Category Archives: Festival

Fiesta Fridays! 2007

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

The Blue Demon Luchador makes his first appearance at Fiesta in 2007!

Fiesta 2007 brought several new additions to the event.  It was our 5th anniversary so everyone involved was so excited that we had made it this far!  It also turned out to be one of our biggest years ever with over 20K people attending!  I was board president that year and the board members and volunteers seemed to be settling into a great rhythm with the planning and engaging both the English and Spanish-speaking communities.  This was also the year we went out on a “so-called” limb and decided the time was right for wrestling!!!

Our presenting sponsor – Coca Cola – had just launched a new energy drink called Full Throttle Blue Demon and had acquired Mexican luchador (wrestler) Blue Demon, Jr. to help with promotions in Mexico. The board was having a meeting several months before our 2007 Fiesta event when we started discussing new aspects of our event.   Lucha Libre was mentioned and board member, Mike Suco (with Coca Cola) brought up Blue Demon.  Things took off quickly from there and before you knew it, we had Blue Demon making a weekend appearance in Alabama and we had also partnered with Wrestle Birmingham to bring a ring and local wrestlers to Fiesta!  The ring was set up right next to the Coca Cola Main Stage and the crowd that gathered was incredible!  I remember standing on the main stage and getting some pretty awesome photos of the wrestling matches!  The crowd that gathered that year was incredible!

Blue Demon made a return appearance in 2008 to huge crowds.  He was definitely popular!  The current Fiesta board is looking at bringing wrestling or Lucha Libre, back to Fiesta for our 15th anniversary celebration.  Fingers crossed it works out!  I would love to see all that excitement once again at our event!

Antonio Sacre, storyteller, performer and author, makes his first appearance at Fiesta in 2007 in the Storytelling Village.

Fiesta also created a new village in 2007 – the Storytelling Village.  We were lucky enough to find Antonio Sacre, a storyteller, performer and author of Irish-Cuban descent to highlight the village.  And let me tell you, he not only highlighted the Storytelling Village…he ended up highlighting the entire festival!!!  He didn’t just stay in one part of Linn Park that day!  He was all over the place, finding opportunities to tell stories in the cultural village, on the main stage and just lend his all around good nature and great stories to the delight of the many guests that day at Fiesta!  No group was too small or too large for Antonio!

The Storytelling Village itself was such a great set up…we had beanbag chairs for kids to relax in and hear stories read to them by UAB college students.  The Birmingham Public Library also partnered with us to make this village come alive.  Bilingual books were donated so kids got to read, hear the books read, and then go home with one to enjoy!  Families flocked to the new village that year and seemed to really enjoy the peace and quiet offered there…away from the activity of the other areas of Fiesta but close enough to still see what was going on.

Antonio Sacre made a return visit to Fiesta in 2008 and this time he came for the entire weekend.  We arranged for him to visit several schools on Friday and he became quite the ambassador for Fiesta that year!  I know we saw an increase in family attendance from the schools visited.  I was fortunate enough to chauffeur him around that day.  And on Friday night we had a reception at the Birmingham Public Library where we heard from Antonio,  had a book signing and we also hosted several Fiesta scholarship winners.  Our local CBS news affiliate even came out to cover the event!

I have one more great memory of Antonio and the 2008 year and it is unrelated to the Fiesta event…  There was a Leonardo DaVinci exhibit at the Birmingham Museum of Art that fall.  The BMA had been a partner with Fiesta for many years so I had some tickets to the exhibit.  We had some time before the first school visit and I asked Antonio if he wanted to go.  He said “sure!”  It turned out to be such a fun few hours walking around the museum with him and listening to his thoughts on the DaVinci’s drawings and other artifacts.  It was such a treat for me to hear Antonio’s impressions through an artists’ mind.

More to come so please come back every Friday through September 30, 2017 for more behind the scenes stories of Fiesta!

Birmingham’s Dia de los Muertos 2016

A look at the skyline of Bare Hands Inc.'s Dia de los Muertos festival in its new venue - Cahaba Brewery this year.

A look at the skyline of Bare Hands Inc.’s Dia de los Muertos festival in its new venue – Cahaba Brewery this year. Murals of Spider Martin and Guillermo Castro are displayed at the start of the altar displays.

I’ve said this before – aside from my beloved Fiesta, Bare Hands Inc.’s Dia de los Muertos festival is one of my favorites of the year.  Both just celebrated year 14 and both will celebrate their 15th – or Quinceanera – next year.  For a festival to make it that long is impressive and this year was even more so for DOTD Alabama.

