Vive Latino, Mexico’s Biggest Rock Festival (2012)
Huge spotlight beams shoot into the air. The small square platform in the center of the outdoor stadium lights up and begins to rise.
Earlier in the day the strange structure draped in black looked like part of the sound booth. But now four tiny figures squeeze in there together, two with guitars and one behind a keyboard on a stand.
From up in the bleachers I see a sea of 70,000+ fans turn all at once to the exact center of the stadium. The crowd surges forward as the keyboardist strikes the opening chords of El Baile y El Salon.
This is Café Tacuba, one of the most popular rock bands in Mexico. Since 1998 the biggest names in Latin rock have played the Vive Latino Festival in Mexico City every spring, as well as more and more Western groups. Other acts in 2012, the 13th installment of the yearly festival, included Mexican rap-rock rebels Molotov and Fatboy Slim.
The site, Foro Sol, is a baseball stadium surrounded by a racetrack. Huge speakers and Indio beer advertisements dwarf 10-or-more-piece bands on the main stage. Three side stages are arranged on the grounds outside, where you can sit on the lawn or push your way inside a sweaty tent.
Tickets are affordable at around 40 dollars per day. Big 24 ounce beers cost five dollars. Then as you leave the stadium you can buy all kinds of bootleg merchandise – t-shirts, posters, and shot glasses – for just a couple bucks.
Out on the track are t-shirt vendors, smaller stages, autograph signings, CD exhibits and hordes of smiling people. Surprisingly, there isn’t much for food – no tacos or antojitos mexicanos, little tortilla-based snacks with lots of cheese and sour cream. But beer is plentiful. In exchange for something like ten empty cups, fans are given free compilation CDs, so plenty of drunken folks stumble around carrying long stacks of them.
Most fans are jeans and baseball-hat wearing everyday folks, weekend warriors who don’t mind pounding big beers and raising a fist to some good ol’ rock and roll.
Rock rules at Vive Latino. Rockers proudly strut through the crowd – black clothes, ripped jeans, patches on jackets and hats, and straight black hair hanging in the face.
The festival is so rock-oriented that reggaeton/rap/fusion artists Calle 13 were even booed off the stage in 2007, although they have since become widely accepted in the world of Latin popular music by collaborating with Café Tacuba on the huge hit No Hay Nadie Como Tu.
In the dry heat of early afternoon, the stadium floor before the main stage is full but not yet oppressively crowded. People up front jump and mosh to Argentinean ska/fusion group Los Caligaris. Farther back near the sound booth, fans pull up black cloth tarps, using them to launch each other high into the air. Other folks wave long neon balloons, clapping and singing along.
Before sundown I move high up in the bleachers, first to see Foster the People and then Kasabian. The sun sets and Foster the People brings out a mariachi band for their final song, the big hit Pumped Up Kicks. This extended version includes electronic touches and big cheers from the rowdy audience.
After Kasabian, anticipation grows for the closing act. The sky is darker, the floodlights are brighter, the fans drunker and their smiles bigger. The air gets a little chilly and a never-ending army of vendors sling beer and small cardboard boxes of Domino’s Pizza.
Hometown heroes and Saturday night’s closers Café Tacuba changed Mexican music forever with their self-titled debut album in 1992. Later releases saw them expand their style from alternative rock to a mix of genres including hip-hop and boleros.
Café Tacuba plays four or five songs on the little stage in the center before running like wrestlers up a fenced-off path though the crowd to the main stage, where they join their drummer (still an “unofficial” member) and take up electric instruments. At times it seems like the whole crowd is singing along, so many people all in unison on the clear spring night.
Traffic is a nightmare, dehydration abounds, and the lineup is full of bands most gringo native sons will have never heard of, but Vive Latino offers a peek into the universe of popular music in Spanish, a great mass of bands and styles kept from fame in the English-speaking world by little more than a language barrier.