AZTEC — The city will kick off summertime fun with a celebration that includes carnival rides, live music, a parade with pets and a classic car show this weekend.
A community staple since the 1960s, Aztec Fiesta Days begins at 5 p.m. Thursday with a carnival in Riverside Park and continues through Sunday.
"The theme is 'Cruising into summer,' the welcoming of the season, our town party, if you will," said Amanda Hawks, treasurer and director of marketing for the Aztec Chamber of Commerce.
One of the annual highlights comes Saturday after sundown with the burning of Old Man Gloom, a tradition in which the community casts their worries and woes, written on scraps of paper, into a towering bogeyman that is set ablaze, sending people's troubles and bad spirits up in smoke.
Santa Fe burned a Zozobra, a moving marionette that is 50 feet tall, and members of the Pilot Club, a San Juan County all-female service organization, wanted to do the same in Aztec.
The first Old Man Gloom burning was held in the late 1960s, according to Cathey Wright, former president and past member of the now-disbanded club.
"We built it every year," Wright said. "I used to make the head, paint a face on — a scary face. We had a metal frame stored in Farmington, and we'd cover it with a big sheet, make the hands and head out of papier mâché and stuff it with bags full of shredded paper area banks donated. We'd throw in some firecrackers, too. We'd bring it to Aztec on a trailer, and the kids would follow it into town. Mario Chávez (son of former Aztec Mayor Flavio Chávez) would wear a costume and dance around the effigy, then the kids would toss candles on it to get it going."
Though intended to be a menacing figure, the effigy some years was given an added twist for fun. One year, Old Man Gloom was made into a cowboy, replete with a big papier-mâché cowboy hat, Wright said.
"It was supposed to chase away those bad spirits and help crops grow," Wright said. "Aztec being a farming community, it seemed fitting. Even at that time, Farmington had built homes and businesses where apple orchards were and Aztec had more farmland."
New this year is a different venue. Previously held in Minium Park, the carnival, vendor booths, car show and live music will all take place in Riverside and Hartman parks.
A new band performing its first gig is Aztec funk band ...And Beyond.
"We're a bunch of guys who've been working a long time trying to get a project together, and now we've got something really good," said the band's keyboard player and singer, Bryan Paul. "We play around 60 percent originals. We'll do a wide variety of sounds, from Prince, The Meters, Ray Charles, a country song, some reggae and calypso — even a straight-up rockin' blues song."
Mayor Sally Burbridge was undecided which event during the four-day celebration was her favorite, but she said the burning of Old Man Gloom neared the top of her list.
"I do like just the idea of that kind of renewal Old Man Gloom represents," Burbridge said. "Your worries are gone, and then you're ready to move forward for whatever lies ahead."
IF YOU GO
Bennett's Amusements Carnival: 5 to 11 p.m. in Riverside Park, 500 S. Light Plant Road
Bennett's Amusements Carnival: 5 to 11 p.m. across from Riverside Park
Free movie: Walt Disney's animated film “Frozen” will be shown at dusk in Minium Park, 200 N. Park Ave., sponsored by the Aztec High Key Club.
Aztec Ruins Lecture Series: “The New Deal: The Program in our New Mexico Parks and the Northwest Corner” by Kathryn Flynn, 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the Aztec Ruins National Monument. Free admission.
All You Can Eat Breakfast: 7 to 11 a.m. at the Aztec Senior-Community Center, 101 S. Park Ave. Prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children.
Deacon's Yard Sale: 8 a.m. to noon at the Aztec Presbyterian Church, 205 N. Church Ave.
Navajo United Methodist Center — New Beginnings Golf Tournament: 8:30 a.m. at Hidden Valley Golf Club, 29 Road 3025 in Aztec.
Charity 5K Trail Run/Walk: 9 a.m. at Tiger Park, 1301 Old Spanish Trail. Proceeds go to the Aztec Animal Shelter.
Vendor Booths: Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Riverside Park
Cruisin' into Summertime! Parade: 10 a.m. in downtown Aztec. Parade forms are available at the Aztec Visitors Center, 110 N. Ash Ave. Entry is free. Registration starts at 9 a.m.
Kids-N-Pets Parade and Costume Contest: 10 a.m. Entry is free. Registration starts at 9 a.m.
Live music: 10 a.m. to noon Second Chance will perform at Riverside Park
Hot Spot Classic Car Show: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Hartman Park, 500 Llano St. Winners announced at 3:45 p.m.
Live music: Noon to 2 p.m. San Juan College's Company will play at Riverside Park.
Bennett's Amusement Carnival: Noon to 11 p.m. in Riverside Park.
Bluegrass Jam: 1 p.m. at the Hiway Grill, 401 NE Aztec Blvd.
Live Music: 2 to 4 p.m. Ramblin' Fever will be performing at Riverside Park.
Live Music: 4 to 6 p.m. ...And Beyond will be performing at Riverside Park.
Go-Kart Races: 6 p.m. at Aztec Speedway, 300 Legion Rd. Free admission.
Live Music: 6 p.m. Battle of the Bands II at Crash Music, Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. Admission is $6.
Burning of “Old Man Gloom”: 9 p.m. at Riverside Park's Roping Arena
Bennett's Amusement Carnival: Noon to 7 p.m. at Riverside Park
Live Music and Dinner in the Courtyard: 4 to 7 p.m. The Crags will be performing at Wines of the San Juan, 233 N.M. Highway 511 in Turley. More info: 505-632-0879