Early in the year, I heard the festival had been cancelled.  They had lost their long time location due to some changes in the geographic region and had also gone through some leadership changes with the retirement of long time ED Wendy Jarvis and installation of new ED, Robert Hernandez.  But like any organization with volunteers who have a passion for what they do – they persevered and several months into 2016, they decided the show would go on (as they say) and partnered with Cahaba Brewery to move the festival to Avondale.

Roll Call of the dead is a time honored tradition at the festival - as names are called, if family/friends are in attendance, they call out "present" in the audience...

Roll Call of the dead is a time honored tradition at the festival – as names are called, if family/friends are in attendance, they call out “present” in the audience…

And what a move!  The festival drew over 6,000 people this year!  As I was leaving at 8:30 I ran into Robert and Festival Director-Jennifer Gowers and their faces said it all… Jennifer grabbed me and said “where are all these people coming from?!”  We looked at the entrance and people were still streaming in and the festival opened at 4 p.m.  After a group hug, we talked about the incredible turnout and all the hard work it took to pull the event together in a shorter period of time.  Incredible is the only word I could think of at that moment.  Labor of love is the phrase I choose now.

img_2290

Day of the Dead is not your ordinary festival, after all.  It is a way for people to honor and celebrate the memory of loved ones who have left us.  The altar installations and tributes are always very moving and I find myself lingering in front of several because of the unique ways in which people are honored and remembered.  I met a young woman from Mexico who described in detail the altar that she and her family pulled together to honor her family.  Every single item on that altar had a unique significance and as she pointed them out to me, along with the stories, I felt myself tearing up.  What a tribute!  What  beautiful stories…and I was so appreciate that she was sharing these with me.  But then again, that is what this festival is all about…sharing your family stories, sharing the stories of your friends and others you love and cherish so that they are always remembered…

A portion of the altar that had so many interesting details recounted to me by a family member.  Very traditional...

A portion of the altar that had so many interesting details recounted to me by a family member. Very traditional…

That’s what Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos means…that’s what Robert, Jennifer and the rest of the board members and volunteers accomplished this past November 2nd.  Viva la Vida!!!

Artist Julianna Jackson poses with her incredible headpiece in the DOD Market.  The creations at her booth were exquisite!

Artist Julianna Jackson poses with her incredible headpiece in the DOD Market. The creations at her booth were exquisite!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dia de los Muertos 2015…a look back…

A little girl admires the sugar skull masks at Dia de los Muertos Birmingham Festival 2015

A little girl admires the sugar skull masks at Dia de los Muertos Birmingham Festival 2015

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos is tomorrow and Birmingham has one of the best celebrations around!  This is a story I did for Alabama News Center last year about the festival.  I look forward to sharing more photos and stories from DOD 2016 later this week!  (By the way…I’m about to #bloglikecrazy for the month of November as a blogging challenge through See Jane Write!  Should be fun!)

Birmingham’s annual Day of the Dead Festival, organized by the nonprofit Bare Hands Inc., was Monday, Nov. 2 in downtown. This was the 13th year for the festival that celebrates the lives of departed loved ones with lively celebrations, food, music, flowers, dancing and stories. The event has grown in popularity in recent years and continues to expand, drawing a diverse crowd.

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a Mexican tradition that celebrates life rather than mourning death. The day coincides with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2). Many people describe this event as a colorful, vibrant and joyful commemoration rather than something somber. Altars feature photos, food or drink and hobbies of lost loved ones. Many Hispanic members of the community have embraced this event and participate as a remembrance of their native country.

Mural by artist Tim Kerr honored the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights era.  Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015

Mural by artist Tim Kerr honored the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights era. Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015

This year, the festival invited visual artist Tim Kerr from Austin, Texas, to create the central memorial. He chose a mural to honor departed foot soldiers of the civil rights movement. It was featured next to the altar honoring photographer Spider Martin. This annual altar is created by his daughter, Tracy Martin – a founder of the festival – and always draws a crowd.

While the festival honors the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead, it incorporates other elements that make it unique. To many Alabamians, it brings to mind Decoration Day in the South. It also gives a New Orleans feel with the jazz funeral parade and procession that takes place around the event. “Dressing up” is a mainstay at the festival. A parade honoring celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo marched along with the jazz band and paraders performed on the main stage.

A young girl has her face painted as sugar skull at the festival.  This is one of the most popular things to do at Dia de los Muertos.

A young girl has her face painted as sugar skull at the festival. This is one of the most popular things to do at Dia de los Muertos.

