We asked Pablo De Vera, the front man for the much-lauded veteran Latin rock act Espantapajaros, if Rock en Español is a hard sell in Houston. After all, there have been some big festival opportunities so far in 2017 (Super Bowl LIVE; Houston Whatever Fest; the recently announced Free Press Summer Fest) and bands of this genre seem to have been overlooked.
“As numbers show, with Houston’s large Latino population, it should be easier to sell. I think that the population still sees us as foreigners, even though Espantapajaros have played in Houston for ten years. When am I gonna get my badge?!” De Vera laughs.
He says some stalwart Latin rock acts here have played Houston music fests like Madness on Main and the East End Street Festival. But for the last several years, one festival that has showcased several of these bands: SUR FEST, the event De Vera founded, which returns for a fifth installment this Saturday at the Alley Kat Bar & Lounge.
“SUR FEST began as a regular show at the now-defunct Mango’s in 2012," says De Vera, who is more commonly known as Pablo Espantapajaros among music locals. "I noticed that the bands I booked were friends and expats. So, a few days before the show, I came up with the idea of branding it as SUR FEST. For years, I had wanted to do something to grow the scene due to the influence of Lupe Olivarez, who’s been the creator of many festivals within the Houston Latino community.”
“The festival has grown every year,” he continues. “We started very small with three bands in front of no more than 50 people at Mango’s. Every year we have doubled the number of bands and the audience. This year, we are having over 20 rock bands plus several folk acts and other artists presenting music from all over the world.”
De Vera gave us the rundown on some locals SUR FEST V goers shouldn’t miss.
“La Sien always does a great job in every aspect — this will be their first show of the year so it will set the pace of what their shows throughout the year will be like. Elyze is poised to grow a lot this year as (vocalist/songwriter) Elton (Salazar) seems to be inspired after his travels to Peru and more and more people seem to be singing along with each show.
“Espantapajaros has some surprises up our sleeves and we’re working on a new record. Lupe Olivarez is the godfather of us all. He celebrated a reunion with his legendary band, The Basics, so it is exciting to see how BombaChica will be reinvigorated after that event.”
De Vera says at least ten different Latin American countries will be represented at SUR FEST. One of the more intriguing is Monoceja, “from Colombia by way of Austin,” he notes. The band features the renowned Texas singer-songwriter Arthur Yoria.
“They released an awesome video and single last summer and we can’t wait for their set at the festival to see what may be coming from them in the future,” De Vera says.
One of the more exciting aspects of the festival was last year’s addition of the “Cultural Stage,” a second stage focused on "folklore and traditional music that perhaps doesn’t fall under the Rock en Español umbrella,” De Vera says.
Some of the finds on that stage, he said, include Argentine tango with Gonzalo Andre, including a dance exhibition. Peruvian folk music will be represented by artist Enrique Infante. The cultural stage will close with Uruguayan candombe from El Chaman del Freeway, “which is sure to get people dancing,” De Vera promises. Nico Diaz will be performing trova music, which De Vera describes as “more introspective and socially charged.”
SUR FEST a nice vehicle for those with adventurous musical palates. But there’s something for listeners craving more familiar tastes, De Vera says, including cumbia with Los Guerreros De La Musica and Tejano Gulf Coast music from Mas Pulpo.
“We are also going to have a poetry reading and photo expo in the festival. We wanted to add as much Latin culture as possible, besides music.”
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That’s an objective that is close to De Vera’s heart, both as an artist who has been playing in bands since he was 15 and as an Argentinian living in Houston. The growth in interest and activity surrounding the fest has been good, he says, but with the demand for more comes the growing pains successful fests face. He said he is actively looking for event sponsors for next year’s gathering.
As they continue to play, there might soon be a place for these acts on FPSF or HWF stages; but, in De Vera’s opinion, the best place to be introduced to them is at the annual festival he pulls together.
“Well, SUR FEST wants to show that there is a community of musicians that has a lot of ex-patriates and locals playing music on a daily basis,” he says. “I think SUR FEST is the right way to get into the Latin music scene. You are going to have the Rock en Español bands and the cultural stage showcasing traditional music in one place at the same time, bringing the good vibes of our community, celebrating our input to our city that is Houston. It’s going to be a fun, busy day! One act every 15 minutes will be a crazy ride!”
SUR FEST V happens Saturday, February 25 at Alley Kat Bar & Lounge, 3718 Main. Doors at 2:30 p.m.; music begins at 5. Tickets are $15 and available through Eventbrite.