Competitive watermelon seed spitting and root beer chugging will be among the attractions at the annual Santa Cali Gon Days festival, which begins Friday in Independence.
The event, which attracts about 250,000 people to the Independence Square area every Labor Day weekend, is offering country and gospel music, carnival rides (those begin at 6 p.m. Thursday), and vendors selling walking sticks and hand-blown glass.
But there are several new wrinkles this year, said festival coordinator Lois McDonald.
Food vendors who gather for the city’s regular Farmer’s Market area will be part of this year’s festival, which is named for three pioneer trails to highlight Independence’s role in America’s westward expansion. The vendors will be stationed during the early-morning hours on Maple Avenue between Osage and Spring streets, McDonald said.
In the same space, in the late afternoons and evenings, the festival is offering Kansas City area musicians. The space is being referred to as Home Grown Farmer’s Market and Music.
There will be square dancing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at Kansas Avenue and South Main Street. Near the same intersection on Monday morning, area high school athletes will compete in a volleyball tournament.
Shuttles, which are accessible to people with disabilities, will run Saturday through Monday from parking lots at the Community of Christ Auditorium and William Chrisman High School. While the parking is free, the fee for shuttle bus service is $1 per person for those 13 and up, McDonald said.
Also, officials will be enforcing a no-animal policy on festival grounds.
“The festival is crowded and noisy, and it is a stressful environment for pets,” McDonald said. “It is a public safety issue.”
The festival’s Gospel Stage will be near the intersection of Kansas Avenue and Osage Street. The Community Stage, where the root beer chugging and watermelon seed spitting are scheduled, will be north of the Jackson County Truman Courthouse along Maple Avenue.
Attractions on the Main Stage, just west of Independence City Hall near Maple and Lynn avenues, include Joe Diffie at 9 p.m. Friday and Brett Eldredge at 9 p.m. Saturday. Eldredge has been topping country charts this summer with a song called “Don’t Ya.”
“I could not have predicted that when we planned it,” McDonald said. “But all the planets are aligned.”