The children’s area provided families with sugar skull or “calavera” crafts, activities and a puppet show. Speaking of sugar skulls, having one’s face painted at the festival is popular and not limited to children. The line to have faces painted was long but the results were praised. The public altar area provided a place for attendees to bring photos and personal remembrances or “ofrendas” and honor a departed loved one. One young woman, born and raised in Alabama, commented that she didn’t know much about Day of the Dead until recently when a friend told her about it. She was looking for a way to pay tribute to her father, who recently passed away, and she was excited to take part in this year’s event.

“I want to remember the good times and not dwell on my dad’s death,” she said. “I think this is why events like this are so meaningful and powerful to people like me.”  She held a picture of her father holding her as a baby, and brought his favorite fruit, an apple, to include in the public altar area. Through tears, she remarked how happy she was to be a part of the event.

A couple dresses out in full sugar skull makeup and colorful clothing for Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015.

A couple dresses out in full sugar skull makeup and colorful clothing for Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015.

One of the most heartfelt moments at the festival is the annual roll call. People submit names of deceased loved ones to be called out from the main stage. As names are called, family and friends in the audience hold up pictures of their loved ones.

Robert Hernandez, a festival volunteer, created an altar to honor his family as well as Selena, who was known as the Queen of Tejano music before her murder in 1995. His creation of a large white flower was a central feature of his altar highlighted with music from the late artist. Hernandez met someone attending the festival who knows Selena’s family. The friend took pictures and promised to pass them along to her family.

Altar by Robert Hernandez dedicated to Tejana Musician Selena was a popular stop at Dia de los Muertos Birmigham 2015.

Altar by Robert Hernandez dedicated to Tejana Musician Selena was a popular stop at Dia de los Muertos Birmigham 2015.

Another volunteer noted that Day of the Dead in Birmingham is not a secret anymore.  “More and more people are discovering the beauty of this holiday and want to be here,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful and uplifting night.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fiesta 2016 – Some of my Favorite Photos

img_1912

Drummer for Los Canarios on the Fiesta Coca Cola Main Stage

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day!  The sky was blue and the temperature reached the low 80s and the sun made itself known throughout the day.  After the constant drizzle of the previous year, this was so welcomed to the Fiesta board, volunteers and especially the patrons!

Approximately 14,000 people made their way to Linn Park in downtown Birmingham for the 14th annual Fiesta event on Saturday, September 24.  My favorite things to do every single year is to walk the park, visiting all the booths and meeting and greeting all the nonprofits, businesses and vendors who come to be a part of this incredible event.  I take their photos, welcome the new folks and catch up with old friends along the way.

img_1911

A little girl wearing a traditional Mexican dress gets her nails painted in the Family Village.

One of the highlights of this years event was the competition between countries in the Cultural Village – the heart of Fiesta.  A group of judges went through – anonymously – and voted on the best country booth based on presentation and creativity.   This year the Mexico won the competition and took home $500!  Next year, the stakes will be even higher as the best country booth will walk away with $1,000!

img_1910

A collage of photos from past Fiestas adorned the Mexico booth in the Cultural Village. The Mexico booth won the first ever competition of Cultural Village country booths!

By the way…next year will be Fiesta’s 15th year anniversary – our quinceanera…and we have big things planned for this milestone!  Mark your calendars for Saturday, September 30, 2017, for Fiesta 2017 and stay tuned for an event packed year leading up to this great event!

img_1576

Mark your calendar for Fiesta 2017!!!!!

Meanwhile…please enjoy some of my favorite photos from this year’s Fiesta!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Little Turkish Culture

IMG_3718

The “official” flyer for the Turkish Food Fest. This is the 3rd year for the event.

Three years ago I found out about the Istanbul Cultural Center in Hoover.  I was participating in the FBI Citizens Academy that fall and I met fellow classmate, Umut Gunebir, Executive Director of the Center. The following year, Umut invited me to visit the center to learn more about Turkish culture and events they conduct there.    So, of course, I liked their Facebook page so I could stay current with the center’s activities.

Last year, I heard the Turkish Food Festival was being planned and I was really looking forward to attending.  Unfortunately, the date turned out to be the same as my daughter’s wedding so THAT didn’t happen!  This year, no wedding, so I got an early start and headed over to the Center at 10:45 a.m. to check things out.

