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Local history gets told through music

‘Song of Pueblo’ making a comeback at Hoag Theater

James Bartolo

Pueblo Chieftain | USA TODAY NETWORK

On Aug. 12, local musicians will take the Hoag Theater stage at Pueblo Community College for the first time since 2019 to perform “Song of Pueblo,” a musical history chronicling over three centuries of Pueblo and Southern Colorado history.

Deborah Espinosa, former director of the El Pueblo History Museum, began producing “Song of Pueblo” in 2008. She said that from the Native tribes that lived in the Arkansas Valley in the 1600s to the Flood of 1921, Pueblo’s history is complex with stories that impact the entire nation. A single exhibit would not be able to encapsulate all the stories she wanted to tell, so she looked toward the performing arts.

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“I didn’t know anything anything about the performing arts,” she said. “I never worked with musicians very much, not in production for the museum. It was quite a learning lesson, but I was surprised how quickly everyone came to the idea ... an oratorio for Pueblo.” “Song of Pueblo” is both an auditory and visual experience. Visuals of historic reenactments and documents play on a large screen while an ensemble of local musicians plays songs written specifically for the production.

Songs in the production are written by Daniel Valdez, an actor and composer whose accolades include working as associate producer on “La Bamba,” a 1987 biographical film about Richie Valens. Espinosa and her husband, Juan, first met Valdez in 1973 while working with Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers of America. “We gave (Valdez) topics — the Flood of ‘21, the Ludlow Massacre and the Sand Creek Massacre ... all the stories are based on events that happened in and around Pueblo,” Juan said. While songs like “Flood of ‘21,” “On Ludlow Field” and “Death at Sand Creek” are solemn songs with tragic subject matter, other pieces, like “Founder’s Fandango,” are more upbeat. “Founder’s Fandango” highlights the many pioneers who lay claim to founding Fort Pueblo in the mid-19th century.

“It’s got a really great rhythm, kind of cutesy lyrics about all the men who claimed to help with the founding of Pueblo,” said Felicia Gallegos Pettit, the lead vocalist on the song. “Then the song says, ‘Wait a second, there had to be some women there too.’ That’s when we start transitioning into how the women really played a role in the traditions that they brought from their hometowns.”

Some Puebloans may gain insight about their own family histories through the show.

“They Came to Pueblo” is about the rich traditions that were brought to Pueblo through immigration. Two historic neighborhoods, Elm Street and Bojon Town, have songs dedicated to the Italian and Slavic immigrants who settled in those neighborhoods to work at the nearby steel mill and smelters. Aavalajn Wiggins, a percussionist joining the “Song of Pueblo” ensemble this year, said the show provides Puebloans, especially youths, with a more complete understanding of Pueblo’s history.

“A lot of them don’t know all the history of Pueblo, although many of them are very versed in their history, or their family and different things like that,” he said. “It’s neat to understand Pueblo under five flags, the flood, the history, how we got St. Mary Corwin Hospital, how we got CF&I. It’s just great history.”

Doors for the Aug. 12 performance open at 6 p.m., with the show starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and will be sold at the door. It will be one of three performances of “Song of Pueblo” this year, with subsequent dates to be announced.

Pueblo Chieftain reporter James Bartolo can be reached by email at JBartolo@gannett. com.

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