A festival for the Americas
Arts and entertainment contributor
CARBONDALE — When Festival las Américas headliners La Candela play Sopris Park Sunday, one constant at their shows will remain strong — dancing.
“Our music is mainly for people who love to dance, and since I was a dancer once upon a time, I like us to keep our songs short and sweet,” said La Candela band leader Suzanne Morales, from Denver. “So the dancers can switch partners, and we change up the styles for variety and fun.”
Morales said the 11-piece Front Range band performs hits from all over Latin America, featuring horn and rhythm sections and male and female lead singers. She said La Candela plays with dynamics, a reference to the loudness or quietness of the music.
“Although most of our material is salsa, we also play merengue, cumbia, cha cha and bachata. We’re tight, full of sound, diverse, and just might be the only salsa band in Colorado that plays with dynamics,” Morales said. “We are skilled and trained musicians, and it’s simply more musical to play with dynamics. I’ve been told by my musician friends that ‘La salsa es fuerte!’ meaning, ‘Salsa is loud.’ But I don’t care, let them do what they want with their own bands.”
Morales and La Candela perform at the Roaring Fork Club Rotario fundraising event from 5-8:30 p.m. Sunday. The band will break from 6:30-7 p.m. for Denver’s Salsa Studio Colombia to provide dance lessons for the crowd.
Morales said festivalgoers can expect more than just music as La Candela performs.
“As a singer, I’m also a storyteller, and the lyrics matter to me and should be heard; each song should transport listeners somewhere and should build,” she said. “Dynamics isn’t just about volume though — it’s color, timbre, intention, the touch, delivery and the message of the song.”
For Morales, each performance as a frontwoman for La Candela is a collaborative, dynamic, audio piece of art.
“The purge of that day that you can’t take back, it’s out there. Every musician has a personal life filled with ups and downs, and challenges. You never know when someone is going to be ill, break a bone, not sleep, have laryngitis, and the stronger will carry the hurting in an attempt to have a successful gig and provide a good show,” she said. “But every so often, things line up just right. I don’t know if it’s the planetary alignment or a coincidence, but everyone shows up feeling great, or able to leave their exhaustion/sorrow behind, or use it as fuel, and we have a great gig with magical music that only happens once. That is my favorite part and what keeps me in the game.”
La Candela started playing music together 15 years ago as a jam band at Trilogy in Boulder.
Morales recalled the college-town venue being packed on Wednesday nights.
“Musicians would show up to sit in and college kids would come out to dance or learn to dance salsa,” she said.
In the last decade and a half, La Candela has traveled for shows throughout Colorado, including in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Parker, Boulder, Lyons, Steamboat Springs and Aurora. The band has also played Denver’s Taste of Colorado, City Park Jazz, and Niwot for Jazz on Second Ave., as well as a historical performance for Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“One of our cool gigs was at Gov. Hickenlooper’s house, when he was mayor, during the Obama elections when he hosted 12 Latin ambassadors,” Morales said.
Sunday’s Festival las Américas, starting at 10 a.m. and running through 8:30 p.m., serves as a cultural connection for the Roaring Fork Valley with traditional Latino music, food, art, and family-friendly activities. The Club Rotario fundraiser supports educational projects throughout the valley. Tickets are $7 per adult and $5 for children younger than 12.
Food is a highlight for many festivalgoers, said Rotarian and event organizer Tony Mendez. He described the annual festival as a celebration of the richness of culture and traditions of the American continents, with culinary offerings from El Jebel restaurant La Plaga Chilanga and more.
“They will be selling a variety of tortas, which we have grown to love because of restaurants like Taqueria El Nopal,” Mendez said. “Macs Snack Shack from Rifle will have items such as funnel cakes and cotton candy, and El Kora, another local restaurant from Rifle, will sell tacos and other Mexican foods. Also, La Saltenita will sell their Argentinian empanadas — a must try.”
Mendez said there has been an elevated interest in Festival las Américas’ Latin cuisine.
“We have had many individuals approach us to have a food vendor spot for this year’s event, but not very many arts/crafts vendors. For next year, I think we are going to switch our focus to highlighting the different varieties of foods from the North, Central and South American cultures,” he said. “Make it into a competition between vendors with people attending involved. They will vote for the foods they like the best, and the first place winner get a prize. This year is more of a celebration though, something for the entire family to attend and have a good time.”
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