YOUNGSTOWN Fest's organizer puts rhythm in planning

The annual event is marking its 39th year.
YOUNGSTOWN -- For Felipe Gonzales, every road leads to music.
With his classical guitar in hand, he strums along with the rhythmic pulsing of the congas and the timbales resounding in unison.
Warning: It may be impossible for some to resist the urge to get up and dance.
This is the scene whenever Gonzales plays with his band, Conjunto Riquena (Spanish for "Puerto Rican Ensemble"). But the music doesn't end there.
Besides playing in the band, Gonzales hosts a weekly Spanish language radio show on WGFT 1500 AM. Every Saturday, fans can tune in to hear Latin music that brings a little taste of many listeners' homelands to the Valley.
Gonzales' love of music drives him toward even more involvement.
In charge
As a coordinator of this weekend's Hispanic Heritage Festival at St. Rose of Lima Church, 50 Struthers-Coitsville Road, he's making sure the beat goes on.
"Part of the Latino culture is music," said Gonzales, who has scheduled an array of Latin musical groups to perform at the festival. "The Latino and the music are things you cannot separate."
Local dance groups and bands from as far away as Indianapolis will be appearing at the four-day event, which begins Thursday and ends Sunday night.
The annual Hispanic festival, held the past 39 years, remains one of the most anticipated events for local Hispanic families. Felipe's wife, Mary, who also coordinates the event, said some families come from out of town for the festival.
"They're looking forward to the music and the food," Mrs. Gonzales said. The event brings the community together, she added. "We really don't have any other activities that are out in the open where the community can gather and share with each other."
"There are three things that go hand in hand with the Latino community -- faith, family and fiesta," her husband explained. Fiestas, or parties, are ways for families to gather and promote the culture, he said.
He added that the Catholic Latino community is a strong believer in the importance of faith.
Although Gonzales was born in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, and reared in Lorain, he's lived in Youngstown since 1970.
Musical journey
His journey with music began when he was 14. His brother, Angel, taught him some guitar chords, and Gonzales eventually developed his own style.
He's been playing in Conjunto Riquena for 23 years. The band plays popular and folk Latin music.
Gonzales' radio career began 20 years ago. "I made up my mind that the Latino community needed some kind of radio show to benefit them," he said. He's been on four different radio stations, but has worked with WGFT the longest. "They've been very supportive of the type of show I do."
He said he's even done broadcasts from the festival. "I've had a phenomenal response with the show," Gonzales added. "I think it has done wonders in getting the word out to the community, and on any events happening in Youngstown."
Gonzales would like to do a show five times a week someday. Until then, he said he's happy with the response he's received from local residents.
"A lot of positive comments come out from the community in support of what I've been doing, and that in itself is a highlight for me," he said.

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