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

There was already quite a crowd when I arrived.  The smell of food was permeating the area and I was pretty hungry since I had skipped breakfast.  Turkish music was playing over loud speakers.  I wasn’t sure if I should go ahead and get food tickets right then or make my way around to see everything and take photos.  I chose the latter and landed at the vendor tables and started clicking away.  All the pretty hand painted bowls  pulled me in and every single one was unique!  Achmed, the vendor did not speak much English so the young lady at the next booth did some interpreting for us.  I had all kinds of questions about the ceramics and he was pleased to share details about how the pieces were created and how time-consuming the process was for the artists – from kiln to painting to kiln again.  I told him I would be back before I left to buy some of the items and he smiled and said he would give me a “good deal.”

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Next I walked around checking out all the food.  It was a food festival after all!  Each table had signs describing the food being sold which was a nice touch.  The first food items included things like yaprak sarmasi (stuffed grape leaves) and kisir (Turkish tabooli).  Next came the big-ticket items  – gyros and kabobs – served in pita bread with lettuce and tomatoes on top of rice.  Along the last line of booths you could find Turkish coffee or tea to go with some scrumptious dessert items.  Things like baklava, cezerye – a carrot and coconut delicacy, elmali kurabiye (apple cookie rolls with powdered sugar), rice pudding and Turkish cinnamon cookies.  I think they need to create a sampler platter for next year!

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

One of the longest lines for food was at the gozleme (Turkish flatbread and pastry) table.  A young man and his mother were hard at work making this tasty and traditional dish.  When I read there was feta in it, that’s all I had to hear!  Like a woman said behind me…”they had me at feta!”  I had to agree!  (Here is a recipe I found online for gozleme.)

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme - a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme – a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

As I waited for my gozleme to finish cooking on gas-fired sac griddle, I told the young man that his mother was the hardest working person at the festival.  He translated for me and she gave me a smile.  From the time I arrived, she was rolling the dough with the “oklava” – a very long and thin wooden rolling-pin.  As she finished rolling out each dough piece, she would hand it off to her son who would paint it with butter and add a feta and Turkish white cheese mixture before sealing it to cook.  I found out that the son was attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and majoring in Physics.  His mother had just arrived in the US and was staying with him for several months which clearly made him happy.  I loved how seamlessly they worked together making the gozleme.  It was well worth the wait and my last 3 food tickets.  Plus, I really enjoyed the conversation.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

Activities for kids included inflatables and face painting and plenty of kids took advantage of this.  I was very interested in the henna tattoos.  I didn’t have time to get one myself but I was able to photograph a few people who did.  I asked the young woman who was in charge of the henna tattoos what purpose they served and she explained they are a way to adorn the body for special celebrations, just like wearing jewelry.  She had several designs to choose from at her table.  On my list of things to do one day – get a henna tattoo!  They are so beautiful!

By the time I left two hours later, the festival was packed!  The lines were long every where you looked and it pleased me to see this for the organizers.  A young man by the name of Huseyin saw me taking photographs shortly after I arrived and introduced himself saying he was the Social Media Director for the festival.  He asked how I found out about the event and I told him through Facebook.  The festival continued on Sunday and from the pictures people were posting, it was another packed house!  Huseyin mentioned they may be looking for a bigger venue next year because of the growth they are experiencing.  Food and cultural festivals definitely bring in a crowd!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Oh…and as I promised Achmed, I returned to his vendor booth and bought several of the Turkish ceramic bowls.  And as he promised me…he gave me a good deal!

Here are a few more photos from the event…

 

A Look Back at Birmingham’s Day of the Dead Festival

Candles light one of the altars at Day of the Dead #13

Candles light one of the altars at Day of the Dead #13

Every year I look forward to Birmingham’s Day of the Dead Festival.  This was year 13 for the festival and while it was a rainy day, the rain stopped right before the event was set to start and people made their way downtown.  As I’ve always said, DOD is a photographer’s mecca!  For a week after the event, it’s fun to see all the social media posts and photos of everyone dressed out in sugar skulls.  Photographers J. C. Bravo and Larry O.Gay are always on hand and capture incredible shots of the people .  In my opinion, their photos are breathtaking and really showcase the beauty of Day of the Dead.  Check J.C. and Larry out on Facebook when you get a chance and you’ll see what I mean…

Photo taken by photographer Larry O. Gay with my camera. Thanks Larry!

Photo taken by photographer Larry O. Gay with my camera. Thanks Larry!

At one point early in the evening, Larry grabbed my camera and took a photo of me with my husband, and my friend Theresa Deleon and her daughter.  So I now have an “original” Larry Gay photo on my very own camera!  Thanks Larry!

Meanwhile, instead of talking about the event, I’ll just let my own photos tell the story…

IMG_9361

IMG_9362

This slideshow requires JavaScript.