Sunday, August 16, 2009

Latino festival draws crowds

A family-friendly Festival Latino draws afternoon crowds this year
By Marla Matzer Rose, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, August 15, 2009

Near-perfect weather today coupled with a return to earlier hours and free admission generated sizable crowds for Festival Latino.

This year's event, held Downtown along the Scioto River in Genoa Park next to COSI, attracted a steadily growing audience throughout the afternoon to its concert stage and concession booths.

It was a transitional year for the 14th annual festival, which continues through Sunday. After making changes that alienated some patrons last year - including shortening the festival to evening hours only and charging $30 for the second night, which featured a big Latin music line-up - the festival reverted to free admission and hours of 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"I've heard from a lot of people in the community that they're glad it's more daytime hours this year," said Rosa Rojas, who sits on the Latino advisory committee for the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts. She was helping out at various concession booths yesterday. "In the past, it had gotten kind of rough. Gang members showed up at night."

CAPA took over the festival this year from the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks, though the event still received $10,000 from the city. The festival featured all types of food, from Mexican-style taco trucks and South American specialties to typical festival fare such as gyros and elephant ears.

Gloria Schanely, who works as a court interpreter by day, called to passers-by in both English and Spanish to try her colorful array of fresh-squeezed juices and flavored teas. Business was brisk as temperatures reached the upper 80s.

"Drinking fresh juice is a way of life in Latin cultures," said Schanely, raised in Venezuela as the daughter of American missionaries.

In her third year as a vendor at the festival, Schanely said she appreciates the more family-friendly atmosphere.

"It seems very organized this year. If people feel more comfortable coming here with their families, we'll all benefit."

Jessica Velazquez, who had just finished taking a half-hour group salsa lesson offered by members of dance school MAS y Mambo with her 5-year-old daughter, Loahni Hernandez, said she appreciated feeling "safe" by being able to park just steps away at COSI. It was her third year returning to the festival, she said.

Others just happened upon the event.

"I heard the music from across the river, and just came over to check it out. I'm really enjoying it so far," said Larry Jefferson, who was visiting from Dayton. "I just love all kinds of music."

Some, though, miss last year's higher-profile lineup of music acts.

"I came last year because I'm a fan of Latin music," said Sergio Ramirez of Galloway, who had found a shaded place to sit on the grass with daughter, Gizelle, 8, and son, Sergio Jr., 11. "This year, I came to check it out, but I've never heard the names of the performers before."

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