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Galveston’s Gone Country

by Ruth Ann Ruiz
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By Ruth Ann Ruiz

The Post Newspaper Features Editor

If you’re gonna attend a country music fest in a small Texas town, the inaugural one to boot, you would expect to see a lot of cowboy hats. There was indeed a broad collection of cowboy hats — too many for counting at the country music fest in Galveston on Saturday. 

The Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce (GRCC) held its 179th annual meeting, which was dubbed the Galveston Island Country Music Fest, and according to GRCC’s president, Gina Spagnola, it was the first ever on the island, and she doesn’t plan for it to be the last 

 This year’s fest was held on the eve of what was positioning itself to be a horrible weather experience across the state of Texas. Art, who works as merchandise manager for singer Randall King, wasn’t too worried about heading back up to his Texas Panhandle hometown of Lubbock. 

“We’ve been on the road for three weeks, and even though it will take five hours to get to Dallas and another four for me to drive home, I’m looking forward to being back with my family,” Art shared.

Randall King’s touring team had been in Fort Worth Friday and came straight down to Galveston with the intention of packing it all in and heading back North in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, the crowd of people gathered into the Galveston Island Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom enjoyed a whole evening of country décor, country style arcade games and plenty of beer and country cooking, which was served at stations outside of the main hall.

There were not-your-mama’s chicken-stations heaped with steaming warm containers of tater tots, fried chicken pieces and country-style gravy. Other stations offered hot dogs with all the fixings including chili. 

The desert stations had self-serve trays that contained heaping, helpings of peach cobbler topped with generous scoops of Blue Bell Ice Cream. If you preferred, you could select a single-serving-sized pecan pie.

It was a true spirited honky-tonk, a free-flowing evening. People wandered in and out of the main hall enjoying themselves without seeming to feel restricted to an agenda. 

In fact, there were no printed programs, yet the event unfolded on schedule.

The main hall was dimly lit for the audience. There was just enough illumination so attendees could make their way to and from the dance floor and bar or grab some grub in the outer area. The darkness of the hall added to the honky-tonk ambience. 

Catie Offerman from New Braunfels opened the Country Music Fest with “Drinking Wine in a Bubble Bath.” She was a crowd-pleaser and loved watching the guests dance on the dance floor while she sang. 

After Offerman sang, it was award time, and without anything more than Gina Spagnola’s voice, which has been the voice leading the annual meetings for 20 years, guests began to focus on the honorees who were called onto the stage.

Behind the honorees and barely noticeable were a couple musician roadies setting up the equipment for the second country musician, Hayden Haddock of Dallas. 

Haddock’s voice captured the audience’s attention. Foot stamping and heads moving to the beat were visible signs of Haddock engaging and entertaining the attendees. The fiddler in his band was sporting true country headgear, a simple broad-rimmed mesh cap with a fish printed on the front. 

After Haddock performed, there was another break in the music fest for a few more awards and other annual meeting details. 

Dennis Byrd, owner of Island Famous Inc. and The Spot, which has expanded to include locations on the mainland and at Hobby Airport, was awarded Galvestonian of the Year. Johnny Smecca was teary eyed as he made the introduction of his fellow businessman and restauranteur. 

“He’s a mentor he’s a father, he loves the community and loves his faith. And you know what I really love about Dennis Byrd?” Smecca asked before answering his own question. “He coaches baseball.”

An annual meeting is not complete without a swearing-in of new officers and board members. Congressman Randy Weber took center stage in his cowboy hat and swore in 47 new board members for the GCRCC who stood on the dance floor with their right hands raised. 

Then, with all the swearing in and awarding done for the night it was time to introduce the evening’s headliner, Randall King, who hails from Hereford, Texas. His eyes twinkled with merriment as he took the stage, and the ladies began to swoon. 

King ended the evening by sharing a little bit of his personal life. He lost his sister in 2020.

“My life flipped upside down, and I didn’t know which way was left or right. But I can say I rest easy because I know when I go to rest, I’m gonna see my sister’s face again because I’ve been saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” King shared.

Then he performed his final song, a gospel piece he had sung at his sister’s funeral: “I’ll Fly Away.”

Gina Spagnola is known for throwing a great party, but this one, many commented, was one as one of her best. In fact, it was said by several people, “She hit it out of the park this time!” 

Gina didn’t do it alone. There were many hands and feet of staff and a posse of volunteers who contributed to make the first ever Galveston Island Country Music Fest a memorable one. 

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1 comment

Kevin January 18, 2024 - 3:07 am

Well written and engaging!!!

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