LUPUS (AP) — A chili festival that started as a small party in a central Missouri village is shutting down this year because it’s become a victim of its own success.
The Lupus Chili Fest drew more than 2,000 people to the village of 30 residents last year and similar, if not larger, crowds were expected for this year’s event. Festival organizers announced last week this year’s event was canceled because the village couldn’t handle the anticipated crowds.
Jim Denny, a former mayor, said when the event began the chili was made by “church ladies” and the focus was chili and music.
“It was really more like a party back then, than a formal organized event,” said Denny, 74. “It was a totally different time.”
Locals say the festival deteriorated into a large and unruly party with thousands of strangers.
“Last year we had over 2,000 down here, and it’s from Facebook advertisements,” Denny said. “When it’s in the 1,000 range, it’s beyond our ability to deal with it.”
Doug Elley, 71, another former mayor, remembered asking news outlets a few decades after the event began to avoid promoting it.
“I always felt like when Facebook came out, a dark cloud came over the likelihood of it continuing, because it was always word of mouth, friends telling friends,” Elley said.
Elley started the Lupus Chili Fest to raise money for the village’s expenses without raising taxes. As the crowds grew, Elley said the chili had to be made elsewhere and the town had to rent portable restrooms and a dumpster.
His goddaughter, Violet Vonder Haar, 29, sang at the Chili Fest throughout her childhood and is the lead singer of Violet and the Undercurrents.
“One of my earliest memories is falling asleep on the couch in the Lupus General Store during a Chili Fest,” she said. “It’s in my blood.”
But she understands why the event is being canceled. She said festival attendees hadn’t respected the community, often using drugs and alcohol and leaving a lot of litter behind. She said changes are needed if people want the event to grow from a party to a full-fledged musical festival.
“If they do want to continue throwing a party of that size in a space that small, I think there are some things that need to happen that haven’t happened in the past,” Vonder Haar said. “I think having more logistical conversations is important as (the festival) continues to grow.”