Aspen Music Festival and School is hosting its first-ever “De Colores” Mariachi community celebration today at the Benedict Music Tent. The free event is open to all ages and will feature live performances by local music students and dancers from the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklório program, alongside Denver-based professional ensemble Mariachi Sol de mi Tierra. 

There will be a pre-concert fiesta starting at 4 p.m. with cultural activities and booths set up on the lawn outside the Benedict Tent. Food and beverages will be available to purchase from the Glenwood-based Taquería El Yaqui food truck, plus margarita and paloma drink specials for adults. The concert begins at 5:30 p.m. 

Leading up to the “De Colores” celebration, AMFS cultivated a Mariachi Workshop for Roaring Fork Valley students ranging in age and music-level experience. The three-day workshop — which started Monday and wrapped up today — also marks a first in AMFS programming, and like the event this afternoon, the workshop was completely free of charge.

Katie Hone Wiltgen, AMFS dean of education and community, said that having a Mariachi workshop or some sort of Mariachi presence in the valley is something that she’s been wanting to cultivate through AMFS for the past four to five years now. She explained how the AMFS education department runs numerous programs in schools throughout the valley, and in a lot of those schools, the majority of participating music students are Latino. 

“Creating programming that is culturally responsive is something we have to put at the forefront at Aspen Music Festival and School,” Hone Wiltgen said. “Mariachi is at the core of Mexican music and Mexican folklóric culture; it feels like the right thing to be doing for our students.”

Hone Wiltgen then said that not having Mariachi programming is, in fact, a disservice to the community. The dean mentioned how, ideally, she hopes to incorporate Mariachi into AMFS’ “Afterworks” music programming — which currently offers four after-school programs in beginner strings, advanced chamber music, classical guitar and choir. 

“If Mariachi could eventually become our fifth pillar, that would be icing on the cake,” Hone Wiltgen said. 

When putting together the “De Colores” celebration, Hone Wiltgen reached out to ASFB Executive Director Jean-Philippe Malaty to see if student dancers part of ASFB’s Folklório program could perform in the concert. 

ASFB Folklórico has been offering free, after-school programs for students in grades K-12 from Basalt, Carbondale and Santa Fe public schools for over 20 years now. This summer, ASFB has been working to put on more public performances showcasing the Folklórico students, Malaty explained. 

“It's a program that is really ingrained in the community, that has deep roots in the community and proudly showcases the diversity of the Roaring Fork Valley,” Malaty said. “And so now we’re proud to be a little bit more public with our program — they’ve been performing a lot this summer.” 

In addition to ASFB, Hone Wiltgen said AMFS has partnered with five community organizations for today’s event, including Anderson Ranch Arts Center, English In Action, Valley Settlement, Basalt Regional Library and Pitkin County Library. During the pre-concert fiesta, these organizations will cultivate both cultural and informational activities, like art projects and bilingual storytelling. 

“This is a very different event for AMFS, and it’s outside the realm of what people normally hear at the Benedict Tent,” Hone Wiltgen said. “This is a chance for us to show off a different side of what we can celebrate musically and make it known that the tent and AMFS are welcoming places for everyone in this community.”

The concert will be structured into three sets, Hone Wiltgen said, opening with a layered performance by the Mariachi workshop participants, to be followed by the ASFB Folklórico dancers. The professional ensemble Mariachi Sol de mi Tierra will accompany both the student musicians and dancers on stage and then close out the concert with their own musical numbers. 

Over the last three days of the Mariachi workshop, the students have been able to work with Mariachi Sol de mi Tierra, as well as Mariachi specialists and teachers brought in by AMFS for this specific endeavor. Local music teachers from Aspen to Rifle have also been a part of this workshop experience, Hone Wiltgen said, in order to help the students with general instrumental techniques, and also, to learn Mariachi techniques alongside the students for future teaching purposes. 

In only the first two hours of Monday’s workshop, the kids had already learned an entire song, Hone Wiltgen said. And she hopes the community will come out this afternoon to support and experience the sounds, moments and magic of Mariachi. 

“More than anything,” Hone Wiltgen said. “I hope it offers an event around which we can come together and celebrate the diverse tapestry of cultures that make up the Roaring Fork Valley and make it such a special place to live and learn.”

The inaugural AMFS “De Colores” Mariachi celebration starts at 4 p.m. with a fiesta, followed by the concert at 5:30 p.m. The event is free and open to all ages. Attendees can access easy parking in the Benedict Music Tent/Harris Concert Hall lot at the Aspen Institute’s Meadows Campus.

Jacqueline Reynolds is an arts & entertainment reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at