The festival dedicated to all things Latin-American got its start with founder Dr. Erwin M. Vasquez, owner and publisher of El Heraldo de Broward. Sponsored by Bank of America, the event has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception.
This year's activities began October 5 and have included multicultural music at Las Olas Riverfront, a Puerto Rican parade and festival in Miramar, a tribute to Hispanic cultural arts at ArtServe, and many other festive occasions. But the real party kicks off this weekend and takes place at the Riverfront entrance, near Las Olas Boulevard and Andrews Avenue.
The Hispanic Street Festival begins Saturday at 11 a.m. and features arts and crafts, salsa dancing, entertainment on three stages, Hispanic foods, kids' rides, and a bilingual business expo featuring more than 150 booths. At the Bank of America Stage, Johnny Conga and his orchestra perform first, following free salsa dance lessons. Percussionist Conga blends Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms, a mix that has granted him a 25-year career including performances with Arturo Sandoval and Sérgio Mendes. Los Pleneros de Borinquen follow Conga, playing traditional Puerto Rican tunes. Shelina and her backing band, Punto y Clave, round out the opening acts before Nestor Torres, he of the Latin-jazz flute, takes the stage at 9 p.m.
The following day features a similarly jazzy lineup, with the Matt Calderin Sextet and the Bobby Rodriguez Orchestra opening for Eddie Palmieri, who takes the stage at 4 p.m. Palmieri is certainly the most famous person to grace a stage at the festival, having enjoyed a 40-year career as one of Latin jazz's finest pianists. Particularly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Palmieri recorded several extraordinary albums; his collaborative work with such heavy hitters as Tito Puente and Cal Tjader remain highlights in the history of the genre. Palmieri has often been compared to Thelonious Monk, and rightfully so; Palmieri's aggressive, banging style is about as close to hard bop as Afro-Cuban jazz gets.
But the entertainment doesn't stop with the Bank of America stage. The Fiesta Showmobile Stage features singers from Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Puerto Rico on Saturday, as well as local acts such as La Fiesta, a youth group from South Plantation High School. Sunday's Showmobile entertainment includes several dance teams as well as jazz singer Rose Max. And finally local bands play at 1, 3, and 5 p.m. both days at the New Times Acoustic Stage; hey, you didn't think we'd miss out on a party like this, did you?