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Salsa (the Sauce) Joins With Reggae (the Music) for a Festive Weekend : Oxnard: Food and music combine to attract 10,000 people to College and Plaza parks. 'Nobody's uptight,' says one vendor.

August 07, 1995|ANDREW D. BLECHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Who says Oxnard doesn't rock? It was on a roll this weekend.

In downtown Oxnard, mouths burned and the music sizzled at the second annual Salsa Festival. And across town at College Park, mellow tunes wafted across a big lawn at Reggae Jam on the Coast.

An estimated 10,000 residents and tourists visited the two music festivals this weekend, organizers said.

Although there were four bands playing both Saturday and Sunday at the Salsa Festival, food was the magnet. The spicy condiment was the hot topic at Plaza Park, where it shared center stage with the live traditional Mexican music.

"We came here to eat," said Louanne Shahandeh of Westlake Village, who was with her husband, two sons and their grandparents. "You ought to taste some of those tamales. We keep going back for more."

The highlight of the festival was the salsa contest, in which 22 inspired chili mixers fought it out for first place in three categories of the Mexican hot sauce: Hot and Spicy, Most Unusual and Wow.

"Wow is something you can't describe," said festival organizer Rosemary Pace. "You're better off just calling 911."

Ed Gurrola of Oxnard calls himself a salsa aficionado.

"I put chilies on everything," said Gurrola, who complained that his wife's cooking was bland at times. "I take salsa everywhere I go. It gives food that extra kick."

Gurrola said he was also impressed with the way Plaza Park appeared transformed into a Mexican zocalo, or bustling town square.

"It's just like in Mexico, where people walk around and shop at stands, relax on benches and stroll about," he said. "I'm proud of the traditions and culture of Oxnard."

The only hitch of the day was some confusion about festival's purpose, since salsa is not only the Spanish word for sauce but also for a certain style of Latino music.

"This isn't salsa music," said Robin Breda of Oxnard, referring to the picante music of Puerto Rica. "I thought this was a salsa festival."

The Reggae Jam, also celebrating its second year, was a different scene all together.

In place of the tall shade trees and the marketplace atmosphere was a vast lawn of dreadlocks and bandannas, bikinis and madras shorts, soap bubbles and Frisbees.

And in place of the carefully choreographed steps of mariachi music, there was the sway of barefoot dancers on the grass.

Concert-goers from all over the state converged on Oxnard for two days of live music from reggae greats like The Skatalites, Third World and The Wailers.

Many in the crowd removed their sandals and sprawled on the grass. They spoke in long, profound statements about their day in the sun.

"It's nice to hear [music] outdoors," said Joelle Tonkovich of San Diego. "It kind of brings you back to the oneness of the Earth. We need to live life with the Earth. Yeah, with the Earth."

Marcus McDaniel of Claremont, who spent the day selling clothing and other products made of hemp, said it was one of the "mellowest crowds I've seen in a long time. People here like a freestyle format of life. They like to explore their surroundings.

"Nobody's uptight. Those that want to rock are rocking, those who want to sit are sitting. Know what I mean? Peace."

And the music?

"Reggae music must be felt from the heart--it's a spiritual music," said Isaac Miller, a Rastafarian from Los Angeles. "But everybody falls short in sight of Jah," he said, in homage to the Rastas' god.

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