. When you walk into the event this massive space, as big as the ENTIRE cook-off section, was to your right. I believe you took a left into the gated cook-off section.

          >How about lots of small bands playing at all times of day?

          They had tons of bans, from Houston playing throughout the weekend. There was Buxton, Young Mammals, The Suffers, Kydd Jones, Chiddy Bang, Green River Ordinance, Jeff Allin, Brant Croucher, and more. Not to mention the headliners, B.o.B, A Great Big World, and Love & Theft. There were also student performers and organization showcases throughout the weekend.

          >This is not simply some greek tradition.

          I think the thousands of non-affiliated attendees would agree with you.

          >I showed up

          Are you sure?

    • You’re mistaken about entry fees… everyone must pay even those that belong to the host organizations. The only people that possibly don’t have to pay would be the actors/actresses. And possibly Shasta.

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