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Arts & Entertainment

Carne Asada Fest Grew Its Brand By Harnessing a Familial Pastime

Everyone is welcome at the carne asada, even if “everyone” means nearly 3,000 people.
The first Carne Asada Fest attracted over 1,000 people to Sons of Hermann Hall. Carne Asada Fest

There is more to Carne Asada Fest than the cuisine it serves. And although the festival will host Grammy award-winning musicians and local artists, it’s also more than a music festival. 

Carne Asada Fest is a cultural gathering that celebrates Dallas’ Latin culture by way of a familial pastime. The one-day festival returns May 28 at 2 p.m. at Gilley’s Dallas.

The event stems from a team of creatives headed by singer songwriter Sonia Kilo. They envisioned an immersive experience that would showcase Dallas’ abundant Latin talent, creativity, and culture. The team, their vendors, and artists are a family and this is their carne asada. At the carne asada, everyone is invited. 

“The idea behind Carne Asada Fest was inviting people out to enjoy the culture and what it is to be a Latino,” says Kilo. “It’s called Carne Asada Fest because it’s really just a kickback.”

The festival debuted July 10, 2021 at Sons of Hermann Hall. Over 1,000 Dallasites packed the Deep Ellum venue. They ate birria tacos, pupusas and carne asada burritos while listening to Dallas rap legend Big Tuck. 

The six-week effort to shape the inaugural Carne Asada Fest set in motion what was likely the biggest carne asada in Dallas in 2022. 

“Nobody would be willing to make that jump from a 500 capacity venue to 3,000, but she did it,” says Miguel Castro, the festival’s marketing and engagement director. 

On May 29, 2022, over 2,700 people attended Carne Asada Fest’s debut at Gilley’s Dallas. 

The festival is a large-scale replication of a cherished tradition. For many Latino families, weekends are often reserved for la carne asada, a cookout centered on togetherness. 

“Carne asada, for me, was always my aunts, and my uncles and my grandparents coming over,” Kilo says. “My biggest memories were with my family outside dancing all night and just cooking really good fajitas.” 

A carne asada has three essentials: food, music, and people. 

At most carne asadas, family and friends gather. The grill gets fired up. The meat is abundant and sizzled to the perfect tenderness. Conversations are long and music is loud. Adults and children dance to cumbias, rancheras, tejano, corridos, and hip-hop well into the night. 

The carne asada is a reprieve from day-to-day responsibilities. It is a jovial time to reconnect. 

“There’s no better way to tell people what it is to be a Latino than from real people, and you get that from [the Carne Asada Fest team],” Kilo says. “We truly grew up in the city and grew up with these roots of being Latino.” 

At the heart of the festival is food. The festival has garnered national recognition for its food component. Both Mashed and USA Today named Carne Asada Fest one of the top food festivals in the U.S.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says Jaime Jaimes, the festival’s food vendor and owner of Smokin Dawgz BBQ. “It was unreal.” 

Smokin Dawgz BBQ is part of a core group of vendors including Jazzy’s Tacos, Lokito Cokito, Sarape Treats, and Elotes de Mendoza that have been with the festival since its inception. 

This year there will be over 35 food vendors. Newcomers include local favorites Lord of the Wings, Chef Tastebudz, and Pacheco Taco N Burger. The festival’s musical offerings are just as enticing. 

“Our music and our food go hand-in-hand,” the founder says. 

Carne Asada Fest is now held at Gilley’s after outgrowing its first home at Sons of Hermann Hall. Carne Asada Fest

The 2023 music lineup is nostalgic. It takes every generation of the family into account and is inclusive of all genres. Grammy-winning Tejano artist Michael Salgado, Grammy-nominated merengue group Fulanito, Chicano rap sensation MC Magic, and Latin electronic dance music DJ Rayburger are headlining this year’s festival.

They will perform on stage with $10,000 of stage production enhancements including specialty lighting and screens.  “When you go to a carne asada, it’s like a playlist that includes everything,” Kilo says.

In 2021, Kilo stepped away from her role as an artist to pursue the festival. With Carne Asada Fest, she makes that opportunity a reality for homegrown artists.

“I look at artists that are up-and-coming and I hope that this is going to be one of the best experiences that they have,” she says. “I love that I’m going to be a part of their journey… I can still be that little girl that loves music, just in a different place.” 

The 2023 line-up includes local artists Yossy, Steve Garcia, MurieL, Ricky Ray, Psyche, Ren Galera and more. DJs Flaco, Avii Glow, Avii, Uneeq, Chuy Salazar, ETX will also hit the stage. 

This year, visual arts will be emphasized at the event. 

Last year, the Carne Asada Fest showcased a spray-painted mural by Agustin Chavez, known artistically as Dummy Fresh. 

This year, he is creating life-size Loteria cards that are “a lil Dallas, pero puro Latino.” These hand-created 3D art installations will give Dallas the opportunity to be immersed in Chavez’s creativity. 

“Carne Asada Fest is like his playground. There are no limits on what he is able to create,” Kilo says. 

This year’s host is Dallas icon Mauri “Mean Mauri” Reynosa. Reynosa is a touchstone for Latino Dallas millennials who grew up listening to the DJ on the airwaves of KCHK FM and seeing his antics on DMXTv.

Dallas brand El Chuy will make a rare appearance at Carne Asada Fest’s mercado. “El Chuy” himself is illusive, but the brand’s Dallas slide slippers are everywhere. The brand’s reach goes far beyond Dallas. 

“The artists and food and all are really great, but it’s really about being there with people that love Dallas as much as you do,” Kilo says. “You will never get to experience 2022, you will never get to experience 2021, so don’t miss 2023.” 


Desiree Gutierrez

Desiree Gutierrez

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