Festival unites Waco community under good cause

Contestants serve salsa to attendees and judges in hopes of winning the People's Choice Award or Judge's Choice Award. Photo credit: MJ Routh

The 23rd Annual Margarita and Salsa Festival took place at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Extraco Events Center. All proceeds from the event went to the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo scholarship program.

The event kicked off with a contest in which participants presented their unique beverage and salsa recipes, in hopes of winning the People’s Choice Award or Judge’s Choice Award. The event also featured carnival food, a mechanical bull and other outdoor attractions surrounding the stage where Gary Allan, Aaron Watson and John Baumann played that evening.

Wayne Gartman is currently serving as chairman of the Tenure and Education Committee for the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo, Chairman of the Margarita and Salsa Tasting, as well as other roles in the organization. The event, geared toward raising money for Waco students in need, is a community favorite and huge fundraiser, Gartner said.

“We have given away over $3 million,” Gartman said. “Last year, we gave away $143,000 in scholarships to 48 kids … I think the event went fantastic. Last year, we had weather that held folks away. This year, the weather was perfect. I am very excited about this turnout. I am so proud of everybody coming out and having a good time tonight.”

Some of the contestants used untraditional ingredients in their beverage and salsa submissions. Waco native Nicole Estes submitted a family recipe, alongside her mother Cathy and sister Amanda.

“We are going for gold this year,” Estes said. “Not to give it away, but we do put an energy drink into our mixture.”

Though the Margarita and Salsa Festival is an event the trio enjoys each year, their primary reason for participating goes beyond the entertainment value of the festival.

“We love helping raise money for our scholarships that we give out at the end of the year,” Estes said. “That’s what the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo does, and we are connected with them.”

Last year, the three came in second place and returned to the Margarita and Salsa Festival this year in hopes that their secret family recipe will win them first place.

Many Baylor students attended the Waco event — a trend Student Body President Hannah Causey hopes to see more of. Causey attended the event with friends and encourages increased involvement of Baylor students in the Waco community.

“I love Waco…,” Causey said. “Waco is such a unique city and there are so many events that bring tourists in. So, when there are events that are unique to Waco, it’s important to go.”

To promote this cause, Causey is currently planning “I Love Waco Day,” a day-long event dedicated to encouraging Baylor students to engage in the Waco community.