Fiesta time: Aspen Musical Festival and School hosts a free community concert with mariachi band, dancers and food

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklórico enriches kids’ lives through free, after-school instruction in Mexican folkloric dance.

The Aspen Music Festival and School will host a concert featuring the Denver-based mariachi band Mariachi Sol de mi Tierra, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklórico and 40 students who have been attending mariachi workshops since Monday. The culmination of the “De Colores! A Mariachi Celebration” event takes place Wednesday in the Benedict Music Tent, beginning with a pre-concert fiesta at 4 p.m. and concert at 5:30. 

“In wanting to really do this workshop well, we knew that we needed some professional mariachi musicians and hopefully a professional intact ensemble to be able to get a totally authentic mariachi sound into these students’ ears,” said Katie Hone-Wiltgen, dean of Education and Community. “Live mariachi is something that we just don’t hear very often in the Roaring Fork Valley, and yet it’s something that is such a huge part of Mexican culture and Mexican music in general.”

The performance, which is free and open to all ages, will be the culmination of three days of workshops for third through 12th graders from Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The workshop is free for all participating students, including instruction and borrowed instruments, if necessary. Though students of all skill levels are welcome, they are all instrumentalists and singers. 

Throughout the workshop, mariachi specialists from the Denver area have been teaching the students how to play traditional mariachi pieces and instruments, such as the vihuela and guitarrón. At the beginning of the concert, the students will perform the three pieces that they learned alongside Mariachi Sol de mi Tierra. Following that, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklórico will perform with the band and, finally, the band will perform by themselves.

Six local teachers from AMFS are also attending the workshop to learn mariachi techniques and pedagogy. Teachers wanting to learn about mariachi currently have very limited opportunities to do so, and it can be costly — they must travel to Denver or California in order to find mariachi specialists, according to Hone-Wiltgen.

“Local teachers will be able to start bringing some of these concepts and these materials and this repertoire into their own classrooms and hopefully then we’ll be able to spearhead a program through the music festival that keeps mariachi happening year-round,” Hone-Wiltgen said.

The event has been in the works for three-and-a-half years, according to Hone-Wiltgen. She saw the need to create the event since a large portion of the students and families served by AMFS are Latino.

“I think it’s our responsibility at AMFS to be creating programming and educational opportunities that are culturally reflective of the population that we serve,” Hone-Wiltgen said. “Being able to bring mariachi programming to students — both Latino and Anglo students alike — is a way that we can celebrate mariachi music, celebrate Mexican culture and really intentionally build programming that meets the needs of the students that are here.”

The event was planned almost entirely remotely with Michael Linert, director of orchestras and mariachi at Westminster High School in Westminster. Hone-Wiltgen said she was very impressed with him when she first encountered him at a music educators’ conference, where he presented on mariachi education. Linert will also bring four teaching assistants who are alumni of Westminster High School.

Celebrating Mexican culture and heritage falls under the AMFS’ inclusion, diversity, equity and access initiative, which seeks out ways to support community and build opportunities that are culturally responsive, according to Hone-Wiltgen. The event is also supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, although that only covers about one eighth of the total cost, according to Hone-Wiltgen.

“It’s an expensive endeavor for sure, but absolutely worth it,” she said.

Several community partners will be at the pre-concert fiesta event with various activities and booths: Anderson Ranch will host a Mexican folkloric art project, the Basalt Regional Library and Pitkin County Library will both host bilingual story times, English in Action will provide information about the organization and how to get involved and Taqueria El Yaqui will be on-site with a food truck. There will also be activities such as face painting, balloon animals, an instrument “petting zoo” and a mariachi coloring station for children.

Hone-Wiltgen, who has endured “constant Zooms and thousands of emails” to plan the event, said she is excited to finally see the result of years of planning. Her ultimate goal is for AMFS to provide year-round mariachi programming to the community.

“We’re all coming together,” she said. “It’s the tapestry, the interweaving of cultures and of arts programs here in the valley and really a highlight of what makes this place a great place to live and to raise kids and to learn.”


What: Community Concert: ‘De Colores! A Mariachi Celebration’

When: 5:30 p.m. (4 p.m. pre-concert fiesta with community partners)

Where: Benedict Music Tent

Cost: Free and open to the public; food and beverage are available for purchase from Taqueria El Yaqui food truck

More info:

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