Ashley Johnson knows well the anticipation that builds in Nixa before Sucker Days.
“I have grown up in this area and every year when that big banner would go across downtown Nixa saying what the dates of Sucker Days were, it was an exciting feeling,” she said.
Now, Johnson is helping spread that excitement in her role as the interim president of the Nixa Area Chamber of Commerce. That group presents the 65th Nixa Sucker Days Music, Arts and Crafts Festival May 19-21. The event takes place along Main Street, between Highway 14 and South Street. It opens at 2 p.m. Friday, May 19, with the Sucker Day Parade starting at 6 p.m. at Nixa Junior High.
“(Sucker Days) means home, it means family, it means success for our businesses and it really brings a little bit of fun and joy into our lives,” Johnson said. “It’s pretty special to me.”
Sucker Days tradition dates back to the 1950s
The Sucker Days tradition dates back to 1957 and barber Finis Gold. The story is that locals would close up shop and skip school to go grabbing for suckers, a bottom-feeding fish, and then have a big fish fry. The festival grew up from there.
This year’s Sucker Days T-shirts bear the slogan, “Dedicated to the promotion and perpetuation of piscatorial pursuits,” which dates back to the founding fishers.
“That used to be on all their marketing,” Johnson said. “I saw it and thought it was so funny. They’ve done a good job perpetuating it and promoting it, and here we are 65 years later still throwing Sucker Days for our community.”
Festival features fun for the whole family
As the name implies, there’s a lot happening at the Nixa Sucker Days Music, Arts and Crafts Festival. Johnson said there will be nearly 100 arts and crafts vendors, and 16 food trucks, offering everything from traditional fair food to pizza, barbecue, pineapple whip served in an actual pineapple and more. The 4Cs Sertoma Club runs a beer garden for thirsty festivalgoers.
A $10 wristband gets kids access to unlimited carnival rides. Those kids can also ride ponies and check out a petting zoo. And there are two stages providing music. One is under a big tent, featuring southwest Missouri acts like the Honkytonk Renovators, Psychobilly Cadillac, Sequel Dose and the 7D Funk Allstars. There’s also a second stage, with a full lineup of gospel acts.
Need more? A “Strut Your Mutt” dog show is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, May 20, with categories like Best Dressed, Best Trick and Wiggliest Butt. Suckermania, a professional wrestling event, follows at 1 p.m.
Sunday’s agenda includes the Sucker Toss Cornhole Tournament. The weekend also includes an all-school art show and an art zone, featuring live pottery demonstrations. Admission to all events is free.
“We’ve just got all kinds of things going on,” Johnson said. “There’s something for everyone.”
And it wouldn’t be Sucker Days without a fish fry. The Christian County Historical Society will be serving up free fried sucker samples, while supplies last, starting at noon May 20.
A boost to the local economy
Sucker Days is expected to bring in 20,000-30,000 guests, provided the weather stays nice, which is a big boost to the Christian County city.
“We’re helping our local economy,” Johnson said. “We’re bringing in tons of people from out of town who are shopping at our local businesses, seeing what Nixa has to offer and getting to know our community.”
It’s a community that chips in to make Sucker Days happen. The local Price Cutter grocery store sponsors the event and the Nixa Chamber collaborates with the school district, police and fire departments, the City of Nixa and countless volunteers to put on the festival.
“There are so many people that I could never name all of them,” Johnson said. “They all have their hands in it and are making it happen.”
Sucker Days helps local nonprofits, hands out scholarships
Sucker Days gives back to Nixa as well. Johnson said the event provides free booth space to local nonprofits and several local organizations run the festival’s events, using them as fundraisers.
“4 the Love of K9s runs the dog show for us and that benefits them,” Johnson said. “Our parade is hosted by the Christian County Shrine Club. Our cornhole tournament is for the Nixa Citizen’s Police Academy Alumni Association.
“We have Sucker Days scholarships that we give out to the Sucker Days king and queen, and also to our SCORE school. We help the schools raise funds for the arts and we also give scholarships to exemplary students in Nixa.”
All of it is part of a tradition that started with some folks who wanted to go fishing.
“We’re committed to keeping the tradition alive,” Johnson said. “It’s just a great community event where you can come and make memories with your family.”
Want to go?
What: 65th Nixa Sucker Days Music, Arts and Crafts Festival
When: Friday, May 19, 2-9 p.m.; Saturday, May 20, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, May 21, noon-6 p.m.
Where: Main Street in Nixa, between Highway 14 and South Street
For more information: Visit the official Nixa Sucker Days website, or find them on Facebook.