It may not be as historic as the deep South’s Spring Cotillions or the blueblood Debutant Balls of the northeast, but there is no bigger Fall festival in southern Colorado than Pueblo’s Chile & Frijoles Festival, an event that draws people from all across the state and celebrates what Puebloans call the best chile in the world.
Last year’s Silver Anniversary event brought in more than 160,000 locals and out-of-towners. Following the 2019 record-breaking event, planners were thinking this year would be even bigger. Then something called Covid-19 hit.
Instead of a three-day event that shuts down Pueblo’s historic Union Avenue, creates a seasonal payday for merchants and puts the region’s prize produce---most especially its chile---on center stage, said Donielle Kitzman, Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce Vice President, planners were forced to move to go back to the drawing board and create a scaled down, two-day version, now set for September 26-27. The 2020 version, she said, will more resemble 1994’s original PC&F event, hence the new name, Chile & Frijoles Throwback Fest.
Not knowing but suspecting the coronavirus would still be around in the Fall, “We began crafting ‘Plan B’ early on,” said Kitzman. “We had to be proactive.” But any plan she and the Chamber’s team, which included input from Union Avenue merchants and the region’s chile growers, would not come close to what they wished for---an event that would top last year’s record breaking event.
Instead of a festival stretched out over most of Union Avenue where people could buy food and drink, hear live music, and smell the aroma of roasting Pueblo chile, this year’s festival will be far more intimate. Planners settled on two fenced-in venues where people can come and go. Because of the virus and state health regulations, no more than 175 people will be allowed in at any given time. Masks will be required and everyone entering will have their temperature taken. “I think realistically,” said Kitzman, with an air of disappointment, “we’ll see two-to-five thousand people,” at the event.
But Kitzman is quick to remind that chile is the whole reason for the festival and Pueblo’s chili---especially the Mirasol variety---is, by any measurement, the nation’s best no matter what outliers in, say New Mexico, might argue.
The Mirasol, so named because it actually grows upward and toward the sun, along with other varieties grown in the county will be available. And, the meaty, succulent peppers are in abundance!
In years past, buying chile on the spot was just one reason for people to visit the Union Avenue event. Covid-19 changed that, too. “We’re working on curbside pickup,” Kitzman said. “You can go on-line and pick your favorite vendor and place your order on-line.” The electronic option, said Kitzman, allows buyers to choose the most convenient day and time for pickup. “We’re hoping that will increase the amount of orders that we can handle.” People are also encouraged to visit the farms where they can not only buy chile, but any other produce harvested by local growers.
Beside the electronic curbside ordering system that’s been added this year, organizers have introduced Chile Fest 50/50. Two dollars from each admission ticket will be put into a pot. Visitors will be able to purchase a ticket and, said Kitzman, “One lucky winner will win half of jackpot sales,” said Kitzman.
For Puebloans and out-of-towners who look forward to southern Colorado’s chile celebration, it won’t be the same this year. But even a scaled down version of the event, once again, shows the resilience of Colorado’s version of ‘a city with big shoulders,’ and proof that tough times don’t last, but tough people do.
For more information on the event, visit www.festival.pueblochamber.org.