In February, Pachanga organizer Rich Garza revealed plans to stage the local Latino Music Festival in a single day at Fiesta Gardens rather than over an entire weekend there. Saturday, its seventh iteration prompted a younger/browner/larger turnout. Successful in numbers, its satisfaction index as a half-dose became obvious at night’s end.
The tropical tattoo of a Brazilian drum corps, Maracatu Austin, welcomed me into the gorgeous waterfront footprint of East Austin’s Fiesta Gardens, but a faster rhythm awaited on the Patio stage where Puerto Rican garage rockers A.J. Davila y Terror Amor matched the midday sun in sheer heat for a small crowd. Their synth blasts stood in distinct contrast to the lo-fi pretentiousness of the American garage milieu, but landed soundly in the alt-Latin workings of Pachanga's bill.
Brown Sabbath, an inspired Black Sabbath tribute from local Grupo Fantasma offshoot Brownout, followed on the larger Hierba stage. Opening with “The Wizard,” they proved congas, horns, and Latin flourishes an acceptable improvement to the metal godfather’s psychedelic doom. Alex Marrero as Ozzy Osbourne brought a ballsy stage presence, his costume changes culminating in an excessively fringed shirt and tuneful vox shining brightest on an epic version of “Snowblind.”
Across the grassy park, another Austin band, Robert Rodriquez affiliates Del Castillo, fired flamenco riffage atop the Pavilion mainstage – a spot that became increasingly alluring in the blazing heat.
Monterrey, Mexico, MC Niña Dioz drew a large crowd to Pachanga’s smallest stage with her hard-rhyming electro cumbia. Though the tattooed rapper’s flow came off somewhat unsophisticated, her Spanish language hip-hop was nonetheless well received. Dioz’ mere presence demonstrated Pachanga 2014’s younger, hipper interests, weighing heavily on youthful innovators instead of the legends class seen last year in Celso Pina, Los Lobos, and Flaco Jimenez.
“Music makes people come together no matter what the language or the culture,” observed Dioz.
Black-clad Venezuelan dance rockers La Vida Boheme brought tremendous energy to their evening set, during which singer Henry D’Arthenay’s David Byrne-like vocals soared over smooth guitar textures and pulsing beats. After closing with the catchy “Danz,” featuring the set’s only English language hook (“dance around, dance around”), fans chanted “Otra! Otra!” until the group returned for an encore.
Guatemalan songbird Gaby Moreno, boasting a stunning voice and rockist band that included local David Garza (see photo gallery), wasn’t so lucky in extending her set. When her audience chanted for an encore, she looked to the stage manager and announced with regret, “Sorry, we don’t have any time left.”
The relentless flow of worldly music continued with Chicha Libre, who elicited more dancing than any of the day’s performers. Chalk that up to their dubbed out Andean groove, imbued with accordion, variant percussion, and upright bass. The crowd’s Bud Light and Imperial Cervesa buzz fully kicking in helped as well. Either way, not a single pair of feet stayed still as the Brooklyn sextet closed with a splendid world-beat take on the Clash’s eternal “Guns of Brixton.”
The magnitude of Pachanga’s attendance wasn’t evident until Monterrey, Mexico, mainstays El Gran Silencio centralized the festival’s audience, packing out the Hierba stage. The veteran group, which mixes rap, ska, and Latin dance into a combustible cocktail, proved that although many Anglo music heads may hardly recognize their name, they’re a major draw in Austin. Hundreds of fans knew every word to their songs and were spirited enough to sing along while pumping clenched fists in the air.
In basketball jerseys and dreadlocks – with their concertina player sporting the unique look of not one but two bandanas on his head – they inspired rowdiness amongst listeners and left nothing but sweat onstage. When singer Cano Hernandez spit his last tongue-twisting rhyme and the band left, more chants of “Otra, otra!” prompted another encore, a rare occurrence given Pachanga’s tight scheduling.
Rivaling the large audience that gathered for El Gran Silencio, eager fans packed Fiesta Garden’s pavilion to glimpse Latin Grammy magnet Julieta Venegas, who disappointed no one with her beautifully rich voice and artful approach to pop songwriting. While the previous headliners had conveyed rebellion and jubilation, the accordion-playing Venegas, backed by a deft quartet, only transmitted love. The appreciation was evident in the eyes of her fans, which remained glued to the stage throughout the singer’s captivating performance.
And then it was over. I would’ve been up for another day – a Sunday encore, if you will – but you won’t hear me chanting “Otra! Otra!” In music, there’s always something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more.
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