The iconic Chandler Chamber Ostrich Festival that will be held for the 31st consecutive year next weekend started as a modest downtown gathering to pay tribute to the odd birds.
Now, it is expected to draw 100,000 people who likely are just as fascinated with a diverse array of entertaining diversions as they are with the quirky feathered creatures.
The 31st annual Chandler Chamber Ostrich Festival will bring its namesake mascot, along with the world’s largest bounce house, BMX Pros Trick Team shows, pig and dog races, Victoria Circus motorcycle and high-wire acts and numerous carnival rides March 8-10 to Tumbleweed Park, 745 E. Germann Road.
The live bands are a big draw and this year the lineup includes Flo Rida, a rapper, singer and multi-platinum artist; the legendary Motown/R&B/funk group The Commodores; and multi-platinum-selling pop artist Andy Grammer, known for his singles “Keep Your Head Up” and “Fine by Me.”
But one mainstay that will be missing will be ostrich races. The elderly farmer who supplied the birds can’t make the trip.
There will still be 10 ostriches near the petting zoo behind a fence for people to view as videos show fun facts about the birds.
And in place of the ostrich races, the Chamber is erecting a 10,000-square-foot Big Bounce America bounce house.
It is the Guinness World Record holder for the largest bounce house and offers obstacle courses, climbing frames, giant slides, basketball hoops, ball pits and other interactive fun for adults and children. A deejay will play music in the bounce house at night.
The ostrich races have not been the “primary focus” of the festival over the last decade, Chandler Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Terri Kimble said.
“We have truly transformed this festival into a true community festival,” Kimble said. “We have over 100 hours of musical entertainment throughout the festival and the festival has really changed over the past several years and it evolved.
“Each year we try to bring in something new, something different. We’re really going for an educational component and really kind of beefing that up, including that technology component.”
Also new this year is Victoria Circus, a circus and thrill show where motorcyclists ride around in circles in the “Globe of Death.” Performers also engage in high-wire acts and stunts on the ground.
Another new attraction will be Big Bee the Transforming Robot car, a technological marvel that transforms into a 15-foot robot with a soundtrack and light display.
Festival-goers can also be entertained by another new act, BMX Pros Trick Show, where BMX riders and skateboarders will engage in stunts on a street ramp and halfpipe.
New activities will also be available in the Imaginology STEM tent, where science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects are offered.
“Those are all interactive for all ages,” Kimble said.
One returning attraction will be Professor Smart’s Science Show – designed to engage children and others in the audience in juggling, comedic performances and other activities.
Another circus show returning is Mango and Dango, an unusual theatrical performance including partner acrobatics, aerial arts, juggling, stilt walking, physical comedy, mime movements, chair stacking and other tricks.
And the interactive Pangaea Land of the Dinosaurs will be back, giving kids and adults a chance to see “roaming dinosaurs” and dig for fake dinosaur bones.
Visitors can also root for their favorite canine in the FIDO 500 Mini Dog Races, where dogs will race in a sprint to the finish line, vying for gold, silver and bronze.
Not to be outdone, pigs will also have their time to shine, wearing numbered racing attire as they vie for supremacy on the track.
Radical reptiles, pony rides and a petting zoo with exotic and domestic animals will also offer educational entertainment.
Food will also give guests variety as vendors serve up big turkey legs, tacos, burgers and innovative desserts.
“There’s something for everybody out there from local restaurants and local businesses to traditional carnival food to deep-fried Twinkies,” Kimble said. “They always have fun food.”
Nearly 500 volunteers are helping to make the ostrich festival possible.
“What makes this festival unique is because of the community participation and involvement,” Kimble said. “This year we have … various nonprofit groups that will be out there pouring beverages and earning money. For every nonprofit (that) comes out to help, we will give a check back to that nonprofit for their time and helping.”
Indeed, she added, “One of the things why this festival has evolved so much is because of the input from the local community. We really listen to what the community has to say. This community has so much talent from the music to the STEM tent. That’s where you’ve seen where it’s really grown and evolved.”
The first ostrich festival was held downtown, with the ostrich races held where the downtown library and next-door police department are located now, recalled Lori Daniels, a former state legislator.
It drew about 25,000 to 30,000 people.
“We had empty lots down there then,” Joan said. “It was more like a carnival event, a lot of rides. It was successful. There was a lot of work to be done to bring them the Ferris wheel into our area, into our downtown. I know we closed some of the streets. It is part of our history, if you can imagine ostriches running around in our downtown area.”
The ostrich festival parade, usually held on the Saturday of the festival weekend, will not be held this year because of extensive construction going on downtown right now, Kimble said.