September 24 marks the sixth annual Mermaid Capital of Texas Fest organized by the Mermaid Society of Texas. The festival consists of the Downtown Mermaid Promenade starting at 10 a.m. and the Downtown Street Faire starting at noon. The Mermaid Society is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire community engagement through the symbol of the mermaid to promote environmental protection and celebrate San Marcos’s culture and heritage.
The Mermaid Capital of Texas Fest is an event I have looked forward to every year since moving to San Marcos. Because I started attending Texas State in Fall 2020, I missed out on the opportunity to see what all the festival had to offer. This year, the festival exceeded my expectations in terms of energy and character, despite the Texas heat.
San Marcos has been known as the official Mermaid Capital of Texas since it was designated as such by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the 87th Legislature of the State of Texas on May 24, 2021. The signed designation, which can be read here, recounts the story of how mermaids came to represent the city of San Marcos.
Mermaids became significant to the history of San Marcos during the 1950s after the opening of the now defunct amusement park, Aquarena Springs. Hundreds of thousands of annual visitors came to see the park’s “aquamaids”. The aquamaids were mermaid performers that entertained guests underwater with synchronized swimming and other spectacles.
The mermaid also symbolizes the significant connection between humans and the environment. The San Marcos River remains a crucial life source for several endangered species and a sacred space to locals. The Mermaid Society believes that it is in the best interest of San Marcos to come together to preserve water resources in central Texas. They also believe that mermaids represent values important to the San Marcos community such as stewardship, preservation, leadership, arts, sustainability, and heritage (or SPLASH).
Taylor Prewitt for Texas Monthly wrote that in the mid-2010s, San Marcos locals became concerned that San Marcos would lose its charm and heritage with the after disappearance of Aquarena Springs and the city’s rapid population growth. But thanks to the Mermaid Society’s founder, July Moreno, events like the Mermaid Capital of Texas Fest unite students and families alike to celebrate the culture and environment that are uniquely San Marcos.
I was able to watch the promenade from the intersection of North LBJ Drive and East Hopkins Street near the square. Even before the promenade had reached where I was standing, the excitement of the crowd was tangible. All kinds of San Marcos locals were gathered on the square including students, families and pets. Promenade-goers of all ages (and species!) dressed as mermaids complete with brightly colored wigs and tails. While waiting for the first floats to arrive, locals entertained themselves with bubbles and dancing to music from speakers attached to nearby poles.
At around 10:20 a.m., the anticipated promenade began to appear. The participants represented a wide range of what the city of San Marcos has to offer locals and tourists alike. Small businesses and local political candidates took advantage of the festival to promote themselves. Several marching bands, including the Rattler Band, played covers of popular songs for the crowd. And other dancers and entertainers kept the energy of the festival alive until its conclusion.
One highlight of the promenade was the display of the Mer-Folk Royal Court. As members of the royal court, these people are chosen to represent the vibrancy and enrichment of the San Marcos community. So it is no surprise that 2022’s Mermaid Promenade Grand Marshal is newly appointed Texas State President Dr. Kelly Damphousse. This year’s Mermaid Queen is Dr. Kimberly Meitzen, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Texas State.
The promenade featured sections that demonstrated different values of the Mermaid Society. I enjoyed seeing culturally diverse performers like the Mexican folk dancers and Chinese dragon performers. Several organizations represented in the promenade proudly dedicated themselves to serving San Marcos. Volunteers from nonprofits like the San Marcos River Foundation and the Hays County Food Bank were dressed as mermaids to advocate for the betterment of the community.
As the promenade had passed the square around 11 a.m., I made my way to the Downtown Street Faire located surrounding the Hays County Historic Courthouse. If you have ever been to Art Squared Arts Market put on by San Marcos Art League, think of this as Art Squared on steroids. The street faire welcomed 130 vendors dispersed around the courthouse and down North LBJ Drive.
What makes the Downtown Street Faire unique from other art markets is that most vendors reworked their merchandise around mermaids. Many vendors were local artists selling handmade goods from visual art and mermaid dolls to jewelry and crocheted accessories. I could tell that Texas State students in attendance gravitated toward small businesses selling self-care and metaphysical products.
Near The Marc, several food trucks were parked on East San Antonio Road. Although I didn’t buy anything myself, the favorites of the festival seemed to be large lemonades and wood-fired pizzas. Other food trucks and stands were located on North LBJ Drive selling kettle corn and specialty drinks.
The Mermaid Capital of Texas Fest truly has something to offer everyone. It is the most family-friendly event in San Marcos that you cannot find anywhere else. Anyone passionate about preserving San Marcos culture and environment will love the display of heritage and entertainment unique to the Mermaid Capital of Texas Fest. The mermaid is a long-time symbol of San Marcos that brings people together every September. I was appreciative to have a front-row seat to this special tradition and look forward to attending next year!
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