Float Fest drifts to Gonzales


The crowd July 22 at Float Fest.

Photo by Lara-Dietrich

Sonia Garcia

After months of little to no information on the annual Float Fest, it was able to get permit approval in Gonzales County. 

The festival will take place July 20-21 at James Cannan’s ranch. Headlinersthis year are Major Lazer, Portugal The Man, Gucci Mane, Kaskade, Zeds Dead and Ice Cube. Supporting artists include GroupLove, Big Boi, Jungle, Missio and others. 

The festival was previously held in Martindale, but in February the Guadalupe County Commissioner’s Court voted to neither approve nor deny the permit for 2019. Getting permit approval has been difficult in the past for Float Fest, as the city council accounts for traffic, drug usage, neighborhood trespassing, water pollution and public indecency. 

In March, Gonzales City Council unanimously voted against Float Fest being hosted at J.B. Wells Park in Gonzales. In a real life “Footloose,” the vote was a result of religious affiliates denouncing the event due to the sinful nature of dancing and singing. 

An hour’s worth of public testimony at the city council meeting led to conflicts regarding how local business owners would benefit and indecencies the festival would bring. The Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary is currently suing the city for misuse of the J.B. Wells Park, making townspeople fearful to go against their opposition to Float Fest.

The festival has proven to bring economic fortune to locations hosting it. According to the Float Fest team, an economic impact study was done on the 2018 festival and found a total of $12.3 million was generated from the event in the San Marcos area. The team hopes to reach the same goal in Gonzales.

Prior to the city council meeting, Float Fest organizers had the blessing to host Float Fest within county limits by Gonzales County Judge Patrick Davis. The meeting was not to debate the permit, but to allow the use of city property for such an event.

“I had no grounds to deny it initially, and I think it will be a great economic development for the city and the county,” Davis said. “Personally, I think it will be good.”

Float Fest founder Marcus Federman spoke at the city council meeting after a 15-minute closed session. He is a man of faith, and compared the festival to a Christian selling chicken tenders and queso in a restaurant, saying it may not be good for you, but people want it, so it is not fair to judge.

Federman offered to help with lawsuit costs, but the council still voted to end negotiations with Federman. Nonetheless, the county judge approved the permit for 25,000 individuals at James Cannan’s Ranch April 23. The location is about a mile from J.B. Wells Park, just outside of city limits.

Federman’s team is working closely with the city of Gonzales to ensure all festival-goers are safe. There will be multiple exit points, making for improved traffic flow.

Gonzales is located about an hour outside of Austin and San Antonio. Campgrounds open July 19, giving attendees the chance to arrive and settle in early. Unlike past years, river access will be available on-site. The campgrounds have more than 200 trees for shade, with 20×20 spaces available next to the Guadalupe River.

Federman said his team has been working on acquiring another location for months, which was gratefully found in Gonzales.

“We have been thinking about moving the festival for some time now to allow for expansion and more attendees, and a great opportunity presented itself with Gonzales,” Federman said. “Gonzales is known as the birthplace of Texas independence, and we can’t think of a better place to celebrate a festival rich in Texas traditions such as live music, floating the river and camping.”

Float Fest is going on its sixth year of action. The festival incorporates the Texas love of floating the river with music in the summer. More than 20,000 festival goers have attended in the past, and there could be higher numbers for 2019 with the venue now three times larger than before.

Cassidy Blaylock, public administration junior, attended Float Fest in 2018 and will be attending this year as well. She said while there is an abundance of local students, there are numerous out-of-town festival goers that attend. 

“The community as a whole does a really great job at (cleaning the river), but I think because so many people come from out of town, they aren’t very cautious of picking up their trash since it isn’t their city,” Blaylock said.

Every year the festival takes place, there are concerns for the safety of river life. The Float Fest team gives back to the community by organizing a river cleanup project. Divers and boats ensure the cleanliness of the river before, during and after. 

Federman said individuals on the San Marcos River know the water is cleaner when they leave than it was before the team arrived.

If Float Fest goes well, it could open the door to future events and concerts in Gonzales, Davis said. Float Fest will go through another public hearing sometime next year to secure its spot for Float Fest 2020. 

More information and tickets can be found on the Float Fest website.

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