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Basalsa brings the Latin beat back to downtown Basalt
‘Big dance party’ aims to bridge cultural divides between Latino and Anglo communities
Salsa is becoming extremely popular in the valley, buoyed by events such as those held at the now-defunct Temporary in Basalt. - photo by Jordan Curet

As Martha Reeves & The Vandellas might remind you, summer’s here, and the time is right for dancing in the streets. That’s part of the impetus for Basalsa, which makes its triumphant return to downtown Basalt this Saturday evening from 5-9 p.m. Back after an eight-year absence, the free public event welcomes one and all to come celebrate with dancing, food, an adult-beverage cantina and kids’ activities.

“We’re trying to bring a big dance party to downtown,” said Kris Mattera, executive director of the Basalt Area Chamber, which is presenting the event.

Held annually from 2008-2010, Basalsa was originally conceived by former Basalt Town Councilman Pete McBride as a way to acknowledge the valley’s Latino community in a manner that would get Anglos excited too.

“When I was on council, I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing Latin culture we have in the valley that often goes unnoticed,” said McBride, “and dance is a great way to connect people and break down barriers.”

The events were very popular in their original iteration, drawing between 500 and 800 people each summer as part of the town’s River Days celebrations, but when that event folded, Basalsa was likewise dropped after its initial three-year run. Since that time, buoyed in part by salsa nights at places like Jimmy’s restaurant in Aspen and The Temporary in Basalt, Latin dancing has become a big draw in the valley and spawned a group called Mezcla Socials that makes it its business to bridge the cultural divides between Latinos and Anglos with dance lessons and parties.

“Our main focus is to bring the two communities together,” said Mezcla Socials founder Claudia Pawl. “They’re no longer two separate groups when they walk in the door for our classes and our socials.”

Started by Pawl after she attended a salsa night at Jimmy’s and fell in love with the dance style, Mezcla Socials has been doing its thing in the valley for four years now, but it wasn’t until last summer, when Pawl helped the Basalt Chamber get the word out about an outdoor public showing of the movie “Coco” that the wheels started turning on reviving Basalsa.

“We had a huge crowd come out for that with over 300 people in Lions Park,” said Mattera, “and it was the most diverse crowd we’ve ever had at one of our events. We looked at the success of that and were like, ‘Hey, you know what? I think we should bring Basalsa back.’”

Mezcla Socials is in charge of booking instructors from the valley and Denver for the dance lessons, which will feature salsa, bachata and Zumba for kids and adults alike starting at 5 p.m.

For anyone looking to get an early jump on their dance moves, Mezcla Socials will also be hosting a bachata class at the Launchpad in Carbondale Thursday, July 18 from 8-9 p.m. ($10 drop-in fee), followed by a salsa workshop and dance party at Love Rocks in Basalt on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ($40 for dance lessons and the party afterwards).

Music will come courtesy of a DJ from Denver and the band Son Tres, which has built up a loyal following in the valley after playing a number of salsa nights at The Temporary. The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW), which ran The Temporary during its 20-month tenure, was in charge of booking the musical acts and knew exactly who to call on after seeing how popular Son Tres’ previous salsa night appearances were.

“Our salsa nights just took off and were a real high point of our programming,” said TACAW Executive Director Ryan Honey. “They brought lots of facets of our community together. As a nonprofit, we want to serve all parts of our community, and salsa nights were a great way to do that.”

Basalsa will be held in Lions Park and on Midland Spur, with a dance floor on the grass in front of the bandshell. Lessons will wrap up around 7 p.m., and then Son Tres will take the stage for open dancing until 9 p.m.

While that’s going on, food will be provided for sale by Señor Mango, Caribbean Fusion and Basalt’s own The Whole Empanada and Fryingpan Food Truck. Potent potables such as margaritas, beer and wine will also be available in the beverage garden in Lions Park.

Following the event, Son Tres will head to Carbondale’s Sopris Sports Bar for the official after party, although Mattera expected other informal parties to spring up in and around Basalt.

Parking in downtown for the event will be limited. Attendees are encouraged to take public transportation (there is a RFTA stop at Lions Park), but Basalt Middle School will be available for parking for those who decide to drive.

And as for the dress code, well, as Reeves could remind you once again, it doesn’t matter what you wear just as long as you are there.