Fiesta facts and figures are still being compiled, but Fiesta San Antonio Commission Executive Director Steve Rosenauer is sure of one thing.

“We got through it,” he said Wednesday, on hand for the annual post-Fiesta Medal Weigh-In at Monarch Trophy Studio.

Hired in late 2020, the fledgling executive director reflected on his first festival. “It’s really hard to compare it to a normal Fiesta,” he said. “Just having the event is already a success.”

Fiesta 2021 was far from normal.

“From our normal, Fiesta was down” in terms of attendance, money raised for area nonprofits, the number of events, and overall activity, he said, but in his visits to many events he observed strong crowds that grew as the 11-day festival went on.

A Night In Old San Antonio [NIOSA] got better throughout the week. It started off on Tuesday maybe a little slow, but by the time we I was out there on Friday, it looked like a really good crowd.”

Rosenauer also observed strong attendance at the Fiesta Fiesta opening night parade, Fiesta de los Reyes at Market Square, Fiesta Gartenfest at Beethoven Mannerchor, and the Texas Cavaliers River Parade.

People sing traditional German songs during the Fiesta Gartenfest at Beethoven Halle and Garden. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

He had words of praise for event organizers. “They all had pretty good crowds for how quickly they had to pivot from what they were thinking about in January — were we even going to have Fiesta? to actually doing it in June — so the crowds definitely exceeded my expectations.”

The Commission set reasonable expectations considering the slow emergence from pandemic conditions, and holding what is normally a spring festival in summer heat, he said. The investiture ceremony for King Antonio, for example, was pushed to 8 p.m. rather than its previously scheduled 6 p.m. start time due to high temperatures.

“We wanted San Antonio to come out and celebrate, and we did a lot of promotion for that. But we also wanted to be realistic too, to say that all of a sudden going from zero to 100 [percent] capacity, well it might take a little bit of time for people to get used to it,” Rosenauer said. “It was fun to watch how the momentum started to build.”

Fernando Gomez dances with his girlfriend, Kloe Dominguez, during A Night in Old San Antonio on Tuesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

Visible safety measures played into the festival’s success, he said. “Having the mobile vaccination sites show up at some of the events also was a very big win from the city perspective, in showing that we are concerned and we always will make sure people stay safe.”

At the Medal Weigh-In, the pandemic-reduced numbers were visible in how many medals would take top prize. Suzi Otis, director of marketing sponsorships, said that in past years, 800 medals would be a likely number, but this year “about half that” would win — even with this year’s special allowance for combining 2020 and 2021 medals.

Former second- and third-place winner Daniel Gonzalez waited for the results with a gaggle of “medal maniacs,” as the commission refers to ardent collectors, hopeful he brought enough medals to win a prize. A Fiesta regular since before his ample mustache turned gray, Gonzalez joked, he amassed 271 medals over the past 14 months, compared to his 2019 total of 240.

The eventual winner of the Weigh-In was Blue Rose Alvarez, with 457 medals weighing in at more than 35 pounds. Fiesta medals are a primary means of fundraising for the many area nonprofit organizations who participate in the festival, lending Fiesta its popular “party with a purpose” tagline.

As Chasity Villareal and daughter Jocelyn Valdez awaited their final medal counts, they proudly showed off a special medal made for Jocelyn’s role as a member of the royal court of the Women’s Club of San Antonio. While Jocelyn called this year’s Fiesta “a big change from everyone being out all at once,” Villareal said this was probably the only time the festival would coincide with her birthday and Pride Month.

Volunteering in the Mr. Chicken booth at NIOSA, “was hot as all get out,” she said. “It was quite hard with those fryers, but it was an amazing experience to be there.”

One big takeaway for Rosenauer was watching how the community of organizers and volunteers worked together under challenging conditions. “I was very humbled but also very, very happy to see the amount of teamwork and cooperation that went into actually having Fiesta this year,” he said.

Will Rosenauer re-don the Shuckie costume he once wore as the mascot for the revived St. Mary’s Fiesta Oyster Bake? The annual event was canceled this year but is expected to return for Fiesta 2022. Fiesta fanatics will eagerly await the answer.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...