Pecan Street Festival has long been an anticipated event in Austin every spring and fall — so long, in fact, that this year is the 40th anniversary of the beloved street festival. But let’s say you’re new to the city–here’s what the festival is all about!
Pecan Street is a free, two-day arts festival held yearly in downtown Austin’s Sixth Street Historic District. The spring portion always falls on the first Saturday and Sunday in May–this year on May 6 and 7–and attracts hundreds of local and national artisans. Attendees find original handcrafted creations in a variety of mediums–from metal, wood, fiber, clay, leather, glass, and stone, to repurposed materials of all kinds. The offerings go from the beautiful to the strange, but are definitely unique to each artisan.
“The most important element [of the event] is the people who attend,” Pecan Street Festival promoter Luis Zapata said. “These are beautiful, creative, art-loving people who respect each other and gather there to remind each other that we are a very special community.”
Even those of us who have been in Austin a while may not even know the history of why Sixth Street is still referred to as Pecan Street occasionally, or where this festival got its name. When Edwin Waller (the first mayor of Austin in 1840) designed Austin’s street grid, he named north/south streets after Texas rivers and recommended numeric designations for east/west streets. Instead, they were named after trees, because that seemed like a great idea at the time. Some years later that decision was reversed and the streets were renamed with numbers, as Waller originally suggested. Even though Pecan Street became Sixth Street, this festival still honors its original name.
Because the festival is in Austin, there’s plenty of music and food accompanying it. This year, it features 44 of Austin’s top musical acts, from up-and-comers to renowned veterans, like Ringo Deathstar, Riders Against the Storm, Annabelle Chairlegs, BLXPLTN, My Jerusalem, and TODO Austin’s own Lesly Reynaga. The performances are spread out on three different stages around the festival on Trinity, Neches and Red River streets.
Food-wise, expect about 30 vendors this year, offering both healthy fare but also traditional festival eats like funnel cakes, smoothies, crepes, fresh-squeezed lemonade, beer and plenty of regional cuisine.
Like Austin itself, Pecan Street Festival attendees are diverse. Some come to buy art, others come for the food or the music, some come for the kid-friendly activities (like rides, a petting zoo, face-painting, interactive workshops and street magicians), but they all come to take part in a tradition that is 100 percent Austin and has been known now for four decades as a great, free way to spend a weekend.
“A few years ago, Ballet Austin was doing hip hop lessons at the festival,” Zapata shared in an anecdote. “Leslie [Keep Austin Weird’s famous homeless man and peace activist] shows up drunk in a thong. Next thing you know, the ladies taking the class are getting their picture taken with Leslie–wealthy , fancy ladies celebrating a transgendered homeless through iconic character. I remember thinking, ‘Austinites, we are the very best of America.'”
The Pecan Street Association supports the Austin community by donating festival proceeds to several local nonprofit groups and municipal-aid organizations each year, often forming partnerships to further charitable efforts.
As part of their 40th celebration, the Pecan Street Association is asking festival part-takers to help them build their archive of the Pecan Street Festival. For more information, visit pecanstreetfestival.org.