by Juan Manuel Torreblanca
Pictures by Dorian Ulises López Macías
Last year I wrote a rather epic account of my Vive Latino experience as just one spectator drifting in the sea of thousands. This year was bound to be different from the start. So is my tale.
I remember fondly my melancholic subway journeys to and from the Foro Sol last year. Elliot Smith in my ears then. This time it was Joanna Newsom and her Have One on Me (plus some bits of Orlando’s to-be-released Capullo). Heartwarming loneliness is the perfect water to baptize oneself as preparation for the intense adventure of the Vive Latino.
I missed Dr. Frankenstein on Friday regrettably ‘cause I had to play piano at a dance show at the Carlos Chavez hall deep in the heart of my beloved UNAM’s Centro Cultural Universitario (but that’s another story), so my chronicles will only touch the main two days of the Vive: Saturday and Sunday. I will say, though, that I was dying to hear Iraida Noriega (one of Mexico’s best singers) take on such a role and challenge, amongst a stellar cast, but there will be another chance.
So, Saturday I was invited to play one song as a guest with La Banderville, they were to take the Blue Stage for 20 mintes at 13:45. Their manager Wakks handled all the necessary information (aided by several of the band members) always with sufficient time and courtesy. So it was a pleasure to be part of their exciting Vive debut, as much as it was something born out of friendship and mutual admiration. I had been invited to play accordion when they recorded A la Distancia for their Seminuevo de Manzana album, and this would be my second time playing it with them live.
I got to the accorded gate at 11:05 (five minutes late) and waited a while with our gathering belated crew for our entrance to be granted. Engineers, dancers. Known and unknown faces, all friendly and glad to be there. The band was already in, extremely on time. After a while a couple of the beautiful girls accompanying the band came out for us and we joined them at the dressing-room. A cloudy and humid morning had turned into a sunny, bright day. And everything seemed extremely well organized and clean backstage. I was told that as time went by it became a bit more messy, but I saw nothing to complain about!
When I bumped into Daniel, La Banderville’s leader and frontman, I didn’t recognize him for a split-second. He was estrenando a mohawk hair-do: totally shaved head on the sides! It looked cool and tough, proper attire for a Vive Latino first time.
Handshakes with the rest of the band. Everyone looked like it was their birthday and the best party EVER dreamed of (forever dreamed of) was about to take place. The girls (Sofía and Ana) really get to my heart every time because they tend to look and get so nervous and so humbled by everything that’s happening to them right now. Sofia told me as we were relaxing in the dressing-room before everything got started: “I never, ever, in my wildest dreams… not even when I took up the bass… I never thought this would happen to me”… call me crazy but that made me feel no-one deserved a place on a Vive Latino stage that day more than them. La Banderville. They’ve worked so hard and so much and so long. Their songs are finally travelling the airwaves bringing smiles into lots of hearts. People are falling in love with their retro, psychedelic, sunny, folky, rock-pop songs, and they –the band– are finding their way into the soundtrack of youth for a new generation. So it was time for them to have a shot at the Vive Latino: Latin America’s biggest and most important music festival, probably.
Time to grace the stage was approaching, Joselo (yes, from Café Tacvba) got to the dressing-room and we gave our song a couple of runs. I didn’t allow myself much thought on the surreal event of me sharing a guest spot with Joselo (from Café Tacvuba for goodness sakes!) on stage, ‘cause I don’t quite get how or why or if I deserve… that happening! But let’s blame the Banderville kids for that one! And I must thank YouTube for making it possible for me to practice my accordion parts prior to that last-minute go. I have a fish-brain and I had of course forgotten it. But we played it fine and smooth and I was feeling ready to rock! Or was it the energy drink?
So, anyway, the guys rushed into their costumes. Fantastic 20’s inspired swimwear! horizontal black and white or red and white lines! The first band, Monte Negro, was almost done. Pictures were taken. Warm-up exercises began. Jumping, stretching arms, vocal warmups. Screaming a bit, why not? I line-checked the accordion just to make sure it would sound and then we were all ready to go!
La Banderville had an awesome intro prepared, mocking the intro for the classic TV show The Wonder Years. The music and a narrator’s voice introducing each one of the band members. Then, they immediately dove in. Four dancers were dressed in huge cardboard boxes with sea creatures drawn in a Japanese child-like fashion over them. It was really nice! They started dancing.
