Margaritas and salsa come back this year to the Margarita & Salsa Festival at Extraco Events Center — well, in one form at least.
The annual end-of-summer event, in its 22nd appearance, has always offered margaritas and salsa in some way since its beginning. What’s different this year is a return of the margarita and salsa contests that marked previous years, but had been discontinued in 2014.
Festival goers, however, missed them so they’ll return this year with a slightly different structure than in past years, said Charva Ingram, Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo vice president of marketing and sponsorship development.
The best salsa competition is open to restaurants and professional chefs, due in part to city food preparation guidelines, while the margarita competition features both professional and amateur drink makers, Ingram said.
The salsa competition features 16 teams, the margarita one 21 teams, with rules requiring each salsa team to provide at least three gallons of salsa and each margarita team five gallons of margaritas. H-E-B will provide accompanying chips, Ingram said.
Festival attendees 21 years and older can test the competing margaritas by buying a $10 2-ounce sample cup. The competitions will take place in the Creative Arts Building and, as in past contests, latecomers will be out of luck: The contest sampling runs between 6 and 7 p.m. as long as supplies last.
For thousands who attend the annual festival — attendance has averaged between 6,000 and 7,000 people over the last few years — the festival’s main draw has been its live country music, specifically Texas country.
That hasn’t changed nor has organizers’ selection in acts that appeal to different age groups and tastes. This year’s musical lineup features Waco favorite the Randy Rogers Band, up-and-coming Cody Jinks and contemporary traditionalist Jon Wolfe.
The festival finds Rogers rounding the corner of an eventful 2017. At its beginning, he became co-owner of San Marcos’ Cheatham Street Warehouse, a famed venue where many Texas country singer-songwriters, including Rogers, honed their craft. Longtime Cheatham Street owner Kent Finley died in 2015 and Rogers felt it was a honky-tonk worth saving. “We wanted to keep the tradition alive and keep the doors open,” he said in a phone interview during a touring stop in Terrell.
Closer to home, and the heart, was the May 15 birth of Rainey Ryan Rogers, the third daughter for Rogers and his wife Chelsea.
Even his regular run of touring, both with his band and compadre Wade Bowen, has had high points, the latest coming when he and Bowen opened for fellow Texan Miranda Lambert at an Aug. 9 concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, Colorado. “She treated us so kindly — it couldn’t be better,” he said.
Rogers and his band plan to slow down this fall for something he hopes will make 2018 notable as well: their next album. Rogers has booked sessions with three writers and has 10 songs already written for consideration for the latest album. He’s also secured Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb, who’s worked with a Who’s Who of hot country artists Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, to oversee the recording. “That’s a highlight, obviously, for our band,” he said.
Joining Rogers at this year’s festival is Austin-based Jon Wolfe, presently touring in support of his latest album “Any Night In Texas” and its current single “Baby This And Baby That.” Wolfe, an Oklahoma native, has found success in adding energy and edge to traditional Texas country, resulting in the success of his albums, “It All Happened In A Honky Tonk” and “Natural Man.”
He also has the enviable accomplishment of nine consecutive Top 10 singles on the Texas country music charts.
Rounding out the evening’s entertainment is Cody Jinks, a Fort Worth native whose musical career started in the late 1990s in punk and thrash rock before shifting into country honky tonk that carries his own independent stamp even with such traditional instrumentation as steel guitar and fiddle.
Jinks’ 2016 “I’m Not The Devil” put him on a national stage, with glowing reviews from music critics and impressive popular sales, with the album topping out at No. 4 on Billboard’s country album charts. Jinks also won attention this summer for his duet with Paul Cauthen on Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” a tribute to the rock band’s leader Chris Cornell, who died May 18.
In addition to general admission tickets, the Margarita & Salsa Festival will continue its VIP section with table seating, specialty drinks and seating close to the stage. Seats at 34 tables already have been sold.
Proceeds benefit the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo scholarship fund. Last year, the festival raised more than $40,000 for scholarships.