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A&E

[Weekly Q&A]

A conversation with the founders of the Vegas StrEATS festival

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Happy Birthday StrEATs! Alonzo Valencia and Alex Epstein look back on two years of fun.
Photo: Bill Hughes

If you tweet it, they will come. Provided the tweet is about a food-truck roundup in the heart of Downtown. Founding partners Alex Epstein and Alonzo Valencia remember the teases on Twitter and Facebook that drew thousands to the very first Vegas StrEATS in March 2011. Every month since, on “Second Saturday,” the culture fest has transformed Jackie Gaughan Plaza into a mashup of food, music, art, fashion and other creative goodness. In just two years, StrEATS has become a source of local pride and a platform for Downtown progress. What better way to celebrate the milestone than with 10 food trucks, 14 vendors, two live bands, four hip-hop acts, five DJs and more $3 beer than you can shake a giant foam finger at.

The story goes that Ric Guerrero, founder of Slidin’ Thru (and your old classmate), had a food-truck fest idea. You had one, too, and when you got together, it was magic. Epstein: We both were totally in the same line of: This would be great to not only do food trucks but do a street culture festival, do music, do art, bring together everything that’s already awesome about Downtown into one location … and it kind of just exploded from there.

Performers and vendors range from LA music phenom Mayer Hawthorne to local streetwear shop Feature. Given that you managed entertainment from day 1 and now run the fest, has it always been such a mix? Valencia: It went from food to music, and people were really diggin’ it, and in a few months it shifted to art. … So it all piggybacked one after the other. … It all gelled together and kinda showed people, hey, it’s not just the El Cortez sayin’ let’s park some trucks; it turned into a lot of people putting a lot of passion into everything, and now we want to get other brands involved, bigger brands, local brands, a lot of entrepreneurs. … The platform’s there.

The Details

STREATS TURNS 2
March 9, 6 p.m.-1 a.m.
600 E. Fremont, free.

How do you describe the sound of StrEATS today? Valencia: It’s a real Coachella-esque feel. You get bands really early with some indie rock ... Rusty Maples or some reggae like HaleAmanO. … Once it gets darker and people are starting to drink, we’ll get some hip-hop going, some local artists, MCs and a few DJs. And towards the end of the night it gears to house music and dubstep, trap, moombahton—just a real electro feel, EDC-style stuff.

As VP of the El Cortez—a founding partner in StrEATS—and someone with her hands in a lot of revitalization, how do you see the fest affecting the neighborhood? Epstein: It’s an example of what’s possible Downtown. It’s an example of the community spirit. It’s an example of people coming together, showing the best food and art and street culture and talent that you’re gonna see in town. … People just know they’re gonna come down on Second Saturday and have a great night. … To be in the same conversation as First Friday, an institution that’s been here for over a decade, I think that’s pretty awesome in two years that we’ve made that impact on the community.

StrEATS has also made an impact on revenue for some of these food trucks, not to mention being a source of support in the debate about where they can park. Epstein: I think we, as the El Cortez, came in with an interesting perspective of a brick-and-mortar location that is actually totally open and welcomed the idea and thinks that if these food trucks want to market themselves and bring down a whole new group of people that don’t regularly come Downtown, then I think it’s better for everybody involved.

The fest brings people back by keeping the experience fresh, from adding a second stage for live music to offering chalk for street drawing to showcasing pro wrestling! Valencia: One of my friends, Suede Thompson, was like, “Man, we gotta do somethin’ with Adrenaline Unleashed Wrestling and Vegas StrEATS.” … We went with it. I was so nervous. I didn’t know if it was gonna hit; I didn’t know what the reaction was gonna be. It was such a fun experience. People were eating it up. … It definitely feels like somethin’ Vince McMahon would be proud of.

DJ Klever, who’s been DMC World Champion DJ, is headlining your 2-year bash. Any thoughts on how far StrEATS has come? Epstein: Downtown is as good as it’s ever been. ... StrEATS got involved at the right time, before a lot of this was happening. We’re just so excited to be a part of everything that’s happening down here.

From beer pong to glow-in-the-dark sports, you’ve got wild ideas about what’s next. Valencia: The creative juices never stop. … We’re always open to everything. … You could send your music demos; you could tell us about your food truck; you could tell us about ideas you have, and we’re definitely open to it ’cause, in the end, it’s havin’ fun.

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