Published: 2:32 pm, Thu. Aug. 24th, 2017Updated: 2:30 pm
The Artesia Arts & Cultural District’s Red Dirt Black Gold Festival opens Saturday in the downtown district, and the annual celebration of all things related to the industry that drives the local economy promises a full slate of fun and entertainment for all ages.
Black Gold is, of course, a nod to the oil patch and all those who head out to tend it before the sun comes up each day, while Red Dirt is a reference to the folk, country, blues and Southern rock mash-up that is Red Dirt Music, a genre born in Oklahoma that has spread throughout the region.
The festivities will begin at 9 a.m. with the Oilfield Olympics, sponsored by Artesia General Hospital, in Eagle Draw between Seventh Street and Roselawn Avenue.
Teams of four – with one alternate, if desired – will have the opportunity to put their skills to the test in events including the Drill Bit Toss, Keiser Sled Smash, Barrel Brigade Race, and Battery Location Obstacle Course.
And if you’ve ever wondered if you missed your calling in the oilfield, wonder no more – teams need not be comprised of those working in the industry. Anyone can participate.
“It’s kind of a strongman, firemen’s olympics-type of competition, but it’s all oilfield-related,” says Artesia MainStreet Executive Director Elisabeth Jackson.
Those who have yet to register will still have the opportunity beginning at 9 a.m. at the Draw. Entry fee is $100, and teams will be vying for first-, second- and third-place honors, as well as the Team Spirit award.
By 1 p.m., those competitors and their fans will no doubt be hungry, and the Oilfield Cook-Off in Heritage Plaza will be ready and waiting to solve that problem.
Some may not be aware that cooking is a serious business in the oil patch; with plants and rig sites located far away from restaurants, companies and their workers often have to fend for themselves. And over the years, just grilling up a basic burger has become the easy way out – those in charge of the grub are elevating their skills to chef-level.
For $10, attendees will receive three tickets – two that will earn them a sampling of food from their choice of company teams, and one they can use to vote for the People’s Choice award.
“The samples will still be enough to be a whole plate, but it’ll just be a smaller serving, so if you want to go with your family and get a plate from everybody, you can do that,” says Jackson. “Then you’ll have your People’s Choice ticket, which you’ll drop in the bucket of the team you think had the best food.”
The competition will also be judged for three other prizes, including Greatest Grub, Best Side Dish, and Team Spirit.
Also opening at 1 p.m. will be the Kids’ Zone in Heritage Walkway.
“This is new this year,” Jackson says. “There’ll be all kinds of carnival games that are oilfield-themed for kids.
“We’ll have duck races through the fountains, sidewalk chalk, kids can make their own fans, all kinds of stuff like that.”
The Heritage Walkway activities are free, but for $5, children can also enter Artesia Family Fitness, where owner Rick Wiles will have his full arsenal of bounce houses inflated all afternoon to help the kids burn off a little energy.
Those ages 21 and up who are starting to get thirsty by 3 p.m. will want to head to the Western Bank parking lot, where the New MexiCAN Brewfest will be popping its top.
Tractor Brewing Co. of Santa Fe will play host, offering a wide variety of state-brewed beers and ciders.
“The entry fee is $10, and that gets you one free pour,” says Jackson. “They’ll also be incorporating a keg from The Wellhead, so we’ll have local and regional brews.”
For those not quite of age, the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center’s theatre students will be offering water and cokes for sale throughout the day, and other food vendors will take over in Heritage Plaza once the Oilfield Cook-Off has come to a close.
“That way, if people don’t want to come out till later in the evening, we’ll still have stuff there for dinner,” Jackson says.
As for the Red Dirt, musical entertainment begins at 2 p.m. in Heritage Plaza with Shari Rowe, an Arizona-based country songwriter, on the main stage, followed by the rock/country/Americana/blues sound of West Texas-based Callahan Divide at 3:30 p.m., groove-oriented, old-school-rock artists The Statesboro Revue at 5 p.m., Southern rock, Red Dirt and Texas country-oriented Dalton Domino at 6:30 p.m., country vocalist Bri Bagwell at 8 p.m., and headliner Whiskey Myers at 10 p.m.
Whiskey Myers hails from Texas and counts artists ranging from Waylon Jennings to Led Zeppelin among their influences. They reached No. 1 on the iTunes Country Chart with their third album “Early Morning Shakes” and have shared the stage with such acts as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank Williams Jr.
The musical entertainment is entirely free.
Red Dirt Black Gold attendees are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets, but coolers and pets are prohibited.
“This is a family-friendly event,” says Jackson. “The only place that’s 21-and-up is the beer garden, so we want everybody to bring their kids out and enjoy the day.
“We’re really excited. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s always a really fun event, and the weather is supposed to be great.”