About four years ago, several Altoona residents decided it was time to bring back a community festival that catered to local families. Since then Altoona Palooza has grown and evolved to the massive event which will take place, rain or shine, 7 a.m. to midnight on Aug. 25 at Sam Wise Youth Complex, 1000 Eighth St. SE.
One of the original members of the event planning board, Adam McRoberts, says he remembers going to events in Altoona with his parents as a child and wanted to bring the tradition back for his kids.
“It seemed like we were always going to Ankeny or Pleasant Hill for events,” he says of his family and the others who started Altoona Palooza. “We all had the same feeling that we wanted something local.”
The group spent a year planning the first event, which took place in 2010. More than 4,000 people attended, making it a huge success. It was also a trial and error event for the coordinators, giving them ideas on what did and didn’t work as they began planning the next year’s festival.
McRoberts says they learned several vital lessons after the first year: they hadn’t provided enough power for all the vendors and bands; there was too much down time between main events, which caused the crowds to ebb and flow instead of remain a constant throughout the day; and they needed more food and beverages for the large crowd.
“We figured it out as we went. You throw it in the air and see where it all lands,” McRoberts says. “It was pretty tough the first year.”
With those lessons learned, another approach to the event was attempted last year when the group scheduled the fest over two days, bands Friday evening and family events on Saturday. It seemed like a great idea. However, Julie West, the group’s marketing and communications guru, says they realized families were obligated to attend other events.
“It was late enough in the year that school had started, and we had to compete with a football game Friday night,” West says. “We don’t want to make people choose.”
Now with two successful festivals under their belts, organizers feel they are more prepared to handle the crowd and are better equipped to keep everyone entertained all day long.
One thing all the planners agreed on from the beginning, and which continues today, was the need to offer a free- to low-cost event for the community to enjoy. “It’s really family-oriented, and you won’t have to break the bank,” West says.
This year the festival returns to its one day format and kicks off at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Southeast Polk. The breakfast, which costs $5, will be available until 10 a.m.
The Art and Produce Market will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. McBride says all art will be homemade by local artists and produce will be offered by area farmers.
“We like to showcase Iowans and their work,” McRoberts says.
Because of the dry summer, the produce will likely be limited, but organizers won’t know to what extent until the day of the event.
The Kids Zone is a free area open from 1 – 4 p.m. and will have an almost endless variety of activities to keep kids entertained. Working with local sponsor, The Altoona Public Library, volunteer Kim Kietzman has spent the last year planning this area and is excited at all the things they have to offer.
Events for the area include a scavenger hunt for kids, a balloon twister, an airbrush tattoo, a face paint artist and free cotton candy.
Something the kids will see that hasn’t been at Altoona Palooza before will be pony rides. They can also take part in experiments and exhibits brought in from the Science Center of Iowa.
“I’m not sure what they (the Science Center) have planned,” Kietzman says, adding that they asked for a power outlet so she expects it to be very interesting.
All events in the Kid Zone are free of charge. However, the inflatable bounce houses in other areas will have a small fee of $5 to $10 depending on the height of the child. The fee will purchase a wristband which will be good at all inflatables for the duration of the day. Inflatable fun begins at 10 a.m. and runs until dusk.
Some things that are always exciting at Altoona Fest are the sporting events. With mud volleyball, softball, and now kickball, there is something for almost any athlete to participate in.
The games begin at 8 a.m. with the softball tournaments at the Sam Wise Softball Fields. Umpires and prizes will be provided.
Sixteen teams quickly filled the roster for the 2012 mud volleyball games. The teams will start sloshing their way toward victory at 10 a.m. The event website has several helpful hints to those playing including: bring plenty of water and towels to clean up; tape your pants to your shirt to help them stay up; and consider wearing swimming goggles.
The site also reminds spectators to stay out of the mud and suggests bringing a tent for shade.
The new kickball competition, which will begin at 2 p.m., will also take place at the Sam Wise Softball Fields. This new event offers 50 Altoona Palooza Bucks to the winning team.
A golf tournament will be held at Terrace Hills Golf Course with prizes awarded during the live music portion of the day.
As has become tradition, Altoona Palooza will also hold a car and truck show. New this year is the addition of motorcycles.
