When Wade Bowen woke up on Friday, Nov. 15 it was just a regular day.
The Texas country musician, remembers the moment he saw the smoke coming from the Wurstfest grounds just a couple miles down the road from his home.
Bowen was among the thousands of New Braunfels residents who watched the historic Wurstfest Marktplatz go up in flames, destroying the food and merchandise booths of dozens of local nonprofits.
“I was on the road and saw the fire from the distance and was heart broken about it entirely,” Bowen said.
With the release of his new Christmas album Twelve Twenty-Five last month, Bowen realized this was the perfect time to bring some holiday cheer to the community and to raise funds for the affected nonprofits, as well.
“It was a no-brainer,” Bowen said.
“We went to the city to talk about the opportunity to play a Christmas concert for people and the city officials and our team came together to turn it all around.”
Bowen performed at Wassailfest Thursday evening starting at 8:30 p.m. on a stage in front of Prince Solms Inn, singing classics such as “O Holy Night,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
“The night just exceeded my expectations,” Bowen said. “It was a magical night. I was blown away by the amount of people who came out and by how great this community is to come together like they have.”
The concert, which was sponsored by Platinum Custom Homes and was in partnership with the city of New Braunfels, the New Braunfels Downtown Association and the Bowen Family Foundation, raised an estimated $25,000, Bowen said.
“The funds will be donated to the nonprofit organizations affected by the fire,” Bowen said. “I believe it’ll be through the Downtown Association that that will be handled.”
Bowen said he hopes performing at Wassailfest will be a new Christmas tradition that happens again next year — and added jokingly he’ll give the city more than two weeks to plan it.
“My comment on stage was the way the city came together with the police and fire and Downtown Association, the way they pulled it off — it was just a magical night,” Bowen said. “I was pretty much speechless about the amount of people who showed up, and I hope we can continue to make it a tradition.”
What’s next for the nonprofits?
After meeting with representatives from all the affected nonprofits last month, Wurstfest has put together a rebuild committee and is working with the nonprofits on planning for next year’s festival, said Suzanne Herbelin, executive director of Wurstfest.
“Our meeting with them went great we had everybody there so they could be brought up to speed and so we could give out instructions on what to do for those who carried insurance,” Herbelin said. “They’ve really followed through like the pros they are.”
Everything has been going smoothly, and Wurstfest is doing what it can to help the nonprofits, Herbelin said.
“We’re still working on how everything will come together, and are still in the planning stages,” Herbelin said.
Herbelin said Wurstfest is planning to meet with concessionaires again during the first week of January to gather data to give to the company selected for rebuild.
“(Folks) can donate by going to our website and can find a (nonprofit) they’d like to help support,” Herbelin said. “Many of these are facing significant expenses and had inventory or equipment lost, and anyone who wasn’t insured may have to pay out of pocket.”
Herbelin encouraged members of Wurstfest and of the community to help donate to one of the 20 affected nonprofits.
That list of nonprofits and each one’s contact information can be found at https://wurstfest.com/support/.
For many of New Braunfels’ nonprofits that participate as vendors in Wurstfest, the 10-day salute to sausage acts as their largest fundraiser for the year.
After attending the post-fire concessionaire’s meeting on Friday, Nov. 22, many of the affected nonprofits began reaching out to their core communities for aid.
One such organization was the Canyon Band Boosters Club, which reached out to parents of students to tell them what is known so far.
“The Marktplatz and all of the vendor booths inside were completely decimated by the fire and will need to be rebuilt from the ground up,” said Canyon Band Boosters president Natascha Reynoso in an email. “There was also some structural damage to the existing Wursthalle that will need to be repaired before the festival next year.”
The Wurstfest Association has formed a committee that will oversee the demolition and rebuild details, Reynoso said.
“That committee will communicate with concessionaires on a regular basis,” she added.
While the Canyon Band Boosters Club had insurance and has filed a claim for the contents of their funnel cake booth, they are waiting for the adjuster to do their inspection.
“Based on the information disseminated in the meeting, the most likely scenario right now is that we (the Band Boosters) will be responsible for finishing out the rebuilt ‘shell’ of our new booth,” Reynoso said.
“In addition to purchasing new equipment (fryers, mixer, sink, vent-a-hood, etc, we will need to install interior wall finish, flooring, shelving, new stairs, upstairs storage, paint and decorate the exterior, and prepare the new booth for the festival next year.”
With this in mind, the club has set up an account to accept donations from the community to help cover the unanticipated expenses of this effort.
“Please be on the lookout in the coming weeks for more details about how to donate,” Reynoso said. “We will also provide regular updates on the rebuild as we receive them from Wurstfest.”