After uncertain future, Austin's iconic kite festival soars for a new generation
Every year, on the first Sunday of March, Austinites gather on the Great Lawn of Zilker Park to take part in one of the city's most iconic events: the Kite Fest. For those who attend, the festival is a chance to spend the day outdoors reveling in the unofficial kickoff to spring. And for those who don't, there is still something joyful about looking out across the city and seeing thousands of kites bobbing over Zilker Park.
Now known as the ABC Kite Fest, the free, family-friendly event has been an Austin tradition for 89 years. And though it's beloved by many, the festival has faced an uncertain future.
Until recently, the Kite Fest was run by the Exchange Club of Austin, the volunteer service organization that founded the festival in 1929. Over the past few years, the club found the event harder and harder to execute and was close to ending the Kite Fest entirely.
"They made the decision that they couldn't keep putting on this event," Bobby Jenkins, owner of ABC Home & Commercial Services, tells CultureMap. Inspired by what he calls "the spirit of the kite fest," Jenkins and his team took over the event in 2017, renaming it the ABC Kite Fest and incorporating a series of new events. "I had attended the kite festival years ago and wanted to be a part of it for next 50 or 100 years."
For Jenkins, the partnership was a natural fit. "I’m an Aggie — I’m all about tradition and history and all of that, it’s so important," he explains. "As [Austin] continues to evolve, there are a lot of great changes happening ... [But] the last thing you want is Austin to change so much that we lose sight of these events."
Attendees to the March 4 event will find the same Kite Fest they've come to know and love, but with new features and events — including one with a deeply personal connection to Jenkins and his family.
The morning will begin with the Anteater Fun Run, a 2.1-mile lap starting at the Zilker moon tower. Following the race is MossFest, a children's concert held in memory of John "Moss" Pieratt Jr., Jenkins' grandson who died suddenly at 18 months from Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood. (In fact, a portion of Kite Fest proceeds goes to the Moss Pieratt Foundation, which funds research for SUDC.)
The big event, the Exchange Club Kite Showcase & Contest, kicks off at 1 pm. While it's free to show up and fly a kite, attendees wishing to enter the competition should note it is only free for handmade kites. All other should register here. Other Kite Fest highlights include local food trucks, bounce houses, face painting, and a day-long Kids Club activity center.
After last year's rainout, Jenkins says he will be obsessively refreshing his weather app, hoping for sunny skies. Like the 35,000 or so Central Texans who will descend on Zilker Park on March 4, Jenkins doesn't want to miss out on one of his favorite events of the year.
"The spirit of the kite festival, it kicks off spring — and we’re all ready for spring," laughs Jenkins. "That’s what it’s been all of these years ... it’s about Austin families coming together in a wonderful setting. I don’t think there is anything better."