Thursday, March 29, 2012

Big Hat Days – 73 Years of Fun

By Fran Blackney 

Big Hat Days has been part of the Clovis Way of Life for more years than most of its residents have lived.  Started as a one day hat and shirt dress up event, it has become the largest festival in the Central Valley.

Its popularity is so well known that Festfan magazine proclaimed Clovis the Most Festive Town in 1994 – a moniker that has been well deserved and maintained.

The Clovis Rodeo, formally known as the Festival and Horse Show, has been presented on the last weekend in April since 1914.  During the entire month of April, the city got ready for the rodeo by dressing up in big hats and western wear. 

Finally, on March 25, 1939, one day was given a special name – Big Hat Day – and a tradition was created. The Clovis Chamber of Commerce became the organizer and presenter of the annual event.

On April 8, 1950, the event was announced as “Big Hat and Bright Shirt Day”.  Along with the big hats sporting the red or gold bands that were available at local stores, people were also encouraged to wear bright shirts, jeans, western boots and other cowboy apparel.

In 1953, the Clovis 20-30 club took over the Whiskerino contest, another popular feature of early Big Hat Days.  They had a “hoosegow” where clean shaven men were sent to raise money for the most impressive beard contest. 

In the late fifties, the tradition of presenting a ten gallon hat to the mayor was started. Today, the Grand Marshall of the Rodeo Parade receives the hat.

The city took its western wear duties seriously.  For many years, a temporary “jail” was set up where citizens who were dressed in attire that was not considered “western” would be sent.  Local shopkeepers appointed sheriffs, patrolled the Old Town streets to find fashion scofflaws.   The “jail” was part of the parade where people could view the “prisoners”.

During this time it wasn’t only the people who were dressed up in western wear.  Local businesses decorated their windows with boots and hats vying for a trophy presented by merchants Larry Sassano and Slim Beaver.

By 1983, the activities on the first weekend in April had died down.  The Clovis Chamber of Commerce then decided to take the event in a different direction.  That year, they presented a small festival and barbeque at the Rodeo Grounds.  The crowd was entertained by a live band and children enjoyed sack and wheelbarrow races.

Visitors packed the Rodeo Grounds, so, on the advice of the Clovis Police, the festival was moved to Pollasky Avenue in 1984 and the rest is history. In 1992, Big Hat Day became plural as it became a 2 day event.  From a festival of a dozen craft booths taking up one block, the event now encompasses 13 blocks and needs more.

Whether a one day event in 1939 or the largest two day festival in the Central Valley, Big Hat Days has become a permanent part of the culture of Clovis.