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Tucumcari’s Fired Up Festival happens during chile season

When mention is made this time of year about something being fiery, the first thought is usually the Hatch Chile Festival, which is a staple of the Labor Day weekend.

But Tucumcari’s Fired Up Festival later in the month is a tip of the Stetson to all things that make the eastern plains of New Mexico just a little different from the rest of the state.

“The Fired Up Festival is a favorite of both residents and visitors,” said Tucumcari Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield. “It showcases not only the best of Tucumcari in all categories, but it also captures the essence of eastern New Mexico culture.”

Now in its eighth year, the free festival (, scheduled for Sept. 29 at the Historic Railroad Depot Plaza in the old downtown, has grown in popularity, with about 3,400 attendees last year.

“We’re expecting considerably more this year,” said Gail Houser, executive director of Tucumcari Main Street. “It came about from the fact that our small-business development center and individuals as well, wanted a celebration for the community that would be free and reacquaint or fire up the community to the fact that we live in a beautiful area and have great people living in Tucumcari.”

Getting people to head east can be a challenge, but Houser said that’s beauty of the timing of the festival.

“The draw is, essentially, at the end of September is a beautiful time of the year, weather-wise, in the eastern pains,” he said. “So we have continued to develop a mixture of local, homegrown talent, along with professional entertainers from around the New Mexico area.”

The festivities actually start Sept. 28 with the opening of the fourth annual Challenge Quilt Show, which has become so popular that is it now in two venues, Houser said.

“It’s a show that is absolutely phenomenal,” he said.

A lively auto, truck and motorcycle show fills the closed-off downtown streets, organizer Chris Tapia said.

Hot rods, rat rods, custom vehicles, motorcycles, trucks and classic vehicles are all expected, along with a little something different, he said.

“There’s a lot of different cars around,” Tapia said. “There’s a variety of different things out there. We for sure will have a dragster out there.”

There’s a long lineup of entertainment throughout the day, starting with the remarkable Tucumcari Elementary School Nyoka Marimba Band, which has played at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

“It sounds not exiting, but these kids are absolutely phenomenal,” Houser said. “They’re pretty much stars now; they’re the lead act for Fired Up.”

With 10 instruments similar to a xylophone, the musicians are fourth- to sixth-graders who have been meeting twice a week for two hours per session in preparation for their gig, said marimba director Andrew Kesten, a music teacher at the elementary school.

“For this performance, we hit it hard,” he said. “We started the second day of school. Some of them are experienced players; others are green as grass. Some are reviewing pieces from last year, and some are doing new ones. Every year, you redevelop the program.”

The lineup is heavy on country music, with a sprinkling of mariachis. There will also be a glass-blowing exhibition from Santa Fe’s Prairie Dog Glass and the Odd-Lab ( fire extravaganza show, Houser said, because what would something Fired Up be without some heat?

Odd-Lab started with a backyard fire-burning quartet who performed for their friends and family and has since grown more than a dozen performers of varying degrees and talents working with poi, hoops, staffs, whips, nunchuc

ks and other objects while specializing in both glow and fire-prop manipulation.

“They’ve been here every year that we’ve been here,” Houser said. “I don’t know that we can have an event without Odd-Lab being present. They are terrific. Fire eating, all sorts of balancing and acrobatics. We’re glad to have them.”

The evening is capped by an extended fireworks show.

“It’s a great time, and it gives everybody a chance to reconnect with family and friends and neighbors,” Houser said. “It’s all a family-oriented community festival. There’s food vendors everywhere. We involved the schools, involved various clubs. You can sell your wares, sell your food and have a great old time.”

Tucumcari’s Fired Up Festival happens during chile season, but that’s not what the excitement is all about