Monday, May 4, 2015

Fiesta Fatique in Las Cruces

When I coined the term Full-Tilt Fiesta Season in 1994, I was not exaggerating. Our semi-official motto then was "city of fiesta moods and festive, friendly attitudes." In the last two decades, our FTFS has burgeoned to the point where it's pretty much year-around, and festooned with several fiesta superweekends throughout the year.
But some fiestas that were going strong, and others that sprung up and went on to flourish and celebrate 15th and 20th anniversaries, are now calling it quits, cutting back or changing forms.
The Border Book Festival is the latest to say adios. Denise Chᶥz, who cofounded the festival with Susan J. Tweit, announced that the once-popular event, which never quite seemed to weather the change in venue from Mesilla to assorted downtown Las Cruces locales, is calling it quits. An online presence and some literary events will continue at Casa Camino Real, Chᶥz said.
Venues are also an issue for the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference, which trained and educated thousands of mariachi musicians and singers and folklorico dancers over the past two decades and brought top entertainers to perform and teach. Founder Phyllis Franzoy announced that the nonprofit group, which fielded one of the largest gatherings of its kind each November, has had trouble securing suitable venues after New Mexico State University schedules and policies have changed. The group had an abbreviated event at Las Cruces Convention Center in 2014 and is now considering new venues and new dates that will allow return of a full roster of events, including a Mariachi Mass, parque festival with arts and crafts, Spectacular concert, student workshops and a performing showcase.
That's good news. It's one of the treasures of Las Cruces that generates the most comments in travels from Santa Fe to Deming and Albuquerque, where I run into performers who attribute their training and the origins of their mariachi groups to workshops and studies at the conference.
After more than a decade, the White Sands International Film Festival announced that last September's event would be their last gathering.
Roberto Estrada also announced that 2014 would mark his last year preparing his giant enchilada, which once claimed the Guinness Book of World Records title as the world's largest. Everybody agrees that Roberto has done us proud. But it's sad that the still-thriving Whole Enchilada Fiesta is without its behemoth attraction. It would be nice if a new generation would come forward to continue the tradition.
There are bright stars on the fiesta horizon, from the monthly Downtown Ramble, which evolved from the annual Artwalk, to Downtown Partnership and Las Cruces Farmers' and Crafts Market special events like evening markets, New Year's Eve Chile Drop and red-carpet events.
Several fiesta founders, planners and volunteers cited the Las Cruces County Music Festival as a good example of what we should be doing to maintain our fiesta central status. Las Cruces Convention Visitors Bureau Director Philip San Filippo came up with the concept, and had contacts and expertise after fielding similar events to create an event that is attracting national attention. Focus groups determined that we already had a reputation as a mecca for country music fans (thanks largely to decades of efforts by Barbara Hubbard in bringing top names in country, rock and pop to Pan Am). The bureau and city offered resources to put it all together, and hired Dawn Starostka and Helping Hands for the professional help needed.
In a time of what a friend called "fiesta management fatigue," it's a hopeful model. It's time to recognize we've grown. We need to pick the right times and venues, build on what talented founders have created, and hire professionals to help us move into a new fiesta era.

Since this column was posted in March, we also learned that the Soutthwest Environmental Center's Raft the Rio event has been canceled.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at lcsun-news, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

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