So, there I am on-stage, by the engineers. The initial crowd must have been a hundred people at most. But from the first song people rushed to the stage from a far. And I feel I must make it clear: I’m talking about hundreds and hundreds of people running to the stage. I was both outrageously happy for my friends and outrageously nervous for myself! I mean: I have to begin the song I’m invited to play solo, I was fearing a mistake in front of hundreds and hundreds of rabid Vive Latino fans. I fantasized about getting smacked on the face with a glass full of beer (hopefully) or pieces of the carpet or coins or whatever. The first guest to join the band onstage was Enjambre’s Javier Mejía and he played the gorgeous Super Pasto with them and Mandarina too. I was so happy because people kept arriving at massive proportions. It was soon a crowd of –at least– a thousand and a half. I danced, jumped, clapped, laughed, talked about it with Wakks, their manager and all the Banderville staff. And then it was my turn. I was introduced. The crowd gave me a generous applause and I felt welcome. I took my spot and looked at the guys, they were beaming. Joselo was introduced to a raving crowd, of course, and he soon got the guitar ready. Cachi (from the drums) gave me a sign for me to begin whenever I felt it. And so I did. Boy… it is hard to describe how this feels. The connection. Between the people onstage. The people in the crowd. The song binding us all together. It was a trip. I felt the train gain more and more power. I felt the joy in the people. I felt the joy myself. I danced. I played. I wasn’t afraid of mistakes. I felt I was the luckiest man on Earth to be able to share that special moment with my friends. And I truly enjoyed my performance, the chance to do it, and the room the song gave me (as the limited accordion player I am) to add some brightness to it!
I am forever grateful to La Banderville for that moment and I truly wish them many many years of success, because I believe they deserve it!
After that and after the show they went (triumphant as they were) to deal with the press. I spent some happy celebration time with the staff and friends at the dressing-room (huge sighs of relief all over) and then took off to catch a couple of gigs before I had to run to rehearse at Julieta’s.
Muna Zul and Klezmerson I caught bits of at my favorite Vive Latino spot: la carpa Intolerante. They were magical. Then I ran to make it to Francisca Valenzuela’s gig at the Red Stage, I had never seen her with a full band. Sound was crappy (as expected, I must confess), not her fault. She looked royal and miles tall and her voice was powerful and precise (even as low as they had her in the mix). Café Tacvba was represented (as non-official godfathers of this Vive apparently) here as well with performances by Meme and Quique (I love his bass sound so much)! It was a good show and then I got just the first taste of Le Butcherettes. I must say I admire that girl’s commanding presence and personality.
Rehearsal at Julieta’s was delightful. All the children of the choir sounded ready. The mood was relaxed and excited. It’s almost embarrassing to write, but honouring my teenage years and how much Julieta’s music meant to me then. It was more important than I can express, to be there, the opportunity, the surreal joy of being able to share my music with her and to share her music if even for just a moment… like that. I couldn’t wait for Sunday.
Sunday I wanted to get to the Vive real early and I didn’t want to miss Emilio Rodríguez (this child prodigy of the drums), Juan Pablo Villa (the best male Mexican singer bar none), Ventilader & Vicente Gayo (I’m DYING to see them live, BAD)… but, alas, as a guest to the main stage I didn’t own a ticket, I tried several times to contact Julieta’s production to ask if I could get my bracelet in advance so I could get there early but they never responded, so… I had to get there with Julieta’s production, when they got there, and that was around 3 o-clock. A tiny bummer, but that wasn’t all. Sadly, I must bring this up only because it’s a funny contrast with the first day. The first lovely experience. I couldn’t believe how a new band, managed by a young and less experienced staff (I’m talking about La Banderville) managed to treat all their guests so carefully, not as V.I.P.s or any of that snobby shit I don’t care about, but just as really important people, everyone. What I mean is: if you’re not important to the production, then they should say so, they shouldn’t invite you nor have you there. What’s the point? And please keep in mind. This is in NO way whatsoever directed towards Julieta who was nothing but sweetness and generousity, braveness and talent and openness… but, rather, towards some of the people in charge of her production who were hypocritically sorry to be rude to us but pretty much couldn’t care less. I know it’s a stressful situation. I know there are thousands of people to handle all the time. But shouln’t the real pros be better at it than the freshmen? I dunno.
What I’m talking about is this: we (the choir guests) were left stranded behind the stage, on the floor, underneath the sun, no place for us, not able to go in to the dressing room. And the only problem was, we had to wait there for the show to begin, under the hard sun, and today it was SCORCHING. And, did I mention the sun? All I’m saying is: La Banderville’s production managed to give us all: musicians, dancers, guests, all, the proper passes to a seat and a roof to wait. And Julieta Venegas’ production gave us half-hearted apologies and that’s that. It beats me. But I don’t want to sound sour nor ungrateful. I am fully aware of how it is and was a HUGE opportunity and adventure and moment and I am lucky and thankful and I wanted to give my best. So I was there, patiently, soaking up the sun (hello headache). And said nothing to Julieta, because I wanted to be the last one to spoil a second of it for her. I didn’t want to trouble her or stress her before her performance. But I kept it in, and I knew I was going to have to bring it out eventually. So here it is. I waited and waited. Until it was time for me to get changed into my costume and to join the rest of the choir. Now. I don’t really mind changing in front of everyone but I believe that it might make some people uncomfortable (or get me into trouble) so I approached the dressing room area and begged for a while until someone saw me and mercifully talked the security guy into letting me in for just a moment. And then I got ready.
