Shannon Boothe serves food in the Irish Flats area of NIOSA.
Shannon Boothe serves food in the Irish Flats area of NIOSA in 2018. This year organizers are taking special safety precautions with food service as they welcome guests to La Villita. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Under a cover of thick, gray clouds, the organizers of A Night In Old San Antonio (NIOSA) danced to the strains of Kool & the Gang’s hit song Celebration, giving away their hopes for this year’s event: dry weather and throngs of revelers ready to party.

“I think we are ready to party in San Antonio,” said NIOSA Chairwoman Terry Schoenert after the traditional raising of the rain rock to ward off inclement weather. She, along with her NIOSA cohort, chanted, “No rain! No rain!” while showering South Presa Street with colorful confetti.

As one of Fiesta’s most popular events prepared to make its delayed appearance Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. for the first night of a four-night run, NIOSA regulars will note several changes due to ongoing pandemic safety protocols.

Single-night $20 individual tickets must be purchased online in advance. Normally, committed revelers could purchase passes for multiple nights of the festival, but this year capacity will be limited to 65% of past attendance, so separate tickets must be purchased for each night.

A limited number of walk-in tickets might be available onsite, Schoenert said, depending on how many advance tickets have been sold for each night.

NIOSA has implemented the BlastPass, an electronic wristband that can be filled with cash in amounts of $25, $50, or $100. Rather than selling paper tickets for food, drink, and other goodies as in past years, vendors will scan the BlastPass for all transactions, and suggested the technology is likely to stick around post-pandemic.

BlastPasses can be purchased online or onsite at several stations throughout Maverick Square and La Villita. Schoenert called the cashless electronic payment method “a treat for us,” reducing paper waste and making transactions simpler.

Children under 12 will still be admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult, but there will be no kids’ games or face-painting.

Fewer booths will populate the festival grounds to create more room for social distancing, and Schoenert said that attendees will notice some changes to how their favorite foods will be handed out.

Fiesta favorite chicken on a stick and all other on-a-stick foods will be served on trays — stick still included — to minimize person-to-person contact.

Because all booths will be staffed by the NIOSA volunteer crew, safety protocols are easier to maintain throughout the grounds, Schoenert said. Booths will be regularly sanitized, and hand sanitizing stations will be available.

There will still be dancing inside the Venue Villita assembly hall in the German-inflected “Sauerkraut Bend” area, though no tables or chairs will be available. All 14 culturally themed areas — including the French Quarter, Mexican Market, and Irish Flats — will occupy their usual places throughout the grounds.

Other than the few changes, Fiesta-goers will recognize the NIOSA they have come to expect year after year at the event that raises money for The Conservation Society of San Antonio’s historic preservation and educational efforts.

As far as the effectiveness of the rain rock goes, Fiesta’s June timing might enhance its reputation for keeping bad weather away. The Weather Channel predicts typical June temperatures, with little chance for rain through Friday.

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...