A Giant of Latin Salsa Festivals
A successful Latino in the Los Angeles spotlight
Every June, thousands of Southern Californians attend the Dia de San Juan Festival, held at the Queen Mary Park in Long Beach, California. The popularity of this mega-event comes from a mixture of excellent live salsa music entertainment, vendors of exotic foods, and hard to find Puerto Rican, Cuban, and other Latin Caribbean items. It also offers families an excellent opportunity for a fun quality day together.
Published on LatinoLA: November 15, 2003
The promoter behind this annual production is no other than promoter giant ?Gentleman? Benny Garcia, originally from Puerto Rico and New York. Anyone who has known Benny for any length of time can testify to the top quality, sincerity, intelligence, and professionalism of his personality.
In his ?regular day time job? the classy Benny oversees a large staff of people at the helm of a big Los Angeles area manufacturing corporation. His genuine love and concern for the Latino family prompted him to start his Latin entertainment productions company, called Fiestalegre. Now at the point of a major expansion of his salsa festival operations on the West Coast, his huge audience is looking forward to experiencing fun salsa festivals from Los Angeles to San Diego to Las Vegas!
Les Rivera: Benny, you are often referred to as the ?Latino Salsa Festival Giant? of the U.S. West Coast. Your popular promotion/production of the annual Fiestalegre Dia de San Juan Festival in Long Beach is rapidly becoming the Latin salsa festival of choice for many Southern Californians. How did you first get involved in Latin entertainment, festivals and salsa promotions?
Benny Garcia: Well, the idea first came to me while the festival was being held at Cabrillo Beach. After that I got involved with the American Legion Borinquen Post 508. We had a yearly festival at the Borinquen Post every Labor Day Weekend, which was actually a Puerto Rican Festival.
After doing this for five to seven years, in the early 1990?s I decided that festivals were something I wanted to get into as a personal business. The desire came from a strong drive to promote the Puerto Rican culture I grew up with. Festivals were something I always wanted to do for all families and the Puerto Rican families, to create a great day of enjoyment. It would also celebrate Dia de San Juan, which is a very powerful Puerto Rican event.
LR: Do you promote other types of festivals?
BG: I now do other types of promotions, now catering to the Cuban people, with a company called Havana Promotions. That?s something that?s going to bring many events in 2004. Something new and positive coming up is a Las Vegas, Nevada event, which I am very excited about.
LR: What kind of audiences do your festivals appeal to?
BG: Well, when Fiestalegre was first incorporated it was for the purpose of catering to the Southern California Puerto Rican community to enjoy salsa music. It quickly became apparent that my events equally catered to anyone who enjoys salsa music and the Latin Caribbean culture. Everybody is welcome, as we are looking to have all Latinos, as well as all other people to come and enjoy salsa music and exotic Latin culture.
We find that if it?s a Latin event, you will find all types of Latinos there, whether it be Mexicans, Salvadorians, Colombians, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, or from any other Latin country or culture. The majority, however, is Puerto Rican, by virtue of this being a Puerto Rican event.
LR: When did you first come to California?
BG: I first came to California in 1967. What brought me here was an assignment with the Job Corps. From there I got drafted into the military. After that I decided to stay out here to make Southern California my home. Throughout the many years being in California I attended many clubs. These clubs were hangouts for the people who enjoyed our Puerto Rican salsa music.
When I began going to the Dia de San Juan Festival I started thinking it was something I wanted to get into. Years after doing the Boriquen Post Labor Day festivals I started my own company, which became Fiestalegre. We have come such a long way since then.
At the first Dia de San Juan Festival we had only 850 people. On June 15, 2003 we had over 12,000 people; and that?s just in 10 years! Now we are planning on expanding it to much larger than ever.
LR: What are your goals for these giant festival promotions?
BG: When Fiestalegre was formed it was formed to be a family festival. I envisioned whole families coming to this event. What has happened in the process is that some of the family setting has been taken away from my vision. This largely due to the fact we haven?t been able to get enough sponsors to pay for the event.
Fiestalegre?s goal is to one day make Dia de San Juan a free event, where families can come without having to pay to get in. The goal is to have enough sponsors to cover the entire expenses to be able to do that. That?s what we hope for the future. We feel we will get to that goal within five years.
You can contact Benny Garcia at: email@example.com.
Fiestalegre?s website: http://www.fiestalegre.net
Les Rivera is a freelance writer, covering NY-PR-Cuba style salsa/mambo and boxing. He is a major airline pilot, an LA salsa events promoter/producer and celebrity publicist. (626) 795-9763, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.SalsaSexy.com.