Chips and salsa heat up downtown Las Cruces in first ever SalsaFest

August 29, 2009 by Andi Murphy NMSU Round Up

SalsaFest incorporates all different kinds of salsa – including dancing

¡Salsa! (The Round Up: Courtesy Image)

¡Salsa! (The Round Up: Courtesy Image)

Saturday is going to be a hot and spicy day for salsa lovers – and those acquainted with it – who attend the MainStreet SalsaFest.

“It’s a local thing,” said David Edwards, event coordinator. “A lot of people in New Mexico love salsa.”

Since the Whole Enchilada Fest moved to the Meerscheidt Recreation Center, it has been a long while since the downtown area between Las Cruces Avenue and Griggs Avenue has played host to a festive event, Edwards said. The MainStreet SalsaFest will bring Southwest culture back to the downtown area with this first-ever spicy event.

“We haven’t really had any big cultural events in downtown,” Edwards said. “We’re hoping we can get 2,000 or 3,000 people to come down.”

There will be 16 salsa makers and nine individuals competing with their own salsa recipes for first, second and third places and cash prizes totaling $850. Seven commercial vendors, including Dick’s Café, Mesilla Valley Kitchen, La Fuente and La Posta will compete for a traveling trophy, a People’s Choice Award and all 16 are vying for the Mayor’s Award.

Tasters are welcome to cast their votes by purchasing a wrist band for $3.

Paintings – representations of the Southwest, chile and salsa –created by 25 local kids will be displayed at the art galleries of the Rio Grande Theater. The young artists participated in the summer arts program at the Meerscheidt Recreation Center, Edwards said.

“It’s really sweet art work,” said Cindi Fargo, executive director of the Downtown Las Cruces Partnership. “We do see this as a new major tradition.”

The partnership has been the powerhouse behind SalsaFest and has planned two stages for music: salsa group Ritmo Caluraso and dancers from Dance Universe and the Pan American Dance Institute.

The partnership hopes to keep the SalsaFest as an annual event, Fargo said.

To make the first SalsaFest a success, the partnership will need some volunteers and is inviting anyone to help with Saturday’s succession.

A special table will be set up for anyone who would like to Twitter or blog about the event while at the event, Fargo said. Participants will need to bring their laptops or phones. Free Wi-Fi will be available.

“I think the SalsaFest is a perfect event for Las Cruces,” Fargo said. “I think it’s going to be a really fun day.”

The idea of the SalsaFest came from Chris Meenach, a New Mexico State University agronomy graduate student and owner of Ocotillo Roasters. Having recently moved to Las Cruces from Washington state, nothing really tastes as original or hot as the salsa you get from the Southwest, Meenach said.

Meenach said the idea was spurred by his desire to get more publicity for his and his wife’s coffee shop, the farmers market and the fact that all the ingredients for salsa are grown in the Las Cruces area. Meenach said because people have un-official competitions to see whose salsa is hotter or tastier, he decided there should be a salsa celebration – with a competition. He pitched the idea to the partnership and they ran with it, he said.

Meenach said other festivals, like the Whole Enchilada Festival and the Hatch Chile Festival, are not solely about food, as the enchilada and the chile are usually overshadowed by other performances.

SalsaFest is all about, well, salsa – which just so happens to include salsa music, dancing and the family togetherness that comes when chips and salsa are brought out to the table or party.

“It’s just really easy to get hooked on,” Meenach said about the spicy condiment.

Andi Murphy is an arts reporter and can be reached at

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