Luz Elena Mendoza, courtesy photo

Y La Bamba, led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Luz Elena Mendoza, performs at The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) on Aug. 12. The Portland, Oregon-based band plays indie-alternative music grounded in traditional Latin roots, with Mendoza, a first-generation Mexican American, singing in Spanish and English.

Since TACAW’s opening in September of last year, audience attendance numbers have been consistently climbing, according to Kendall Smith, director of programming.

With inclusive programming in mind, Smith shared, “I always have an eye on ensuring that our stages are representative — that we have diversity in our presenting at TACAW. We’ve had a number of bilingual bands come through already in our short time of being open, and we continue to broaden our programming.”

In the event posting on TACAW’s website, Mendoza’s artistry, with its traditional origins, strengthened by a contemporary musical sinew, are described as follows, “Mendoza’s experience of childhood summers in the San Joaquin Valley listening to mariachi, of being raised strict Catholic by immigrant parents, of being a woman having to prove herself to the boys, paints strokes of both melancholy and healing.”

In a 2015 profile of Mendoza that aired as a part of the PBS “Oregon Art Beat” series, she talked about the enduring influence of the music she heard as a child, saying, “Being surrounded by so much mariachi music growing up and all this folklore — always music, always harmonies, always — I constantly heard vocal rainbows.”

This month features the return of the ever-popular Wednesday evening salsa dance lessons, with instruction provided by dance artists from Mezcla Socials Dance. Their plans include introducing live music.

Smith acknowledges the Spanish-speaking population in the Roaring Fork Valley is diverse itself. “There are many different cultures here, and we’ve got plenty to do as far as building a programming portfolio that can meet the needs of everybody and expand everybody’s horizons,” he said.

One advantage of being located in the Valley, Smith suggested, is “there are so many terrific nonprofits that are doing great work in the Latinx community, and we’re able to provide the platform for them to come, like when English in Action wants to do their Immigrant Voices event — a stellar evening of storytelling — on our stage. They bring the community in, and that’s to our advantage as far as getting the word out about TACAW.”

TACAW has garnered a stellar reputation among artists and patrons alike. Smith said, “Things are picking up, and as we’re building our reputation as a place that treats the artists well, with great audiences that are highly engaged. We’ll continue to see some bigger names come through.”

TACAW’s state-of-the-art performance space is highly adaptable — whether you’re grooving on the dance floor or sitting in the lobby, chatting with friends and watching the show streaming on the video wall. Plus, a retractable wall between the dance floor and the lobby can be opened for larger shows. The outdoor terrace is also open for patrons seeking a quiet break from the main event.

Understanding that people continue to have concerns about COVID, Smith said, “There’s still a bit of hesitancy for some folks to come and sit in a room. We have a terrific room for that, though, in that we’re a newly-built building with a superior air circulation system and 20-foot ceilings.” He added, “It’s a good space to come to share an experience with people.”

Smith encourages people to open-mindedly explore TACAW’s offerings and “to embrace the discovery aspect and check out something you’re not fully familiar with. Come and share an experience with people here in the midvalley, in creating culture that’s easily accessible and diverse.”

The Sopris Sun is the media sponsor for the Y La Bamba performance at TACAW on Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. To purchase tickets or for more information about upcoming events, go to