Latino Music's Many Styles Charge Austin's Pachanga Fest

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Pachanga Fest Latino Music Festival Feat. Los Lobos, Celso Piña, Intocable, 3BallMTY, y más Fiesta Gardens, Austin May 10 & 11, 2013

Since 2008, the annual, family-friendly Pachanga Fest Latino Music Festival has showcased the vibrant blend of Latino-created music and art and its impact on American culture. That includes rock, alternative, Tejano, mariachi, cumbia, salsa, electronic, funk, hip-hop, and their many blends and mash-ups. A portion of the proceeds benefited FuturoFund, a collective effort to engage the Austin community through philanthropy and leadership.

My journey to this year's festival was long and wet. What normally takes a bit over two hours took almost four due to traffic and a string of strong thunderstorms that blew over Texas that day. The show was postponed for about an hour on Friday night due to the heavy rains, which made for an interesting and very fun dance party under the covered pavilion near the main stage as the show continued with a strong performance by DJ trio 3BallMTY.

DJs Sheeqo Beat, Otto, and Erick Rincon lead the electronic tribal dance revolution that has overtaken the airwaves in Mexico and the dance floors of the Southwestern United States. Their mix of pre-Columbian sounds, techno, and cumbia is as catchy and fascinating as it is a workout to dance to. The audience, soaked but happy, danced and sang along as the group's dancers did the same.

The Tejano group Intocable closed out the night with a smooth and confident performance of norteño and conjunto ballads that has kept them at the top of the Tejano game for almost 20 years. I found myself singing along to "Eres Mi Droga," "Y Todo Para Que?" and "No Te Vayas," songs that I haven't heard in over a decade, but that I hold in my heart as some of the best Tejano music I've ever had the pleasure to experience.

After a good night's rest and a much-deserved brunch consisting of tamales and enchiladas, I made my way back to Fiesta Gardens on Saturday, which proved to be one of those rare, pleasantly gorgeous spring afternoons in Texas devoid of humidity and mosquitos. The cool breeze and the sunshine put a smile on every festival attendee's face as the crowd enjoyed music from one of the four stages and consumed treats from one of the many food trucks parked inside the venue.

My first act of the day was a tejano gentleman named Leonardo Jimenez, known the world over as "Flaco." His set was a perfect mix of his father Santiago's classics such as "Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio" and "Viva Seguin," tributes to his departed friends and Texas Tornados bandmates Freddy Fender and Doug Sahm, and his newer hits from the albums Sleepy Town (2000) and Squeeze Box King (2003). One of my favorite verses from "En El Cielo No Hay Cerveza" goes like this:

In Heaven, there is no beer.

That's why we drink it here.

And when I'm gone from here,

All my friends will be drinking all the beer!

Let it be known that my desire is for that verse to be etched into my tombstone.

The highlights of his set were indeed his covers of Tornados favorites "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights," "Who Were You Thinking Of?", and "Hey Baby, Que Paso?" The crowd -- young and old, tejano and gringo -- danced and sang along to the living legend's timeless music and mastery of the accordion.

I ventured over to the Patio Stage (sponsored by Red Bull Panamerika) to see the electro hip-hop/pop duo Raul y Mexia. These MCs from the Bay Area chose to follow in the family business, despite their fathers' protest. Their fathers are members of Mexican supergroup Los Tigres del Norte, which carries an enormous weight to succeed, but one that they are carrying gracefully.

After receiving an advanced copy of their debut Arriba Y Lejos (Nacional Records), I was ready to see them live, and they did not disappoint. Mexia drops his Spanglish rhymes as Raul sings the hook in a wonderfully dynamic performance. Their single "Solo Para Ti" is by far my favorite.

Another Mexican duo that has has been catapulted to fame through their YouTube videos is Los Master Plus from Guadalajara, Mexico. Their motto is "chavas, cheves, y chivas," aka lovely ladies, la cerveza, and their hometown futbol team. Group member's Larry Mon and El Comanche are self described "jefes del vacilon," or kings of the party.

And a party it certainly was. Their signature style is to cover a popular dance, rap, or pop song and turn it into an electro-cumbia as they translate the lyrics into Spanish; MTV has dubbed their style "Cumbiatronica," and it works brilliantly. Their covers include "Una Vez Mas," inspired by Daft Punk's "One More Time"; "El Gran Vacilon," which covers "Tha Next Episode" by Dr. Dre; their Kings of Leon tribute "Sexo En Fuego," and "Mami," the Spanish version of Gwen Stafani's "Don't Speak." Suena, que suena, que suenaaaaa!

The night closed with a trio of greatness, starting with one of the hardest working bands in Texas, Grupo Fantasma. For almost 13 years, this band has contributed horn-fueled musica that has delighted every fan in earshot of their energetic show.

The Grammy-winning band showcased their cumbia, salsa, and rock repertoire as the sun set on the Hierba Stage. Their soon-to-be-released new album was produced by Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, who stood to the side of the stage grooving to Grupo's incredible set, which attracted the largest crowd of the whole festival.

Next up was the one and only living legend master of the cumbia y accordion, Mr. Celso Piña. I'm not sure what I expected him to look like (I've never seen his photo, just heard his music), but in my opinion he was severely underdressed. But what he lacked in flashy style, he made up for with his rapid-fire delivery of cumbia colombiana and vallenato.

In case you weren't dancing before, it only took a few notes of "La Cumbia Sampuesana" to get you to move like a cumbia-possessed crazy person. Celso's MC was doubly hilarious, both introducing the accordion virtuoso and adding the "Desde Montrerrey" and "A-yea yea yea yea" ad-libs peppered into each track. El Rebelde de La Accordion is a treasure that you should check out as soon as possible.

Of course, the highlight of the festival was the headlining set by a little band from East Los Angeles named Los Lobos. The rain cancelled their set at iFest a few weeks ago in Houston, and I was worried the same would be true in Austin after Friday's thundershowers. But a perfect Saturday afternoon lead into a perfect and pleasant evening that Los Lobos kicked off with a set full of their many hits and special guests.

Early in the set, they offered a classic from the La Bamba soundtrack with "Come On, Let's Go". With so many singles and albums to choose from, and so little time, I was ready to be disappointed if they did not play my favorite track, their cover of the old bolero "Sabor A Mi". As a turned away from the stage to go grab my last beer of the night, there it was: the first four notes from Cesar Rosas' acoustic guitar and his voice weeping the words "tanto tiempo disfrutamos este amor..."

Later in the set, they invited Flaco Jimenez back to the stage to again sing "Wasted Days And Wasted Nights," and later Rick Treviño joined them to pay tribute to the late George Jones. The blues-rock notes of "Evangeline" sounded amazing, as did "La Pistola Y El Corazon."

They ended the night and the festival with a medley of "La Bamba" and "Good Lovin' ". Los Lobos are arguably the best band in the world, and catching them in Austin at Pachanga Fest was the perfect scenario for such an exceptional group of musicians.

I'm already excited for the next Pachanga!

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