The 5th annual Escondido Tamale Festival is coming to Escondido in November. The Times-Advocate caught up with Downtown Business Association president Alex MacLachlan to talk about the origins of the event, it’s future, and how it just keeps growing and growing in popularity.
The next Escondido Tamale Festival will be Saturday, November 2 at Grape Day Park.
Q: What is the origin of the Escondido Tamale Festival? Whose idea was it? Who helped put it all together?
A: The idea of the Escondido Tamale Festival originated with the Escondido Mercado District Association and former city councilman Tom D’ Agosta. Their idea involved some City Hall investment and the event never got off the ground. When they suggested to me and former DBA board member Susan Dushcharme that we do it as an Escondido Downtown Business Association event we both liked the idea and ran with it. The year 2014 was a tumultuous time for our city as the Obama Administration was looking for places to house child immigrants and asylum seekers from Central America in an abandoned elder care facility in southwest Escondido and the fight over the appropriateness of using that facility and location caused a lot of division in the city. Sue and I thought the Escondido Tamale Festival would be a way to bring the city together during a day of celebrating the history and traditions of our friends and neighbors from Escondido’s Latino community and the Escondido Tamale Festival was born in November of 2015.
Q: How many people are involved in production of the festival? Do you want to give credit to some of them?
A: Most of the pre-event planning and execution of the logistics is carried out by wife Christina and me. Our DBA board members are very busy with their businesses, so they help with some pre-event marketing and specific tasks on event day that are invaluable. The rest of the event day help is split between family, friends, community volunteers and paid event staff.
Q: How much has it grown in the last several years?
A: I’d say the event has tripled in both attendance and the amount of vendors in this our 5th year. We have gotten to a point where we know where the sweet spot is for the amount of vendors to have in Grape Day Park. Too much more and we have to change the footprint of the event and that can cause dead spots in customer traffic to certain vendors. We would rather turn vendors away than take in a few more vendor fees and not have them do well. This causes a sellout of space every year and happy vendors, which makes it easy to sell out the next year.
Q: How many people attended last year? How many do you expect this year?
A: We’re expecting 15,000-17,000 people this year vs. 12,000-14,000 last year. It’s a difficult number to quantify, but if you see how the crowd size is pretty consistent throughout day and even builds into the finish, we’re pretty confident in that number range.
Q: Talk about the value of the festival from the standpoint of a cultural experience. How does it celebrate the Hispanic culture?
A: On our main stage we maintain a celebration of traditional Mexican music and dances from several regions of Mexico and several styles. As we’ve grown we’ll mix in some Spanish style of dance like Flamenco, but most of our nontraditional music and entertainment is reserved for the Beer, Wine, and Spirits Garden. We still have Spanish and Mexican influences there, but we’re not bound to it in that we’ll mix in some contemporary music and even a Latin inspired belly dance routine by Sohaila and her Shining Stars.
Q: What are some new things this year?
A: Most of the changes will be in the growing Beer, Wine, and Spirits Garden. We’ll be expanding its size and the number of musical acts playing there
Q: Can you give me an example of some of the projects the DBA has funded with this money?
A: The money made from DBA events goes to funding other events, downtown beautification efforts like our Median Landscape Project on Grand Avenue, our Grand Avenue Palm Tree project completed a few months ago where we smoothed and trimmed all the palm trees from Center City parkway to Maple Street Plaza in preparation for the up lighting of those palm trees, and our February Escondido Chocolate Festival. New on our agenda for Summer 2020 is a Grand Avenue Music Festival partly funded by a grant from the Escondido Charitable Foundation. So soon as the Tamale Festival is over, we’ll be working towards chocolate and scouting local bands for the music festival downtown.