It’s the part of Colorado often referred to as ‘The Banana Belt,’ the part of the state known for its temperate weather all year round. But this weekend, Pueblo may be taking poetic license and rechristening it ‘The Chile Belt,’ as it stages its annual ‘Chile & Frijoles Festival,’ which runs all weekend long. The event is sponsored by Loaf’N’Jug, a regional convenience store operation.
“What its appeal is---maybe pun intended,” said Donielle Gonzales, “is Pueblo’s love affair with outdoor festivals.” Gonzales, Director of Tourism for the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, is hoping for good weekend weather for the festival which begins on Friday, September 21st and runs through the weekend. Good weather, she said, could push attendance over the 140,000 mark, a record it hit two years ago.
The festival is held in the city’s historic Union Avenue district where an urban renaissance has taken place over a generation. Once one of the city’s less appealing venues, a skid row destination, Union Avenue is today a cultural hub that includes Pueblo’s not-to-be-missed River Walk and El Pueblo Museum. It is also chockful of unique dining venues, antique shops and architectural treasures.
While the Pueblo Chamber can say without pause that the festival is an economic boon to the city, it is only this year that it is undertaking an extensive marketing survey to learn exactly how much the dollar value it is to the city and where people are coming from to participate. With more than 100,000 people filling the streets for the festival, Gonzales estimated an economic boost, “well into the millions of dollars.”
Word has gotten out on the festival, which features music, food and camaraderie. The majority attending is local, but Gonzales estimates that approximately 40 percent is composed of out-of-towners who come for the fun and to make sure they stock up on chile for a long winter. Roasters are strategically located along the street and bags of the green are shuttled to visitors’ cars. But Gonzales also recommends a trip into the county where the chile is grown to get it there, along with many other offerings from Pueblo’s farmers.
It is Pueblo Chile that is the marquee attraction that inspired the festival. And while New Mexico’s Hatch chile may get most of the attention, Gonzales isn’t hesitant about touting the local peppers as superior. “Ours is more a specialty pepper,” she said. “It has a thicker membrane, it’s meatier and the flavor is bolder with more heat.”
Locals and visitors to the festival are also being directed to the El Pueblo Museum this weekend. The Museum, which is located at 301 N. Union Ave. and just blocks from the festival’s epicenter, has created special hours for this weekend only and expects record or near-record crowds. “A normal Saturday is a hundred people,” said El Pueblo’s Zach Werkowitch. But with the festival happening just blocks away, the runover could result in up to “5,000 visitors.”
Visitors will be treated to a farmers market, indigenous performers from across the region, including one group from Chicago and other attractions. “We will have a living history of a Mexican Mercado,” said the Museum’s Community Relations Manager. “In our placita, there will be a re-creation of an 1840’s-era post,” he said. Visitors will also see the museum’s new Borderlands exhibit, the making of ristras, colorful strings of chile, a traditional but utilitarian decoration seen across the Southwest, and be able to make their own cornhusk dolls.
Last year’s festival was impacted by rain that kept crowd sizes down. That, however, is not in this year’s forecast. Temperatures are forecast in the upper eighties and, possibly, low nineties. But evening temperatures will live up to ‘banana belt’ norms, falling into more comfortable settings.
For more information or directions to the festival, call the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce at 719. 542.1704.