There will be three categories this year: cars and trucks through 1972; cars and trucks 1973 and newer; and all years of motorcycles. The vehicles will start arriving at 9 a.m., and spectators can vote on their favorites from noon to 1 p.m. with prizes awarded at 3 p.m.
One trend McRoberts says the planners and volunteers have noticed is that parents bring their kids during the day to enjoy free family entertainment but take them home around mid-afternoon and return without the kids in the evening to enjoy the bands and the wine and craft beer garden.
The garden tent will run from 4 – 7 p.m. and will offer a variety of local wines and craft beers to sample. The tent will be run by the Altoona Young Professionals group and will cost $10 to get in. The first 280 people will receive either a free commemorative wine or beer glass.
“Once those run out, we’ll have plastic,” West laughs.
Wine and beer bottles are available for purchase at the tent. If attendees plan to drink the wine at the festival, bottles must be opened outside the tent but within the Altoona Palooza event area, according to State regulations.
Live music is always a big attraction at Altoona Palooza, and this year should be no different. Keeping in the theme of staying local, coordinators have lined up two local bands and an area high school performer to provide musical entertainment.
Warming up the stage from 4 – 5:45 p.m. will be a Southeast Polk High School student, Jordan Beem. Beem first picked up his guitar in a class several years ago and found he has a passion for music. Beem has since played all over Des Moines including the Farmer’s Market and Fireside Grille.
“We’re really excited to have him,” West says.
Decoy will perform from 6:15 – 8:15 p.m. The band is known locally for its unique rock sound and vocal melodies. Decoy first performed at Altoona Palooza last year, opening for Toaster, and has been seen at other area festivals over the summer. Band member Fix Brown II says the band is excited to be back at Altoona Palooza and is looking forward to playing with The Nadas this year.
The Nadas will round out the live musical performances from 8:45 – 11:45 p.m., wrapping up the festival. The band, which formed nearly 20 years ago, currently has nine studio albums available.
The last time The Nadas played Altoona, they opened for REO Speedwagon at Prairie Meadows.
“It was a great crowd full of music fans,” says band member Jason Walsmith. “We’ll hope some of those people remember us and come out for a show.”
Food vendors will be open throughout the day, and picnic tables will be set up with cover for shade, residents can bring lawn chairs or blankets. No outside food or beverages are allowed.
Because the coordinators of the event are so passionate about the community, they decided from the beginning that Altoona Palooza was going to be more than just a city-wide festival for families. They wanted to give something back.
“We wanted the community to feel like if they invested in this, they were investing in Altoona,” McRoberts says.
In keeping with that, a table will be set up at the gates for Caring Hands Food Pantry where they will be accepting canned food and monetary donations. The hope is that most people will bring something to put into the donation container.
“Let’s fill up that barrel,” West urges.
The festival also offers a $500 scholarship to a Southeast Polk High School student each year through the Dollars for Scholars Program.
The Shriners Club will be driving golf carts around the parking lot, taking people from their cars to the event and back, and will be accepting goodwill offerings for the service.
One thing the festival needs this year, and in the future, is volunteers.
“People have really risen to the occasion,” West says, but even so they could use more help from the community to work the event.
Both McRoberts and West started out on the planning committee; Kietzman began as a volunteer. She spent her first year checking identifications, but her suggestion that the fest offer more free entertainment is what ultimately led to her coordinating the Kids Zone.
“It’s my favorite volunteer work,” she says. “I love doing this.” She says one of the benefits is seeing residents outside of the library where she works and having an opportunity to talk with parents and kids.
“We cannot thank the volunteers enough,” McRoberts says. “We wouldn’t have this if it weren’t for the volunteers.”
Kietzman says volunteers are always exhausted by the end of the day, “but it’s always worth everything we put into it.”
Each volunteer can choose his or her own hours and location to work and will receive a free Altoona Palooza T-shirt.
West says they will take a few months off before beginning plans for the 2013 Altoona Palooza. She adds they would love to have more people on the board to help with the planning. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact McRoberts at Ted’s Auto Shop.
McRoberts says everyone is “super, super excited” about the plans for this year and are looking forward to seeing how their hard work pays off.
“It just gets better and better every year,” West says.