Celebration of Nations to honor Panama’s 500th birthday, feature Rubiks Groove

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Traveling can be expensive, but a group of frequent flyers is throwing an event to celebrate the diverse, international cultures right here in Franklin, particularly that of one nation celebrating a major anniversary. 

The Celebration of Nations is holding its 10th annual event Saturday, and this year, the multicultural arts festival is pulling out all the stops — fitting for a 10th anniversary. 

Featuring nonstop live music alternating between two stages and a headlining performance from local favorite Rubiks Groove, the entertainment will match the food and beer with its international flavors. Additionally, the festivities will move from its usual spot on 4th Avenue down the block to Bicentennial Park for an all-day global experience. 

The festival serves as an annual fundraiser for the Sister Cities of Franklin and Williamson County, a nonprofit that partners with three cities — Carleton Place, Ontario, Canada; County Laois, Ireland; and Bad Soden am Taunus, Germany — to build international relationships and help each other’s cities prosper culturally and economically. The Williamson County Cultural Arts Commission also assists Sister Cities with the celebration, providing much of the entertainment. 

Sister Cities of Franklin and Williamson County board member Jason Collins explained the festival not only benefits the nonprofit, but also gives international residents the opportunity to introduce their unique cultures to the city. 

“Everyone should learn, hear or see something maybe they haven’t seen before,” he said. “To me, that’s what the essence and the goal of the Celebration of Nations should do.” 

This year, one example of a resident wanting to recognize her home culture quickly ballooned into an international partnership. While the festival celebrates all nations and cultures around the world, Panama City is the guest of honor as it celebrates its 500th birthday. 

Itzela Vasquez was born in Panama and moved to Franklin in 2010. Though she now calls Franklin home, she said she’s visited Panama over five times in the last year. 

As the founder and CEO of a company called Ancon Traders, Vasquez facilitates beer trade across the world with the goal of fostering unity by finding different markets for international beer. She explained trade has historically allowed for the interaction of cultures, and this principal is the crux of her business. 

“Through trade, (different nations) were able to make cultures even richer, and civilization became what it is today, which is totally connected,” she said. 

This goal of cultural enrichment created a natural partnership between Vasquez and Sister Cities as they prepared for this year’s festival. She explained that, when she met with Collins and found out about the festival back in May, she mentioned in passing that she would like to include Panama. 

Five months later, they are expecting visitors from the U.S. Embassy in Panama, Forbes Central America and large Panamanian TV conglomerates. Additionally, the winner of Super Chef Panama, a cooking competition in which Delta Airlines flies the winner to America to learn more about the culinary arts, will come to the festival in Franklin instead of the usual destination of Atlanta. 

Vasquez will help run a booth seeking to encapsulate the culture of Panama. There will be televisions with videos of Panamanian culture, a travel agent answering questions, traditional food and beer, and photos of the Panama Canal, the many islands and beaches, the jungle and more. 

Vasquez is not only providing international beer through her connections, but she was also able to work with VonSeitz Theoreticales from Smithville, Tennessee to craft a custom brew blending flavors from Panama and Tennessee. 

She has also worked with an onsite caterer to put together a menu for the festival. Vasquez said the chef “absorbed the Panamanian culture,” and his sample dishes brought tears to her eyes. She said, when she tasted his food, it reminded her of the scene in Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” where the food critic tastes a dish that looks far more upscale than a home-cooked meal but brings him back to the flavors from his mother’s kitchen. 

She said she hopes to impart this kind of experience on those who visit the Panama booth at the festival. 

“When you come to the booth, it’s going to smell like if you came to my home in Panama, coming to have lunch with my family,” she said. “We want people to come and see almost like a Panamanian living room, so that’s where the TV comes into place, where the pictures come into place.” 

Sister Cities board member Doug Sharp, who has been involved in the festival since its beginning, explained it centered more around entertainment the first few years but has since embraced the culinary arts and variety of international beers. 

While the event is free, guests have the option to purchase tickets for a special VIP experience, where they will receive a “Celebration of Nations” cup and participate in an international beer and wine tasting in the evening sponsored by Lipman Brothers, Leiper’s Fork Distillery and more. 

This is part of the latter half of the event, which Sharp said will hold a slightly different tone than the daytime piece. 

“We’ll essentially have two events in one,” he said. “The daytime portion is more of that family-oriented, multicultural fair, and then the nighttime portion is intentionally more a headline-band-oriented street party.” 

He mentioned his travels with Sister Cities have allowed him to interact with people he never would’ve met and develops community across borders. Vasquez said this feeling of global connection is a piece of frequent traveling that she hopes Celebration of Nations can bring to the residents of Franklin. 

“I’ve had the opportunity to travel to … almost 30 countries. And when you travel that much, you realize how much we have in common,” she said. “What a big opportunity it is for us, especially (those who) have the opportunity to travel so much, to show the uniqueness of the cultures that are outside the United States but, more importantly, the common themes that are part of these cultures.” 

Celebration of Nations will take place Saturday, Oct. 12 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Bicentennial Park. The event is free to attend aside from the cost of food and drinks, and VIP tickets can be purchased at sistercitiestn.org for $50. Rubiks Groove will begin their set at 6:20 p.m.

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