Keizer Iris Festival: Everything is Coming Up Irises

Wednesday, June 27, 2018
The Keizer Iris Festival has been a successful event for 38 years. Located in the town of Keizer, Ore., the event is “blooming” with fun for the whole family with a series of connected events that run during mid-May annually.

Danielle Bethell, executive director of the Kaiser Chamber of Commerce, also sits on the board for the festival, and describes this year’s event, which she terms a continuing success.

“We had a carnival with rides and a game midway that was set up through Funtastic Shows, we had arts and crafts vendors, food, and of course an entertainment tent that hosted bands and many activities.” Admission to the fair itself is free; the carnival rides are sold per ride or through the use of a wristband.

Rides and games are focused on family activities. “We’re really a family event with kids of all ages attending the event, but we are particularly appealing to families with children in the 8 to 16 year age range,” Bethell states. “Some of the most popular rides this year included a spinning, flipping ride that was thrilling, but not too extreme. The midway was designed to entertain everyone from toddlers to high schoolers in terms of the games we offered.” She notes that Funtastic uses the FunCard system so people didn’t have to take out cash to play, which made participating easier and more convenient for attendees. Along with offering individual ride tickets, Bethell says “We sold wrist bands for all-day unlimited rides. On-site it was $25 or $20 if purchased as a pre-sale. Individual tickets varied by ride and sold for .50 cents each. Along with the rides, attendees who bought the wristband also received play-ability for two games, and their choice of one of three treats from the Funtastic concessions.” She describes the available food items as including cotton candy, shaved ice, and hot dogs as selections.

This year was the first for a local teen talent showcase at the Iris Festival in which three performers were recipients of awards with substantial cash prizes of $1000, $700, and $400 respectively.

Bethell says of the talent event “We drew from our local school district 6th through 12th grade. It was our first year and we had 27 contestants. There was a lot of interest in attending the event and we felt it was a huge success for the first year.”

The Iris Festival itself is inspired by Schreiner's Iris Garden, which grows the flowers a mile north of the town over several hundred acres. “Each year we receive buckets filled with iris that we spread all over the festival for people to see, enjoy, and take home with them,” Bethell explains.

Food items at the fair are another successful area for the event, and Bethell says she sticks with local vendors. “We have authentic Mexican food from El Patron, and a special, delicious corn dog made with a unique, very sweet batter from Fat Schlag. It’s an annual favorite, I know I look forward to it every year.”

The four-day festival also includes a parade that begins on Saturday morning. “It’s an exciting, true community gathering that includes floats – we had 76 entries this year - equestrian performers, and marching bands. This year’s theme was ‘The Keizer Way,’” she explains. “That’s all about pride, spirit, and volunteerism.” She describes one well-received parade entry as being created by several bus-loads of retirees with a large old truck. “They decorated it with a Christmas theme, because holiday events are big here,” she relates. “That for them exemplified the ‘Keizer Way.’”

She describes the parade as running “on our main through-way, River Road, which essentially shuts down the city for six hours. The festival itself is located along downtown streets parallel to the parade.” Along with the parade, there are a wide range of other activities, including a beer garden on Friday and Saturday night with dancing. “Thursday night we kicked off our entertainment tent with the Psychobillies, a kind of hillbilly banjo rock band that was a huge hit.” The beer garden requires a $7 cover charge to attend. Other entertainment highlights included 80s and 90s rock sounds from The Koz, classic and country rock by Rekless Komany and Code Red.

And speaking of attendance, Bethell says attendee numbers were up overall throughout the entire festival, which earned more than previous years. “We break down attendance in two ways: this year we had about 35,000 attend the day of the parade, and overall around 15,000 folks attended the event depending on the day on other days.”

To market the event, Bethell uses a great deal of social media “because it’s the most popular and effective way for us to draw attention the event. We use both social media advertising and our Facebook page to promote the festival.” She also relies on some conventional advertising, particularly radio and print. In local commercial magazines, she runs ads and articles, and does the same with the local newspaper. “I also do live on-air spots to promote the event on the radio while the festival is running,” Bethell explains. “They’re just short 10-15 second spots, a little live update streaming from the event. The parade is also televised locally and we can promote the other aspects of the festival through that broadcast as well.”

Other events happen the same weekend as a tie in to the festival such as a vintage car show with an awards ceremony on Saturday, a 3k and 5k walk/run, a 10k run, a golf tournament, pet parade, and a poker run that ends at the Iris Festival big tent on Saturday. A Meet the Brewer event this year was a substantial draw, with talks from local brewers and tastings. The mayor’s prayer breakfast, a lunch buffet with live musical entertainment, and a fair kick-off party and dinner rounds out the events at the festival this year.

And in the end, attendees were able to recall the reason for the festival: by taking home free irises from an event that continues to blossom with small-town pride.