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Article posted: 7/25/2013 6:00 PM

New venue for Aurora's Puerto Rican Heritage Fest


There will be plenty that's familiar at this weekend's 42nd annual Aurora Puerto Rican Heritage Fest, with one notable exception: the venue.

For the first time, the festival will be held at the city's spanking new RiverEdge Park near downtown. With the cancellation of the Elgin Puerto Rican Festival, Mirna Lopez-Freitag -- president of the Aurora Puerto Rican Cultural Council -- is preparing for a large turnout.

"We're really excited about the new venue," Lopez-Freitag said. "We're expecting new crowds at the park. It's right across from the train station, so it will be convenient for people to commute."

The fest will take place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 27, and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28, at Aurora's newest outdoor venue at 360 N. Broadway. The fest previously was held in the parking lot of North River Street Park across the river.

Even though the location has changed, many of the experiences will be familiar. The fest is bringing back its "Aurora's Got Talent" contest, which was a hit in its debut at last year's festival. Twelve participants will take the stage to sing or dance in the opening round on Saturday and five will make it to Sunday's final round.

"The talent show is one of the things I look forward to," Lopez-Freitag said. "The winner gets to host next year's talent show. And you don't have to be from Aurora."

Live music is always one of the staples of the festival and that will hold true again this year. Orquesta Suave, a band based out of Chicago, and Mannix Martinez, a well- known Puerto Rican artist now based out of Northwest Indiana, will headline the Saturday and Sunday lineups, respectively.

Interspersed between among popular Latin-style artists are traditional folkloric Puerto Rican bands Africaribe and Bompleneras.

Another highlight of Puerto Rican Fest is Sunday's parade, which Lopez-Freitag says could draw anywhere from 8,000 to 9,000 people.

"The parade is the highlight," she said. "We'll have a pretty large lineup: more than 10 floats, each with music, which we haven't had in the past."

The parade will start at the corner of Benton and Broadway in Aurora. But for Lopez-Freitag, the excitement for this year's fest keeps circling back to the new venue.

Despite early concerns about the cost of a move to RiverEdge Park, the Puerto Rican Heritage Fest was able to make the move with some help from the city of Aurora, the Aurora Civic Center Authority and the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board.

And for RiverEdge Park, the fest will be part of an ongoing experiment. While it has hosted concerts before, the park does not have much experience playing host to multiday festivals.

"We're sort of the guinea pigs of RiverEdge," Lopez-Freitag said. "We get to pave the road with them working with a third party to do a festival."

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