The bright lights of the carnival rides and food trucks illuminate a spot of desert surrounded by a cotton field on one side and a burgeoning housing development on the other. For one night out of the year, this land goes from a tranquil community park with small gardening plots to a traditional country fair with flashing lights, raucous music, and children’s laughter.
This third edition of the Marana Cotton Festival was the biggest yet, with attendance more than double from the year before, but built on the same old fashioned fun it was based upon.
The heart of the Marana Cotton Festival celebrates the farming and rodeo roots of the Town. Marana’s history is of soil-covered hands and dusty boots, a municipality formed by area farmers over forty years ago. On event day, nearly the whole community came out to experience Marana’s rodeo and agricultural heritage.
Rodeo once again ruled the day. The event opened with a rodeo that showcased demonstrations by experienced rodeo competitors, but also saw young children getting their boots dusty for the first time in the Mutton Busting, Boot Scramble, Stick Horse Barrel Racing activities. Throughout the festival you could hear their times being announced, and those who wanted a closer view were treated to the rodeo traditions that have been going on in the area for hundreds of years.
Few events bring a smile to the crowd’s faces as Mutton Bustin’. For many, the smiles on their faces might suggest this was just the beginning of their lifelong affiliation with the sport. Soon the sheep may be exchanged for horses, and for a few, even bulls.
The Cotton Festival featured carnival rides and two musical acts, but the loudest sound of the day was probably at the cotton pile. After watching a pair of John Deere mechanical cotton pickers rumble through the fields to harvest the crop, the hauls were dumped into a hay bale pen for the children to play in. There were squeals of delight and loud laughter for hours as children scooped up the fluffy cotton and threw it at each other, at themselves, or up in the air to watch it float down to earth. Children ran, jumped, and played together in the cotton from the time the yield was dumped until the last rides were shut down five hours later.
What is a carnival without carnival rides? Whirling and spinning rides were a huge attraction. Their neon lights lit up the Marana Cotton Festival sky, serving as a beacon for miles around. Reds and blues and greens flashed and streaked against the ebony night sky, while the yelps of their riders let all those around them know about the thrill seeking fun to be had.
The smell of popcorn, barbecue and desserts filled the air as food trucks and vendors served their wares. Fresh popped kettle corn, mounds of curly fries, and deep fried desserts were served side by side with mouth-watering meatballs, delicate French pastries, and piping hot gourmet pizza. There was something for every taste and craving.
The steak fry and Chili Bowl chili cook-off provided good food for great causes, and the beer gardens provided refreshment on a perfect night.
Cheerleaders and youth soccer teams patrolled the grounds, reminding people to check out the carnival games. Even Trixie the Goat tried on her finest tutu and tiara to tell people about the great fun at the 4-H Club fundraiser.
The Marana Community Choir showed off their beautiful voices and sweet harmonies before giving way to Blue Monsoon who quickly got the dance floor moving with their take on country favorites and rock and roll classics. Small children and couples put on their dancing boots and moved to the music.
Perfect weather made for a perfect evening as the Town came together. The third annual Cotton Festival was the biggest yet, growing just as the town is growing, but like Marana, its growing size did not take away from the small town, country feel.