TABLE OF CONTENTS
Cris Kelly Austin Aqua Festival Papers
An Inventory of the Collection
The Austin Aqua Festival (commonly known as Aqua Fest) was developed by the Austin Chamber of Commerce in 1962 as a way to promote the water and recreational resources of the Highland Lakes in Central Texas and as a way to improve summer business in Austin. The first Aqua Fest was held August 3rd through the 12th at Festival Beach and featured parades (both land and water), fishing competitions, canoe race, Sailing Club Regatta, golf tournament, water skiing competition, rodeo, beauty pageant and a Coronation Ball sponsored by the Admirals Club of Austin. The festival grew in popularity through the years and additional events were added such as car and motorcycle races, drag boat races, children's pet parade, Aero-Fest at Bergstrom Air Force Base, concerts and theme nights that would highlight the different cultures of Central Texas.
In its heyday Aqua Fest attracted over 200,000 people and the popularity of the event caused tension in the East Austin residential neighborhood where Festival Beach was located. The motorboat races (boat drag races) garnered national attention and the thousands of fans that turned out to watch overwhelmed the Mexican American community and beginning in the early 1970s the neighborhood citizens began actively protesting the noise pollution and traffic generated by the event. The protests turned violent in April of 1978 and later that year City Council voted to ban the boats from Town Lake (ORDINANCE NO. 780907-B). Soon after Aqua Fest was moved to Auditorium Shores which allowed for a new format with multiple stages for music performances. Citizens in the surrounding neighborhoods of the new venue also complained about the traffic and the noise. In 1980 the City of Austin stopped providing money and free services to the festival. Through the mid-1980s attendance numbers continued to grow with the peak being 252,000 in 1985.
In the later years the festival shifted away from being a family event and spent more money on big name musical acts and this strategy did not prove to be successful in the long run. Ticket prices went up and attendance began to fall. In 1993 there were only 60,000 attendees. An attempt in 1994 to scale down the event and bring back some of the original programing that made Aqua Fest popular failed to revive the event. After several more years of losing money the Aqua Festival Executive Board announced in June of 1998 that festival scheduled for July 23rd through August 1st was cancelled. The promise that Aqua Fest would be resurrected in 2000 at Lake Walter E. Longer was never fulfilled.
The Austin Aqua Festival had very few paid employees and depended upon thousands of volunteers to organize, set-up, and run the festival every year. Cris Kelly, an IBM employee, volunteered with the physical arrangements committee and was one of the people responsible for the electricity and lighting needs of all the events, stages, and booths. The records indicate that he was an Electrical Captain in 1985 through 1990.
The majority of the collection consists of the planning materials the physical arrangements committee accumulated regarding the logistics of the Austin Aqua Festival arranged by year (1982, 1984-1990) in binders. Included are lighting and electrical service requirements for all the events, stages and booths; schedules of events; duty rosters; scaled drawings of the festival set-up including locations of stages and booths; vendor bids and budgets; artist's contracts including entertainment agreement riders; and contact lists of the Aqua Fest volunteers and staff. Also included are a set of negatives (both color and black and white) of aerial views of Aqua Fest. The negatives were in an envelope marked Austin Aqua Festival 1983, Tuesday, August 9, 8:30 p.m.
Open to all users
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
Donated by the current owner of Cris Kelly's home with Kelly's permission.
Cris Kelly Austin Aqua Festival Papers (AR.2013.017). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/2013/025
Donation Date: 2013
Materials were originally housed in three-ringer binders by date. Documents were removed from the binders for preservation reasons and foldered in original order with tabs in place.
Finding aid created and encoded by Molly Hults in 2013.