Festival Brings Diversity to Dickson Street
By Clay Payne
Try to picture in your mind Marshallese dancers marching and stomping to Island music, adults and children alike learning how to Zumba dance. There are food booths serving up hot and tasty taquitos, salsa dance lessons/contests and DJ’s performing a melting pot of music. The crowd is comprised of all types of ethnic and cultural groups — guestimated at about 2,000 people. Now, imagine all of the aforementioned activities happening all at once on Dickson Street in Fayetteville, and you’ll have captured a glimpse of ArkanSalsa Fest.
Fayetteville is known for its culture, and Dickson Street served up a splash of spice on Saturday, Sept. 24 that warmed up the cement for the upcoming Bikes, Blues and BBQ festival this upcoming weekend. Dickson Street was all smiles from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m. for the “coming out party” of OneCommunity: a Latino-based non-profit organization that promotes communities working together to enhance the quality of life through education, outreach and service. OneCommunity was founded by Al “Papa Rap” Lopez and Diana Gonzales Worthen, who also aided in bringing the festival to fruition along with George’s Majestic Lounge owner Brian Crown.
Lopez said that Crown initiated the festival by asking, “How can we get the Latino community to come down and enjoy Dickson?” Worthen said that looking for a way to raise start-up funds for OneCommunity lead to the creation of ArkanSalsa, to bring eclectic bands (R&B, delta blues, Latino rock, Cumbia, merengue) together.
“It was like two worlds discovering each other (Latinos and Fayetteville), and music is what brought them together,” Lopez said.
Not only was the large Spanish population of attendants having its virgin Dickson Street experience at ArkanSalsa Fest, but the majority of the artists were performing to crowds that were not strictly Latino for the first time as well.
“The idea to bring Latino and Marshallese people to Dickson, and introduce them to diversity was a natural fit with our diversity outreach,” Worthen said. “The festival really captured the spirit of our goals.”
Worthen said that OneCommunity’s goals include developing and implementing programs that encourage people from diverse backgrounds to work together, to prepare future leaders and to collaborate, providing programs about health education and promoting the work and initiatives of schools and community based organizations through a variety of outreach venues including music, the arts and the media.
“The festival was to help launch, introduce and celebrate our community by coming together,” Worthen said. “The unity of everybody, having fun and diversity – that’s what OneCommunity is all about, promoting to work together.”
The festival was kicked off by Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan reading a proclamation stating Sept. 24 as ArkanSalsa day. Lopez said that the highlight of the day for him was watching Jordan dancing on stage as the ArkanSalsa Band performed a special, “Pig-Sooie Merengue,” a version of the Hogs fighting song that found a common ground for all festival goers.
During the diversely colorful day outside, performers included Fercho Valencia (Mambo Kid), El Sheriffe Karaoke Machine, El Travieso de la Zeta, La Flor de Durango, DJ Torres, El Cubano, La Maga and DJ Zee. Lopez said the festival was a crossover for these musicians as most had played exclusively at Latino bars and events in the past. For another display of cultural diversity, The Ozark Mini Brass Band, a mini-children’s symphony, put on a delightful performance during the day.
The evening musical attractions consisted of six bands and a salsa dance contest inside George’s. While only four couples were involved in the contest, on-lookers were invited to learn salsa dance moves while the judges were tallying up scores and about 50 people bum-rushed the floor to join in on the mouth-watering action.
Black Pearl was a hip-hop/R&B fusion group that Lopez said was, “slammin’ and happenin’ while locking that groove down.” Ocie Fisher and the Soulful Sound bumped a blues funk beat with an Afro-Caribbean flip. Ynzomnio is a Cumbia (Columbian-sound) band whose bi-lingual beats translated into movin’ and shakin’ in any language.
The duo of Alex Real and his wife provided a pop-sound via Latin rock with all original songs. Calle Soul, which means “Soul Street,” used congas, timbales, and drum kits hooked up with bell pitches and wood blocks to provide an Afro-Cuban sound similar to traditional salsa but faster with a funk twist. Lopez’s band, the ArkanSalsa All-Star Band incorporated musicians from the bands for a “jam” to bring in the evening’s last sizzle.
While music was the main attraction, a variety of family fun and entertainment took place outside and around George’s.
Tuner Republic of Rogers had 23 cars involved in a ‘Show and Shine’ in the Walton Arts Center parking lot; one booth featured face painting by the Girl Scout Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas; the Zumba Ladies gave dance lessons in the street and El Sheriffe Karaoke Machine proved to be quite the popular attraction for future American Idol try-out dreamers.
Micky, Minny and Goofy were suited up to take pictures with children, and kids also had the opportunity to participate in finger painting handprints, finger-printing and an entire station was devoted to teaching children to learn to build drums made out of recycled cardboard tubes.
Breaking Habits Crew, a 12-man break dancing team kicked, flipped while “breaking it down” on an 8×10 cardboard dance floor on Dickson Street. The team’s moves were flawless until a train came through in the middle of the routine and brought the popping and locking to a screeching halt.
The day’s activities on Dickson Street were free to the public, but after 6 p.m. the party moved inside to George’s for a $10 donation to aid OneCommunity in raising money for their upcoming endeavors. Projects include a scholarship fund, PTLA (Parents Taking Leadership and Action) and the OC (One Community) Club. Lopez said the PTLA aims to help parents be more involved with the schools and their children’s education. The OC Club will be a reach-out program that focuses on leadership in the schools.