An annual festival celebrating Texas western swing music and culture, the Texas Natural and Western Swing Festival is held in San Marcos every third weekend in May. Western swing bandleader and founder of the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, Al Dressen, started the festival in Austin in 1988 as a way to celebrate the unique Texas-based musical genre known as western swing. At the beginning the festival was a month-long event called the Western Swing Hall of Fame Show, with performances held at the Paramount Theatre, the Austin Opry House, and other locations around the Capital City.
By the early 1990s the city of Austin no longer was helping fund the festival, so Dressen began negotiating with Kelly Franks at the city of San Marcos about relocating the event there. The Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, the Main Street Program (a program designed to revitalize downtown San Marcos), and the city of San Marcos, agreed to move the festival to San Marcos in order to help increase local tourism and bring greater public attention to Texas history and culture.
Upon moving to San Marcos, the festival was shortened to a two-day event, taking place the third weekend of May each year. Festival-goers participate in a wide variety of activities that include live music, arts, crafts, food, a farmers’ market, children’s activities, and themed exhibitions. All vendors are allowed to use and sell only Texas-made products.
For some years the festival began on Friday nights at Texas State University’s Freeman Ranch outside of San Marcos with “The Gathering,” at which Hall of Fame members and inductees, along with their families and friends, gathered to socialize and play music. Saturday’s activities start around 9:30 A.M. at the courthouse square and continue into the night. On Saturday evening, the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame hosts a concert, followed by a street dance. Several downtown venues near the courthouse square also host western swing acts. Sunday festivities include a cowboy gospel brunch and “Gathering” of music legends.
The Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame has inducted dozens of western swing musicians, including Bob Wills, Laura Lee McBride, Milton Brown, the Light Crust Doughboys, Floyd Tillman, Eldon Shamblin, Cindy Walker, Hank Thompson, Adolph Hofner, Al Stricklin, Leon Rausch, Smoky Dacus, Tommy Duncan, Herb Remington, Louise Rowe, Moon Mullican, Cotton Collins, Johnny Cuviello, Bob Dunn, Asleep at the Wheel, Hot Club of Cowtown, Tommy Allsup, Tiny Moore, Ted Daffan, Chris O’Connell, Johnny Gimble, Bob Boatright, Jimmie Grabowski, Floyd Domino, Paul Glasse, Maryann Price, Bert Rivera, Cindy Cashdollar, Rick McRae, Danny Levin, Tony Sepolio, Billy Bowman, and many more. A number of these artists also have performed at the festival.