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Viva Fiesta!

By: Kiersten Ehr

Crowds stream through gates to enter quality family fun, rushing to stand in line for the signature chicken on a stick. It’s a chilly, April afternoon as thousands of people put on their jackets for a breezy day ahead. Music featuring tejano, rock, pop and country surrounds you on a 135-acre campus in west San Antonio, while your heart races from the loud bands performing. It’s electric and nothing like it. You can feel the energy around you as people flock to get in on the action for some fried food, drinks, and music. All you see is people smiling and laughing as they are celebrating Fiesta, which translates to “party” in Spanish. It’s Viva Fiesta time in the heart of San Antonio during April 20-April 30. More specifically this is the 101st Oyster Bake at St. Mary’s University and the first big event for Fiesta San Antonio. Oyster Bake is from April 21-22.

Fiesta San Antonio began as a way to celebrate the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. It is now a $285 million dollar economic impact for the city of San Antonio, where thousands attend the signature events during the two weeks.

The first Oyster Bake started in 1916 and became an official Fiesta San Antonio event in 1974. The mission and goal of Oyster Bake is to raise funds for St. Mary’s University student scholarships. Oyster Bake admission is $25 at the gate and free for children 12 years and under. Even with a high admission fee, this does not stop people from attending the huge event with attendance over 70,000 people in two days.

Pete Hansen, Executive Director for Alumni Relations at St. Mary’s University, said this event takes 7,000 volunteers who contribute about 50,000 volunteer hours. Oyster Bake has a current endowment of $9 million, where they are able to help over 70 students a year in scholarships. Student groups have received over $1 million from the Bake.

“We need our volunteers to pull off a huge weekend in which over 70,000 patrons come to our campus, said Hansen. St. Mary’s mission is to educate our students and make sure they learn to give back by volunteering.”

A perk of becoming a volunteer is free admission for Oyster Bake, but you have to get recruited by a booth chair. In the past, volunteers would sign-up online and receive their free wristband, yet some never showed up for their shift.

“We are trying to stop people from getting free admission without having to work, said Hansen. The goal is to raise funds for scholarship and university programs.”

Word of the wise and from past experiences, it’s best to come to Oyster Bake on an empty stomach. There are endless amounts of food choices at Oyster Bake. For example, 100,000 oysters (baked and raw), 32,000 chicken on a stick, 8,500 steak on a stick, 7,000 egg rolls, 6,000 fried cheesecakes, 5,000 turkey legs, 5,000 hamburgers, 4,000 ears of corn, 4,000 slices of pizza, 3,500 lbs. of sausage, 3,000 lbs. beef and chicken fajitas, 2,000 chocolate covered strawberries, and 22,000 gallons of beverages. You’ve heard the saying “Everything is bigger in Texas” well now you can get a better picture of the huge size of Oyster Bake.

Along with the classic food options, Oyster Bake is known for their music line-ups featuring rock, country, tejano/latin and pop. Oyster Bake’s talent this year included Skillet, Eddie Money, P.O.D, and pop star, Aaron Carter. People from all types of music interests can enjoy different genres of music, which has helped attract more patrons.

San Antonio locals don’t need an introduction to Fiesta, since this is almost a religious event each year. Celebrating Fiesta San Antonio is a way of life for most people in the area, but for non-residents of south Texas they have probably never heard of the words “Fiesta.” Texas State Athletics, Facilities & Game Ops Coordinator, Jake Payne went to Oyster Bake for the first time with a group of Texas State Athletics employees and didn’t quite know what to expect going into the day, except for the fact he knew of some of the popular bands playing.

“As someone who works in a college atmosphere, St. Mary’s has come up with an incredibly innovative way to not only generate revenue, but also to create positive buzz about their school, said Payne. The atmosphere was electric and upbeat almost the entire time I was there. The bands were talented and the locations weren’t too crowded. Overall the event exceeded my expectations, and I hope they can continue having success and getting big time bands.”

A San Antonio resident, Connie Peterson, has collected these medals for over 20 years. Some of the medals are from Oyster Bake and the King William Fair dating back to 1992. Some of the proceeds for medals go to non-profit organizations. Connie calls these medals “beautiful works of art.”

Fiesta San Antonio and Oyster Bake is also known for their iconic medals. Fiesta medals are for each event throughout Fiesta in April where people collect them as a memento or souvenir. You can see people all throughout downtown San Antonio wearing sashes or hats all decorated with medals. Many medal proceeds go to non-profits and the community. Oyster Bake medal proceeds go toward scholarships.

Preparation for Oyster Bake usually starts a month in advance with the alumni homecoming, referred to as Baby Bake. St. Mary’s University Alumni, David O’Mara, said the campus turns into an enclosed maize; fencing all over the place, booths positioned at all corners, and music stages are built. During this week Oyster Bake crews work tirelessly to get the university ready to host tens of thousands of people.

O’Mara moved from Chicago to San Antonio 11 years ago, and had absolutely no idea about Fiesta events, let alone Oyster Bake. However, since his time at St. Mary’s, Fiesta has grown on O’Mara and has become one of his favorite times of the year.

“Now that I am an alumni, I have cherished my four years at St. Mary’s even more and love coming back to Oyster Bake, to give my time and make sure others enjoy theirs as well, said O’Mara. When it comes to Fiesta as a whole, who doesn’t love a party that lasts almost two weeks.”

Oyster Bake has become vital to the entire body of St. Mary’s University. From freshmen to seasoned alumni, Oyster Bake brings out the true value of what St. Mary’s believes in, “educating for service.” Incoming students lay out the foundations of service in their first year at the university and continue to build on that through a lifetime dedicated to giving back.

The best way to take advantage of joining in on the party, that lasts two weeks in April, is to head out with your friends, family, children, and dogs to relax in the beautiful spring weather of Texas.

Photos By: Rebekah Trujillo

 

Photos By: Alison Bryce

 

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