By Matthew Berger
mberger@ardmoreite.com
MADILL— A summer staple for citizens of southern Oklahoma has been taking place in Madill since 1987.
The 2019 National Sandbass Festival took over the town square of Madill this past week, bringing family and friends together for music and carnival rides.
Originally the festival ran through the years of 1961-76 before reopening in 1987. In 1961 businesses in Marshall County accrued a lot of their profit through tourism, so as a way to say thank you to the tourism industry the Sandbass Festival was created, according to Sandbass Festival board member Donny Raley.
Raley.said that through the first week of June, most sandbass are spawned on Lake Texoma. During the original period of the Sandbass Festival a fishing tournament took place, and all the fish caught were cooked and served to the people in attendance. After restarting the festival in 1987, the festival replaced the fish fry with nightly concerts.
Raley has been helping put on the event since 1988. Although rain has drenched the area this week, Raley believes it has not affected the festival.
“Everybody always says if you want a good garden you plant it so it will grow during sandbass time,” Raley said. “You are guaranteed some rain during sandbass week. This year has been unusual with the rain. We have actually had really good nights at the festival, it’s rained but it’s cleared off enough that we haven’t missed one night.”
The Oklahoma Department of Commerce and the Department of Tourism estimate the event brings in 40 to 50,000 visitors during the weeklong festival. With the influx of people, local businesses often reap the rewards.
“A lot of those people stop at our businesses, they buy gas and eat at the local cafes because the fair food is a little more expensive,” Raley said. “It is a huge economic boost for us, we would like to compare it to a Christmas shopping season for us here in this county.”
With the Sandbass Festival being one of the larger events scheduled in southern Oklahoma, people from all over come to visit as a way to get out and enjoy the weather.
Becky Yarberry and Becca Turner of Dickson have attended the festival for several years and have enjoyed their experience every year.
Having a chance to experience a fair is always a good time for the mother and daughter.
“It is just something different for us to do,” Yarberry said. “It is a lot of fun, I like looking at the arts and crafts also. Just taking our time and seeing everyone together.”
Yarberry enjoys the camaraderie of the small town getting together for the festival and seeing the faces of fellow townspeople having fun. For Turner, she is there for another reason.
“Eat and ride,” Turner said. “We haven’t rode any (rides) yet today, but in the past when  we came my favorite is the Ferris wheel.”
The Festival not only brings in people from the Texoma region but also from around the country.
Making the trek from Miami, Florida , Marlev Adonis visited Madill for the first for the festival, traveling with his uncle who operated a few of the carnival games patrons enjoyed.
“Small town and a lot of love, everyone is always smiling and always complimenting me,” Adonis said. “ Ever since I have been up here it has been nothing but great.”
Coming from a big city like Miami, Adonis was not used to being in a small town like Madill. After spending a week in the community and enjoying the festival, Adonis now has an experience he will never forget.
“I love Madill,” Adonis said. “The food, the community, the stage personnel that you guys have, I have never seen anything like that before. It is astounding, I have never seen anything like this honestly. I am from a big city, yeah, we have stuff like this but to see the community and everybody together, they are so happy. It is like they are coming for the first time every time.”
The festival entered its final day on Saturday, capping off the week with a musical performance by Stoney LaRue. After another successful, rain-soaked event, Raley is ready to begin working on next year’s, hoping to bring in more smiling faces.
“We focus 100 percent on family, our motto is family, food and fun,” Raley said. “It is a lot of work but I tell you what, when you walk around and you see all those kids smiling and you see grandma sitting there smiling eating a corndog, it makes it all worth it. That is what it is all about.”