Prior to that magnificent, sundown display, thousands of people in attendance throughout the day enjoyed continuous music, free child rides, tasty treats, the spectacle of parachutists jumping out of planes, and, of course—the signature salsa tasting contest.
Several officials describe this event—essentially a complete reboot of the original “Salsa Fest” idea—as a smashing success.
“We had a great day—just a wonderful day,” TR Mayor Sam Garcia enthused. “Everything seemed to turn out great. We had great weather. There was a little bit of rain, but it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. There was great music, a great motorcycle rodeo, 5K races and kids having a blast all day long—mine included.”
Salsa Fest originally began in 2000 under the direction of Murrell Foster, executive director of the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce. But the chamber board discontinued its support of the event after a change in sponsors. Around that same time, First National Bank decided to end its seven-year run of operating the salsa competition.
The city of Three Rivers took over, and event facilitator Barbara Dezell was hired to manage the event. The subsequent reboot combined July 4 festivities with the tradition of Salsa Fest.
Mayor Garcia—decked out Saturday in an American flag shirt with state of Texas flag pants—said he was impressed with how smoothly the event ran.
(Criticisms? Not a lot of votes in that direction just yet. But to be fair, one hamburger stand next to Stage One ran out of hamburgers, corn dogs and french fries at one point.)
There were 14 contestants participating in the salsa tasting contest. Attendees who wished to judge paid $1 to taste and cast ballots.
Three Rivers Coach Randy Palmer was the big salsa contest winner. He won second place in the People’s Choice, a $75 prize; and second place in the judge’s choice, a $150 prize.
Coach Palmer’s biggest victory was the grand prize of $1,000—a cumulative score combining the people’s choice and the judge’s choice.
Palmer said he plans to spend his $1,250 on some family fun with his two children.
Not bad for a special family recipe from the coach’s wife’s side of the family. It contained jalapeños, onions, tomatoes, garlic and a little lemon juice mixed with just the right tang.
Palmer’s secret to winning?
“I try not to make it too spicy,” he said. “... But did I expect to win? Heck no!”
Other salsa-centric awards included:
• Third place, People’s Choice: Pete Alfaro, $50;
• First place, People’s Choice, Sue McNeil and Vanessa Gray, $100;
• Third place, Judge’s Award, Dominga Alfaro, $100 and a ribbon;
• First place, Judge’s Award, Veronica Rocha, $200 and a ribbon;
• Showmanship Award, Helen Troutman.
In other Salsa Fest developments:
• About midafternoon, a group of parachutists jumped out of a circling airplane to land in the vicinity of Salsa Fest.
• On the musical front, there was much crowd enthusiasm for all the acts that graced Salsa Fest.
Local Tejano musicians Grupo Moya was the “new kid on the block” this year, joining several veteran performers. Members of Grupo Moya handed out goodies and souvenirs as their fans rushed the stage.
Rob “Elvis” Carter performed quite a few of Mr. Presley’s greatest hits, sticking primarily to the audience in front of Stage One.
But attendees said all the bands hit just the right notes Saturday—whether it was the Chris Rybak Band, the Brush Country Music Jamboree, the Pear Ratz, or the many others who performed, such as Gary Glenn and the 20X Band, Santiago Jimenez Jr., Conrad M. Gonzales Jr., South of Heaven, Chano Cadena, Rob Carter or Al Dean.
The participation of the Choke Canyon Chapter of the Reguladores Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club was also a big hit.
“People had a lot of fun,” observed Jamye Royal, a member of the Miss Live Oak County Pageant Committee who helped regulate the salsa tasting contest. “I’ve heard nothing but positive comments.”
Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff wholeheartedly agreed.
“Salsa Fest 2014 was a great success,” he said. “The fireworks were outstanding like last year. Hilbert Kopplin Park provided more room than the City Square, and it fits the festival well.”
Judge Huff said it was outstanding that the city of Three Rivers could offer free admittance and free amusement rides to the public.
Meanwhile, Huff also praised the Fourth of July celebration in George West.
“The festivals in Three Rivers and George West continue a tradition of family entertainment that speaks of the fabric of our community,” Huff said. “We live in a good area with great people.”
Ben Tinsley is a reporter for The Progress newspaper in Three Rivers. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 361-786-3022. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.