If you live anywhere near SW Eighth Street between 10th and 27th avenues and expected to sleep in Sunday morning, your dreams were shattered. The Calle Ocho festival — now called Carnaval Miami — celebrated its 39th year yesterday beginning with plenty of timba at 10:30 a.m. The famous street in Little Havana was closed off to motor vehicle traffic for almost two miles. Stages and tents lined the sidewalks as thousands of revelers crowded the streets.
Organized by the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana, the fest crowned actor Andy Garcia its king. The Miami native put on a performance with his band, the CineSon All Stars, as a few hundred people packed in around a stage on the corner of NW 12th Avenue. Among the spectators, which included the actor's 94-year-old mother and other family members, was 10-year-old Jonathan Esponda.
You might recognize Esponda as the dancing Marlins kid whose 15 seconds of fame on the Jumbotron turned him into a viral sensation in 2014. Two years later, he's still a local celebrity. Festivalgoers stopped him on the street and asked him to dance. The attention didn't bother him. His face lit up, he got into position, and, even without any music, he began to salsa. The kid is a natural.
He stood with his family in front of the Kiwanis' 40th Anniversary stage while waiting to see Garcia. "He's a really good actor," Esponda said.
Asked if he would consider himself Garcia's biggest fan, he nodded vigorously. Oceans Eleven is his favorite movie by the Cuban actor (c'mon, he's too young to have seen any of the Godfather films). Before the band took the stage, the boy was secretly escorted backstage and got to meet the Garcia. The two snagged a photo together. Esponda says Garcia was "really nice."
As the crowd waited for Garcia's performance, the boy continued to dance — either by himself or with his grandmother. He would see couples dancing around the stage and try to imitate — his left hand on his hip and his right arm in the air as he twirled.
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Despite a delay in setting up the stage, attendees were easily entertained. With music blasting through the speakers, every corner was turned into a dance floor.
Garcia eventually appeared — cigar in hand and sipping a rum and Coke — and played the conga while singing back-up vocals. Along with the CineSon All Stars, he performed for more than an hour and closed out the festival.