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

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.”

IF YOU GO:

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: aspenmusicfestival.com

Denver’s StarFest, one of the country’s oldest pop-culture cons, calling it quits after 45 years

Michelle Hurd attends the LA Premiere of "Star Trek: Picard" at the ArcLight Hollywood on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Los Angeles. Hurd is scheduled to be at this year’s “StarFest Denver.”
Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP
IF YOU GO …

What: StarFest Denver: The Final Voyage. Classic pop-culture convention

When: May 13-15

Where: Hyatt Regency DTC, 7800 E. Tufts Ave. in Denver.

Tickets: $29; children 10 and under are free. Order by calling 303-777-6800 or visiting starfestdenver.com.

Denver convention StarFest, one of the longest-running pop-culture gatherings in the nation, has announced its final voyage.

The 45-year-old event, which debuted just two weeks before “Star Wars” hit theaters in 1977, will hold its last convention May 13-15 at the Hyatt Regency DTC. Celebrity guests scheduled to attend include Brent Spiner (Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Picard”); Terry Farrell (Dax from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”); Michelle Hurd (“Picard”); and Zach McGowan (“Black Sails” and “The 100”).

“My kids were like 3 years old when we started,” said KathE Walker, who co-founded and has continued producing StarFest along with husband Stephen and sister Karoline Jobin. She said the end of StarFest does not spring from financial woes.

“Basically, we’re retiring,” she said. “None of us has ever gotten a paycheck from StarFest because it’s fan-run, and we’ve always put all the money into next year’s event.”

William Shatner, left, and Brent Spiner attend the "Star Trek" panel at the 2016 Comic-Con International in San Diego. Both have been part of Denver’s “StarFest”, which will end its long history this year.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

StarFest has hosted celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Francis Ford Coppola, Christian Bale and, of course, dozens of cast members from various Star Trek series and films, including William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and Star Trek’s first female captain to lead a series, Kate Mulgrew (“Star Trek: Voyager”).

StarFest is one of Denver’s original conventions for all things Star Trek, sci-fi, fantasy, horror and more, following the also-formative Mile High Con, which has continued to be literary-focused since it debuted in 1969. StarFest, however, was Denver’s first media-oriented convention that harnessed the passionate fandom for TV, film and comics.

In recent years, pop-culture conventions have evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry, moving steadily away from the mom-and-pop feel of the original conventions.

“I know the big cons — they’re out there. The one that’s now going to be in Denver, the Fan Expo … they have like 12 others they do throughout the country,” Walker said. “StarFest is just a different show. We have families who have been coming to us for decades, people who have gotten married here, and hosts and volunteers who have also been with us for decades.”

That kind of institutional knowledge will be impossible to replace in Denver’s pop-culture scene, but it’s not clear how many younger fans will care. StarFest has been upstaged in recent years by the event currently known as Fan Expo Denver (formerly Denver Pop Culture Con, formerly Denver Comic Con), with its million-square-foot layout at the Colorado Convention Center and dozens upon dozens of TV, film, comics and literary guests amid the panels, retail alleys, cosplay contests and performances.

That corporate event, and many others, owe a debt to the pioneering StarFest, which worked out the kinks in its industry long before it was even considered one. Its celeb meetings and autographs, cosplay (back before that term was coined in Japan), and cross-genre approach invited nerds, geeks and fanatics of all types who may have felt intimidated or ignored in other social environments.

Back when StarFest started, it was propelled by in-person meetups, such as clubs that gathered to pore over “Star Trek” episodes on VHS tape, Walker said. StarFest has since expanded to cons-within-cons, such as ArtFest, ComicFest, GameFest, HorrorFest, KlingonFest and ScienceFest.

“We try to do a little bit of everything and still not just dabble in it,” Walker said. “But it’s gotten so expensive. Hotel fees have gone up — and you can’t blame them during the pandemic, because they’ve been devastated — and it’s really expensive to bring in actors.”

It’s been a rough ride for many smaller events in recent years. In the late 2010s, San Diego Comic Con International forced many “comic cons” across the U.S. to change their names, having laid claim to the copyright on that term. That included Denver Comic Con changing its name to Denver Pop Culture Con.

StarFest has never had that problem, nor has it visibly endured the spasms of expansion, contraction and staff turnover that have plagued other major cons over the last decade. Its shoestring budgets and hundreds of volunteers — this year there will be 185 of them to greet the 3,000 to 5,000 anticipated attendees — has supported an event inspired mostly by its creators’ love for Star Trek, not a business plan cobbled together to meet market demand.

Walker’s favorite memories aren’t just of the celebs she’s brought in, like Cruise and Travolta. It’s also the weddings, Klingon vow renewals, lifelong meet-ups and generational continuity she’s seen at the event, from friends who have faithfully been attending for decades to younger fans looking for a slower-paced event not dependent on social media buzz or licensed properties (although those are represented, too).

“I just don’t see the same fandom being created (these days) because you can binge an entire show in a weekend and forget about it,” said Walker, who ran the first trailer for “Star Wars” at the debut StarFest before anyone knew what the movie was. (They’d find out two weeks later.) “We’re lucky to have so many people who have stayed with us over the years. It’s a family.”

‘We’re alive and we’re a beautiful culture:’ Champion fancy dancer performing to educate at Glenwood Caverns

Larry Yazzie performs for the crowd at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

World Champion Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie is performing at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park throughout the summer.

Yazzie, who was raised at the Meskwaki Nation’s homelands in Tama, Iowa, said he did a site visit at the adventure park in February and realized he could make a difference in the area through performance.

“I think they were just opening up. My purpose is to educate and break those stereotypes — give them a little bit of history,” Yazzie said. “Let me know we’re still here. We’re not just in museums or in history books. We’re alive, and we’re a beautiful culture.”

Yazzie said it takes a special gift to capture a moving audience.

“I do this all the time,” Yazzie said. “I do a lot of fairs and festivals. Most of the time, my audience is moving. To capture a moving audience takes a special knack for it.”

Larry Yazzie performs for the crowd at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Yazzie is also here to pay respect to the Ute Tribe, which ties into a current movement called the land acknowledgement.

“That is to acknowledge the land that we walk on, work on, pray on,” Yazzie said. “This is Ute Territory. I make an offering and give prayers and thank the ancestors for allowing me to be here to share my gift.”

Larry Yazzie performs for the crowd at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Yazzie is performing three times a day, three times a week in Glenwood, which makes for many miles to travel.

“I just drove over 900 miles to be here yesterday,” Yazzie said during an interview June 8.

“You’re going to see color, movement, a beautiful culture right here in your own backyard. Not to toot my own horn, but like I said earlier I have a knack to capture the audience, to educate them and entertain them at the same time.”

Larry Yazzie performs for the crowd at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

If there ever were a time to help educate folks, now is as good a time as ever, Yazzie said.

”This pandemic allowed us to look inside ourselves,” Yazzie said. “Many people look to the native philosophy of taking care of the land, and not desecrate it or destroy it so it’s there for generations to come. I sense that more and more people are tuning into our philosophy.”

If you go…

Larry Yazzie will be performing at 3 p.m, 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Friday at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park plaza through Labor Day.

For more information on Yazzie, visit his Tik ToK page at TikTok.com/@larryyazzie?lang=en.

Reporter Shannon Marvel can be reached at 605-350-8355 or smarvel@postindependent.com.