For the past 10 years, Felts Park in Galax, VA has been alive with bluegrass music on the second weekend in June for HoustonFest. The festival brought in top bluegrass entertainers to benefit the Galax Volunteer Fire Department, and honor a young man, Houston Caldwell, who died in a tragic vehicular accident in the spring of 2010. Only 18 years of age, he had just completed his training to join the Fire Department in Galax, and was also a very talented young bluegrass musician. Everyone in the Department loved his sparkling wit and self-effacing sense of humor, and Caldwell was also well known and admired among young pickers in Virginia and North Carolina.
The depth of feeling at his passing led to the launch of the festival in 2012, which had been well attended, and always featured a strong presence from the Fire Department. Each year the event would open in dramatic fashion with a vocalist in the bucket of a ladder truck high above the festival stage – the same one used by the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax – singing the national anthem.
But after a decade of fun, music, and fundraising, the Department has announced that the June 2022 HoustonFest will have been the last.
In an open letter to the community, Chief Mike Ayers of the Galax Volunteer Fire Department explained the rationale.
The members and families of the Galax Volunteer Fire Department loved Houston Caldwell. He was one of our own. We also love Tess, Kenneth, Hayden, and their entire family. The decision to produce HoustonFest for the last 10 years has been easy. The decision to discontinue HoustonFest going forward has been an extremely difficult one, but one that had to be made none the less.
The members of the Galax Volunteer Fire Department produce multiple fundraising events, public education classes, and community service projects each year, not to mention trainings and emergency responses. Balancing family, work and volunteer firefighting is simply wearing our personnel out. Therefore, we are stepping back from several projects in an effort to protect our members, strengthen our families, and in turn strive to remain 100% volunteer. HoustonFest is one project that Galax Fire can no longer produce.
Galax Fire, the Caldwell family, Executive Director Debbie Robinson, and the small army of dedicated volunteers that produced HoustonFest yearly are extremely proud of this premiere festival that brought visitors from around the United States to the City of Galax! Many lives were changed forever due to the friends, connections, and mentoring of youth during HoustonFest. The level of talent and number of attractions offered each year during HoustonFest made this festival a family friendly event that embodied the values of the region we live in. The festival garnered support and recognition at the State level from the Virginia Tourism Commission as well as regional and national media outlets.
HoustonFest is a ‘Celebration of Song and Service’. Both song and service have been celebrated and showcased during this one of a kind event. The Caldwell family, the Galax Volunteer Fire Department, and the HoustonFest team can look back proudly on the accomplishments they have achieved through the years.
One goal of HoustonFest at the onset was simply to support youth in their quest to pursue music as a higher education option. Another goal of HoustonFest was to support youth as they pursue a career in service to their community. The Houston Caldwell legacy will live on in the form of scholarships for local students graduating high school. The final goal of HoustonFest was to support the Galax Volunteer Fire Department financially. This goal was tangibly demonstrated with the recent outfitting of Galax Fire’s new Tower 11 with the tools and equipment needed to protect our community for the next 30 years.
Additional funds from the festival have been set aside to assist the department in fulfilling its mission of protecting lives and protecting property for years to come. Speaking to the goal of
On behalf of the Galax Volunteer Fire Department, we would like to sincerely thank all the countless volunteers, staff and family who spent thousands of man-hours producing one of the finest festivals in the Commonwealth of Virginia in support of our department. Additionally, Galax Fire would like to thank the public for supporting HoustonFest throughout the last 10 years, and appreciate your understanding as we continue to make the difficult decisions necessary to place the best interest of our volunteers and the protection of the citizens of the City of Galax as our number one priority.
Sad news, indeed, for Galax music lovers, and all the many people who visited each year for HoustonFest.