Music, traditional Choctaw dancing, balloons, face paint and exciting carnival rides all seemed to play second fiddle to the 16th annual Magnolia Festival’s new main attraction.
The festival was moved to the Choctaw Events Center this year, with the main stage and three rows of vendors occupying the sprawling indoor complex. Even on a relatively mild 83-degree afternoon, there were few complaints. Sun lovers can still enjoy the carnival and food trucks outside, of course.
Also, the children’s parade will be held in downtown Durant – traditional home of the Magnolia Festival – at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. But after the parade, the final day of the festival will call Choctaw Events Center its home.
Vendors, an art show, and free children’s events will be inside the center starting at 10 a.m. A veteran’s reception will be held at 10:30 a.m. at the nearby RV park. Turtle races will be held at noon. At 3, the children’s events begin and a “local dance” will kick off. Spur 503 will take the stage at 8:30 p.m., with indoor booths closing at 10 p.m.
On Thursday, there were still plenty of magnolias, and visitors, at the festival’s new site.
“I like it better here. It’s not as hot,” said Melisa Burkhart of Durant. She brought her daughters, and still plans to attend the Saturday parade downtown.
“Weather-wise, it makes it easier to have it here,” said Lauren Johnson, a registered nurse at Medical Center of Southeast Oklahoma. She was staffing a booth at the festival to promote the MCSO Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine. “But truly, the festival seems to be more of a downtown thing.”
Callie Weger of Durant lives near the previous festival site, and doesn’t miss the hassle. “I love having it here, it’s a lot better idea,” she said. She was also staffing a vendor booth for U.S. Cellular. “We’re offering some free promotions to get more people in the door.”
City officials held an opening ceremony on Thursday, with Mayor Jerry Tomlinson reading a proclamation. Judy and Dr. Jerry Polson were crowned this year’s “Belle and Beau” of the festival. Dr. Polson is a dean and assistant vice president at Southeastern, as well as a Durant city councilman.