Robert “Kool” Bell of Kool and the Gang is intrigued.
Usually his legendary R&B group doesn’t have the time to stroll festival grounds or explore the towns in which they are playing. But the 30th annual Chandler Ostrich Festival, which attracts more than 100,000 people, will be different.
“It usually depends on our schedule,” Bell says. “When we get to town, a lot of times we have to leave for the next show. But ostrich races? If there is any way possible, we are not going to miss that.”
The races return along with rides, food, attractions and concerts by The Beach Boys, Kool and the Gang and John Michael Montgomery Friday, March 9, through Sunday, March 11, at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler.
“The Ostrich Festival reflects the town’s heritage to its present status as a high-tech corridor,” says Terri Kimble, the Chandler Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer.
The festival recalls early 1900s Chandler, when Dr. Alexander Chandler purchased 80 acres of land south of Mesa in the Salt River Valley and dedicated himself to developing the town and its agricultural irrigation systems.
The doctor kept ostriches for their valuable clipped feathers, which he sold to those in the ladies hat industry. The spectacular birds became a part of the scenery of the growing town until about 1920, when the effects of World War I created a nationwide frugality. The ostriches disappeared from Chandler, but the joy they brought remains.
“There are no ostrich ranches in sight, and the city has since developed into a thriving technological center,” Kimble says. “With the Ostrich Festival, we have fun and educational activities surrounding the city’s historic connection, with the extraordinary and much-loved creature. This festival includes many elements that embrace the values of an ever-evolving community.”
The weekend will also feature the aerial high-wire thrill performers Pirates of the Colombian Caribbean, three ostrich races and STEM tents.
Music is an Ostrich Festival mainstay. The headliners are Kool and the Gang on March 9, John Michael Montgomery on March 10, and the legendary Beach Boys on March 11.
The festival is a true community undertaking, with more than 45 food concessionaires and 100 vendors, many of which are nonprofits, participating.
“Many of Chandler’s local 501(c)(3) nonprofits provide volunteers for the festival and these nonprofits receive a check from the festival in return for the help,” Kimble says. “It’s a way for us to give back to the community. We truly appreciate this valuable help from these community volunteers.”
The festivities kick off with the youth run at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, March 3, followed by the Mayor’s 5K Fun Run, both of which are held at Dr. A.J. Chandler Park.
Kimble says the youth run is held in conjunction with local schools’ running clubs and is tied with the city’s ongoing Wellness Initiative.
A parade, classic car show and public safety fair are also featured. The parade consists of more than 100 dance, equestrian and musical groups who will travel throughout downtown Chandler.
Kool and the Gang’s Bell is looking forward to taking it all in. After all, he’s played some unusual gigs himself.
“Our shows in Arizona have been fantastic,” he says. “One memorable show was in Phoenix with Van Halen. The crowd was not sure what to expect, but by the end of our show, everyone was up on their feet, dancing.
“You can expect that in Chandler, too. We play hits one after another for the entire show. In a 90-minute set, we still can’t fit them all in. We rotate our setlist and add songs we have not done in a while to mix things up. There are songs we can’t leave out, though. The party songs like ‘Celebration,’ ‘Get Down on It’ and ‘Ladies Night’ are musts in a Kool and the Gang show.”
Chandler Chamber Ostrich Festival, Tumbleweed Park, 745 E. Germann Road, Chandler, ostrichfestival.com, Friday, March 9, to Sunday, March 11, $8-$15.