I bumped into Ceci Bastida and asked if she had her soon-to-be-released CD with her, only because I can’t wait to hear it! She looked gorgeous and sexy as always and she said no. I was happy and able to give her a copy of Torreblanca’s EP, though.
I was terribly excited to see my friend Marian Ruzzi perform live with Julieta, I hadn’t been able to yet. She looked so big (as in brilliant and mature) and pretty and talented there! I was happy and proud.
The crowd was BIG! we’re talking about the main stage, and a full field of tens of thousands. But it was a heavy show, because some genius placed Julieta just before Panteón Rococó and obviously they share their fanbase absolutely… not. So the response was very divided.
Julieta performed like a warrior. Like a lioness ready to fight back hostility with love. And I was a bit saddened to see parts of the crowd react so poorly towards tenderness or vulnerability. Why is it so scary? Why is it so offensive to them? Why do they find sweetness so disgusting? Is it youth? Is it the political situation? Education? Is it just a matter of the Vive Latino maybe not being the best environment for someone like Julieta anymore? I don’t know…
Some technical problems made Julieta’s gig begin a little bit late, that rushed and stressed everyone, of course. That’s the downside to festivals! So when the choir’s moment came, they had forgotten to open up a space for us there, it had to be improvised, we had no microphones so Juan Martín (accordion, clarinet, flute, etc.) helped produce a couple of last-second mics (one for Carla Morrison and the other one for all the rest of us) and off we went into Revolución, a new song off Otra Cosa. The people’s response to the choir felt so strange, so mixed… I didn’t feel welcome as I had felt the day before. I really, really tried and just… gave myself to the melody.
When the bridge came we didn’t sing, that’s the way it worked, & I had worried that all that time doing nothing could make the choir look funny, frozen or it could make the kids nervous, so (during rehearsals) I came up with this idea of making flags, flags for us to raise in an innocently revolutionary way, flags depicting hearts… is there a better symbol for love? I don’t think so. And the song is a love-song after all, and, in that moment, it says:
vamos a incendiar al mundo con la convicción
de que sólo el amor puede hacernos mejor
mientras todo a nuestro alrededor se deshace
la fe en tu sonrisa me levantará, me levantará
So, regardless of the romantic aspects of the song, I connected to the fiery expression of a desperate need for love. The world is suffering and hurt by tragedies and wars of all kinds all over right now. We do need love. Period. We need to stick together and help each other. We need to fight fear and distrust with LOVE. I do believe that. I’m not perfect and I’m not always giving pure love, I’m no one to preach, I’m just human. But that topic is important. It’s neither easy nor corny to me. And translated to something visual, I really felt that the element of LOVE FLAGS would add something to the song. Well, the audience didn’t seem to agree with my idea. It was such a confusing and bittersweet moment! I held my big flag up, I told myself: don’t be ashamed! The girls looked so strong and beautiful holding their flags too! So… If we are trying to give out a message of love and it’s rejected, well, what else can we do!? A friend told me afterwards it looked a bit kindergarten-y and I doubted my idea, I thought “maybe it was a mistake” but… oh well… I saw it in pictures just a couple of minutes ago and I didn’t feel it looked that wrong. Lido Pimienta saw the pictures too and she told me: I don’t find it to be corny; I think that the way the hearts are painted says more than “I love you”, it says “my heart is in pieces… but I am trying to put them back together”.
I am too. But it’s scary when a huge crowd makes you feel like you should be ashamed to show people that you have a heart. It makes me feel like the Tin-Man in The Wizard of Oz.
So, anyway… the show ended and I said my goodbyes quickly, changed back into my normal guy’s clothes and took off to see Yann Tiersen at Mexico City’s Teatro de la Ciudad, but that’s another story too…
My final experience concerning 2010’s Vive Latino was a little bipolar. From the huge happiness of watching my friends get their first taste on a bigger success, to the more solemn and mindblowing opportunity and adventure of sharing a giant stage with one of my favorite artists ever… at this special time in her life when she’s expecting and entering a more mature stage in her life… a stage that might not be so compatible with the rabid, frantic, ska-loving, violent, young, young, young and restless stages of the Vive Latino.
I am left immensely thankful and… just… full… like after a dense, dense master-class. I have a lot to digest still… I feel older.