Campus News

Frontier Fiesta: The history behind UH’s longest running tradition

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

As the spring semester approaches, the long-awaited Frontier Fiesta week is here. The student-led and student-run spring festival runs from April 18-20 and is the oldest programming tradition at UH that has been celebrated since 1939. The event is free and open to all and filled with numerous activities to enjoy. Here is an inside look at the tradition and history surrounding Frontier Fiesta. 


The spring festival was discontinued during World War II and resumed in 1947 through 1959. 

Organizing and planning for the event took months and raised significant funds for the University as well as the city of Houston. 

After resuming in 1946, the program gained national recognition in 1953. It drew attention and huge crowds with nearly 200,000 attendees which included celebrities like James Garner, Humphrey Bogart and more. 

Welcome Wilson, a former member of UH System Board of Regents who only recently passed, Johnny Goyen, past Houston City Councilman and Jack Valenti, Frontier Fiesta Director and night editor of The Daily Cougar were the student leaders in the 1940s and early 1950s, according to the Frontier Fiesta website.

By the end of the decade, the festival discontinued for various reasons in 1959. The Fat Stock Show, which later became the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, took over the spot previously held by Frontier Fiesta.

Dubbed “The Greatest College Show on Earth,” by LIFE magazine, the festival, cherished by students, continues to provide a place for students to relax and have fun before exam season hits. 


Resurrected in 1991, Frontier Fiesta has since become a long-standing tradition at the University. The event was first held again in the spring of 1992 as a student and alumni event. Today, the carnival expects about 15,000 attendees and hosts numerous events for everyone to participate in and enjoy.

One of the most common and oldest traditions of Frontier Fiesta is the Variety Shows. Registered student organizations create short productions based on Broadway shows and big-screen hits to compete against one another for the Joel Koppel Award. 

Frontier Fiesta now emphasizes diversity and community at UH through student performances. It serves as a platform for showcasing a wide range of student talents, and any student or organization able to participate for free.

Other attractions at Frontier Fiesta include the various carnival booths, which are often used by student organizations to showcase themselves on campus. 

Frontier Fiesta is famous for its “World Class Cook-off,” where over 40 cook-off teams compete in six different food categories like Chef’s choice, chili, chicken and more. 

Apart from this, the carnival offers food and other attractions like rides, celebrity performances and more.

Despite the many challenges, Frontier Fiesta has grown over time. It has become more inclusive and evolved with the changing times, especially with the intention of giving back to the community. 

The carnival awards scholarships to incoming freshmen and current students. The money is fundraised through the Frontier Fiesta Royalty competition and later the candidate who raises the most money is crowned the title of Frontier Fiesta Royalty.

The full schedule of Frontier Fiesta can be found here.

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