SalsaFest a crowd pleaser, 16 years running


Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Laura Jean Schneider

Somehow, 5-year-old Mianah Romero managed to sit still as purple and hot pink lines contoured her face.

Soon, a colorful tiger mask emerged like magic from the skillful brush of a face painter who sat under an awning at the Graham County Search and Rescue booth.

Several other kids waited their turn, some sucking on Otter Pops that Mann Mortgage was giving away, a crowd pleaser for all ages as the temperature rose.

SalsaFest 2022 seemed a rollicking success, with a diverse turnout ranging from families, car aficionados and vendors hawking everything from homemade jelly to crocheted blankets to dog training services. The great commonality was a love of all things salsa and there was no shortage Friday and Saturday as restaurants and amateurs competed in a big way, filling 6-gallon tubs with batch after batch of their secret recipes.

A man roasted green chiles in a small hand-powered roaster as Saturday’s salsa makers honed in on their craft, spreading across white folding tables, streamers of papel picado draping from tent posts.

Brooke Curley of the Graham County Chamber of Commerce said the food court was new this year and that it was so successful an expansion of the area was planned for next year. Festival goers had a plethora of options: kettlecorn, carne asada tacos, lemonade slushies, Cold Stone ice cream, and local Kelli Bars. Anything cold seemed to be popular as sun hats shaded faces and people flocked to shade in between the days performances.

The green in front of the Graham County Courthouse was packed for Gila Cheer All Stars performances, as girls of all ages did backflips, hoisted their teammates, and danced to upbeat music. The girls were followed by Extreme Martial Arts, who, despite their long pants and sleeves, performed with gusto, some wielding wooden swords and nunchucks.

Main Street downtown glittered with pickups, classic cars, motorcycles that were part of the 2022 SalsaFest Car Show, a fundraiser for the Safford Lions Club. The entries included a tricked out trike with panes of mirror class positioned underneath to add even more bling.

Arizona Dog Academy owner Daniela “Dani” Girlinghouse had no idea her booth would be right across from the Chihuahua races, but the placement couldn’t have been more perfect. As a first-year vendor, Girlinghouse said Monday the experience was well worth the time, money and energy to set up the booth.

“It was actually amazing,” she said.

Katie Atwood was also a first timer at SalsaFest, bringing her love of Southwest-style jewelry to the event with her business, Wild West Turquoise. She said she sources from Arizona and New Mexico Native American artisans.

Downtown, The Wear owner Jodi Layton was busy assisting customers in her women’s apparel shop. She said it was hard to tell the impact of SalsaFest on business, but the store was bustling late morning on Saturday.

Meanwhile, SalsaFest’s title sponsor, Naturesweet, also had a brightly colored booth, where scads of compact, domed containers of the popular tomatoes known as “Glories” handed for free to anyone who wished.

Hasta el año que viene!

Contact Laura Jean Schneider at

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