The fate of this year’s Salsa Festival is up in the air.
The Safford Lions Club, which sponsors the big event along with the Graham County Chamber of Commerce, is expected to make a decision on Wednesday, said Keith Alexander, Safford Lions Club secretary and district governor.
“We hope that the Salsa Fest can happen, but we literally don’t know. If it’s able to go forward it’s not going to look the same,” said Alexander.
Traditionally, Safford’s Main Street is filled with bouncy castles, food and trinket vendors, as well as a car show. The Lions Club sets up a large tent, fills it with restaurateurs and amateur salsa makers who battle to see who makes the best salsa. The club sells bags of chips to the public so they can sample each type of salsa and contribute to scholarships.
Now, Alexander said the thought of having food outside in a time of COVID-19 is improbable, plus limiting the amount of people in a tent will be very difficult.
Still, not wanting to assume the Sept. 25-26 festival will get cancelled, organizers have been busy making plans to ensure it is as fun and safe as possible.
If it’s held, for example, members of the public will be invited to sample salsas at the 14 restaurants who have already signed up to participate in the festival.
Vance Bryce, chamber director, said there will even be a Salsa Trail Challenge. Locals will be given the chance to visit each restaurant on the trail during the month of September and have their picture taken at each location. Once they visit every restaurant, they can pick up a free T-shirt and vote on the best professional salsa. The popular vote through the challenge competition will determine the 2020 professional salsa winner.
“We’re going to do good by the Salsa Trail restaurants, and we’re going to do good by the public,” said Bryce.
Bryce chooses to look at the bright side of the pandemic.
“We’ve seen overwhelming support for local restaurants. Some restaurants are doing better than they were doing last year because people are choosing local. I think that’s one thing that COVID-19 has really taught us is that buying local matters. It really does, and people are starting to believe it,” said Bryce.
The Salsa Festival, created in 2006, is actually one stop on the SalsaTrail, an auto-tour that winds through over 700 miles in the southwestern United States. The Gila Valley is just one of six distinct salsa regions.
The annual festival also includes a jalapeño eating contest, live performances and music.
Michelle Wilson, a Lions Club member and longtime key club organizer of the festival, said she is disheartened about how COVID-19 is effecting the festival.
“If we move forward, I don’t know how successful it will be,” said Wilson.