It began from a joke, a tongue-in cheek local celebration of an ornery weed local farmers complained was a burr in their collective sides.
Now under new leadership, the 43rd Annual Royal Bull Thistle Festival this Saturday in Fayette will present a bigger, brighter, and better event this year.
Appointed in January by the festival’s founding members, committee president Dan Shock and vice president Brittany Theis drew big guns this year to bring an expanded, more musical, and more entertaining festival to Normal Grove Park on Aug. 7. Located on Park Street in Fayette, the site will host a bevy of activities Shock said are meant to breathe new life into the event.
“We’re trying to grow this thing but we want to take baby steps and try to make it as big as it’s ever been,” he said.
The Royal Bull Thistle Festival, with the theme “Thistle Fund in ‘21,’” will open at 9 a.m. with a full variety of craft and merchant booths, concession stands, and a milkshake booth operated by Fayette United Methodist Church youth. If available, fire equipment from Lyons and two Life Flight helicopters will make appearances, and kids can burn off their energy in two bounce houses.
The traditional parade will kick off at 11 a.m. at the corner of South Fayette Street and Gamble Road, and make its average 1 to 1 1/2 hour run through the village. Sixty-five parade units are expected this year, including the fire equipment if available.
Food will include a $10 chicken dinner provided by Port-A-Pit of Edgerton, Ohio; Pence concession stands; J&A Taco of Wauseon; B&E Lemonade; Garry’s Kettle Corn; and Erasmo Raspas snow cones.
Musical fare has also expanded this year. Renegade Lemonade Duo will perform 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Heidi Paxton from 12:30-1 p.m. and 1:30-2 p.m.; Fayette Nazarene Praise Band from 3-4 p.m.; and Linden Street Band from 4-7 p.m.
Other entertainment will include a sand volleyball tournament at 12:30 p.m.; the Jeramy Perez and Shelly Pike Arm Wrestling Tournament at 1 p.m.; and a kids’ tractor pull at 1:15 p.m., courtesy of the Fayette FFA chapter. There will also be a Chinese auction, 50-50 raffles throughout the day, and an instructor-led BB gun range and archery trailer, both provided by the U.S. Department of Natural Resources.
Some events may require a fee.
At dusk, fireworks by Phantom Fireworks will light the sky at Fayette High School.
“We’ve reached out to a lot of different people to try different things because we want to grow this (festival),” Shock said. “We want to make it bigger and better every year.”
But no Royal Thistle Festival would be complete without a contest for the best thistle. Several judges will accept competitors at their table and announce winners in several categories at 1:30 p.m. Novelty prizes will be awarded.
“Some of these guys take this stuff pretty serious…when they’ve got eight and nine foot tall bull thistles,” Shock said.
All proceeds from the festival will be used to fund the event the following year.
The Royal Bull Thistle Festival was the brainchild of Fayette locals Herb Woodard and Jim Marlatt, newspaper owner and attorney, respectively. They’d overheard farmers gripe about how the infamous bull thistle hassled their farming efforts, and decided with humor to celebrate, rather than damn, the weed with its own festival beginning in 1977.
The festival grew in popularity to the point that people from as far as Detroit, Mich., have attended. In fact, Shock said, any guest showing him proof of having traveled the farthest to attend will receive a free chicken dinner.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.