BY PETER JONES
The more things change, the more Western Welcome Week remains the same.
For 89 years, Littleton’s signature celebration of community has united its otherwise disparate residents and businesses in ways that few other cities would even try. The large-scale festival of nearly 50 self-contained events is unlike anything else in Colorado.
Even in its defiant traditionalism, the 10-day “Week” somehow keeps faith with an all-of-the-above mission. Where else can one find a simultaneous quilt show and liquor tasting on the same schedule just blocks from each other? And if a country and western dance party is not your cup of Friday night sawdust, mosey down the street to a concurrent jazz festival.
“It’s such a variety of things and there’s so many things to do,” said Cindy Hathaway the Week’s longtime executive director. “If you can’t find something, I don’t know what to tell you.”
From Aug. 11 to 20, much of Littleton—especially the vicinity of Historic Downtown’s Main Street—becomes a festival grounds. Bookended by opening fireworks and a closing grand parade, the Week in between boasts everything from a children’s fishing derby to moonlight golf with glow balls. Many of the events are free or at least reasonably priced.
Even as the nonprofit Week retains traditions started when Calvin Coolidge was in the White House, the festival manages to work in a few new attractions to an event founded by Littleton Independent publisher Houston Waring.
Besides the debuts of a free all-day Rockers Spirits Tasting Experience Aug. 19 on South Sycamore Street and the simultaneous Honest Tea Mobile Tea Garden in Bega Park, the Week will welcome the Western 500 Trike Challenge. This decidedly 21st century children’s event will see kids show their parents how combining trips to a candy store, toy store and a sports zone can save time and reduce emissions (albeit on tricycles).
“The kids are to figure how to do it most efficiently without zigzagging and backtracking,” Hathaway explained.
Another first-time event will celebrate a Littleton tradition only dwarfed by Western Welcome Week itself. On Aug. 20, Romano’s Italian restaurant will mark its 50th anniversary with a parking lot party, 4-8 p.m., replete with games, entertainment and free food samples.
And, for a festival so steeped in tradition that even changing the band on fireworks night can start a small riot, it is notable that the 21st RiverPointe Swing Dance on Aug. 15 will feature not the usual Dean Bushnell Orchestra, but the somewhat younger Zing big band.
“They let people know last year that orchestra was getting older and they were losing some members,” Hathaway said, noting the Rotary has taken over the Lions’ Friday night barbecue for the same reasons. “It was just something they were not capable to do anymore as a club. We wanted to make sure it was still a civic organization.”
Hidden on the schedule beneath the higher-profile signature events are some gems of opportunity—historic tours down Main Street on Aug. 17 (including ghost stories) and an interactive trip through the Colorado Center for the Blind on Aug. 14, a chance to get a small sense of what it is like to be blind in a high-tech world.
“If you’ve never been, try it. It’s so interesting over there,” Hathaway said. “Some of their equipment is just absolutely amazing.”
Other fan favorites include gold-panning on the Platte River, a live trivia challenge at nearby Platte River Bar and Grill, a $5 pancake breakfast across the street at Arapahoe Community College, a stick-horse stampede and an all-inclusive 21-plus Taste of Western Welcome Week at Littleton Center for $25.
Hathaway, who has been running things for 17 years and served a decade before that on the board of directors, makes every effort to attend as many events as possible.
“If I miss one event the previous year, I always try to make sure I get to it next year,” she said.
Once this year’s Week closes, it will be almost time to start thinking about next year’s, which will mark the festival’s 90th outing.
That means the big one is right around the corner.
“I feel like I’ve been here for 89 years,” she said with a laugh. “I keep telling the board the next 11 years will go by very quickly.”
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