I have attended the Bluegrass & Chili Festival since it made its debut in Claremore. I got into a discussion just today about when that was; I think it was 2006 (because I had signed up to be a volunteer and I was leaving town immediately afterward to hit up a Counting Crows concert). As a member of the local Optimist Club, I am dedicated to at least a few shifts of “parking cars” at the festival. This means that I get to stand at the entrance, in the road, wearing a delightful Day-glo orange or yellow construction vest, and taking money from people. If I’m lucky, I get to man the walkie-talkie.

There are a few different kinds of attendees at Bluegrass. First, there are the normal people who are willing to pay $10 for hours upon hours of free entertainment. (Note that there is not an admission fee to the festival. You can sit literally for eight hours and listen to live music on three different stages AND visit all the vendors. For free. And the $10? The majority of it benefits the nonprofit organizations who have coughed up volunteers to cover four gates for a total of about 24 hours.) Next, there are the people who have a conniption when told that it’s $10 to park. Then they do a U-turn and leave to park at the restaurant across the street, which means they have to skulk past the gatekeepers with tails between their legs. Yeah, we see you. Your car just might get towed. Then there are the fast-talkers. “I am just dropping off a jacket for my daughter; she’s a volunteer.” Or, “I’m bringing dinner for my husband; he’s in the quilt show.” Or whatever. “I’ll just be five minutes.” Sometimes we are generous and let them go, but only after reminding them that we know what they look like, and we WILL come looking for them. We also have the ones who grumble about the $10, say they don’t want to enter after all, and will pretend to do the U-turn, only to peal off into the parking lot, hoping to sneak in. One of the gatekeepers will chase you, so don’t try it. You will just end up embarrassed.

Here’s the trick: Don’t come by yourself. Grab a few friends to come with you, and split the $10. It’s for a good cause.

The major complaint I hear each year is that there’s no chili at the Chili Fest. Well, yes, there is, but it’s only on Saturday afternoon. Here’s how it works: at 3p on Saturday (this is how it’s been in recent years), tasting kits will go on sale. They are generally sold right near the front of the Expo Center. Tasting kits are usually $5 and consist of a cup and a spoon. THEY SELL OUT VERY QUICKLY. Don’t decide at 3:15 that you might want to make your way to the Expo, because you’ll be out of luck. At 4p, the tasting begins. You go from tent to tent, trying different kinds of chili. There will be a lot of people. There is a limited amount of chili. Be patient and have a good time. Perhaps you should drink a beer while you enjoy your chili (because that is a great combo anyway, so why not?). There IS chili at the Chili Fest; you just have to know when and where.

If you miss out on chili for whatever reason, go get a corn dog from the Iowa guys. I don’t know the name of their food stand, but they sell corn dogs and have Iowa license plates. They’re in attendance each year, the corn dogs are magnificent, and the guys are friendly.

I hear there’s also wonderful music at this thing; I’m not really a bluegrass fan, so I can’t vouch for that. But I can say that thousands of folks descend on our little town from all over the country year after year, so there must be something spectacular happening.

If you’re around Claremore the weekend of September 7 – 9, stop by the 38th Annual Bluegrass & Chili Festival at the Claremore Expo/West Bend Green. It’s a lot of fun. Say ‘hey’ if you see me; I’ll be the one in the yellow vest.

Keep it local, Claremore! Get a full schedule here. 

-MCM Staffer Ashley,
who really enjoys this particular weekend!