Last weekend (March 17-18) was the Vive Latino Music Festival in Mexico City. Every spring, international and Mexican bands take the stage at Foro Sol, a massive outdoor venue that hosts the biggest rock shows in Mexico and doubles as a baseball stadium and racetrack.
This year, like most years, it was mostly rock en español with outliers like electronic music and rap, along with some famous foreign groups. The headliners on Saturday were two of Mexico’s biggest bands, Panteon Rococo and Molotov, and on Sunday Queens of the Stone Age and Gorrilaz.
I went with my wife and some friends on the first day, Saturday. Unlike other years, when we’d see a few bands on side stages and then spend the rest of the night watching the main stage, this year we wandered around catching music on several of the five stages. It was a hell of a lot of fun with a few pleasant surprises.
The first surprise wasn’t pleasant at first, but turned out to be a good idea. The beer and food vendors (and presumably t-shirt vendors too) accepted no cash. You had to get a wristband and add money to it at a booth. The vendors would scan it with their cell phones so you could pay for your beer or hot dog.
The problem was that when we entered Foro Sol sometime around 4 PM, there were no more wristbands. I had disturbing visions of spending the whole day with no food or drink. As we walked the grounds outside the huge bleachers of the main stage, I saw many other people trying to buy beers and hearing the same explanation. You need a wristband to buy it. No, I don’t know where the wristbands are.
Thankfully it didn’t take long to find a recharge station that had wristbands. As the night went on, I became a believer. You didn’t have to deal with change or tipping, and at the end getting a refund for the leftover money was fast and easy. I’ll admit that I felt like I was in a Black Mirror episode at times: the cell phone glowing over my hand, light reflecting off the piece of plastic tied to my wrist, and then the new lower number on the screen, counting down to zero. This one had a happy ending, though, a fresh beer every time.
Of course, the obvious reason for the wristband was that the workers wouldn’t be skimming money all weekend, and in that regard I’m sure it was a success.
After the wristband adventure and getting some food, we watched Pate de Fua first. This Mexican group plays a bouncy mix of jazz, tango, and rock. They’re good, but they were much better when I saw them from about 20 feet away at a much smaller music festival in Metepec near where I live.
Then we went to the main stage and watched a cover band with a symphony orchestra doing famous rock en español as the sun went down. We couldn’t really hear the instruments from the orchestra, but it was nice to sit up in the bleachers with a wide view of the huge stage, where I’ve seen many shows over the years, among them the Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Metallica, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and other Vive Latinos.
After that we headed over to a distant side stage to watch Venezuelan band Los Amigos Invisibles. I’d seen them years ago at the Cumbre Tajin Festival in Veracruz and knew that they put on a funky dance party. We got there before they started playing and the grounds were already packed. We made it as far up as the soundbooth. Unfortunately the volume was too low — in order to appreciate their music it needs to be loud and thumping, at least the bass and drums. Oh well, at least my wife got to hear their hit “Mentiras.”
Leaving Los Amigos Inivisibles, we cut in front of the main stage and were treated to our second surprise — Morrissey. Now, I couldn’t name one Morrissey song, and a band I wanted to see (that we were on our way to see) was happening at the same time. But on the way we stopped for a beer and listened for a while. It sounded good, kind of what you’d expect from a Morrissey concert if you had no idea what to expect, but in a good way: moody music and wailing voices, a big beautiful sound rising up from the stage. I even recognized a song. So, yes Morrissey, if you’re ever on the lineup of another music festival I’m at, I’ll give you my full attention.
No meat was cooked or served during Morrissey’s set, a condition he regularly imposes due to his staunch veganism. In fact, he cancelled his set during the 2013 Vive Latino because he smelled meat from the stage. Now he was back and ready to redeem himself, meat clause in the contract and all.
Here’s the sign outside the chorizo tent explaining that “the sale of products of animal origin will be suspended between 19:00 and 22:00. This is to not affect the participation of some of the artists in the festival:”
After Morrissey we went back to the Escena Indio stage where we’d seen Pate de Fua earlier. With at least 30 minutes until Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, there was still plenty of space up front. So after a beer recharge (we were wristband experts by now), we went up close to wait out all the pushing and shoving until the show.
Simply put, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds was awesome. It was a high energy, rocking show with tight music and larger-than-life hooks. Out of 15 songs, they played six Oasis songs (“Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” being the biggest) and closed with a sing-along cover of “All You Need is Love.” I can’t claim to be the world’s biggest Oasis fan, although I had their first album on repeat back in the day. I knew none of the new originals. But it didn’t matter — the songs were good enough that you didn’t need to recognize them to enjoy them. We were close enough to see the band clearly, at least when everyone wasn’t holding their cell phones up over their heads blocking the view of everyone behind them. Anyway, this was a minor annoyance compared to all the drunks singing along with songs they didn’t actually know the lyrics to, mumbling out the English words at maximum volume: Blah blah blahblur-WALL!
Mexican ska/rock/funk band Panteon Rococo had already started on the main stage when the last notes of “All You Need is Love” rang across the crowded field. We found seats halfway back in the bleachers and caught the second half of the show.
Panteon Rococo is easily my favorite popular band in Mexico and I’d seen them a few times already, both at music festivals and smaller theaters. They’re fantastic live. “La Dosis Perfecta,” one of their best songs, gets stretched out with a long reggae intro.
Unfortunately, their show suffered from the same problem as Los Amigos Invisibles: not loud enough. Why?
The performance was good but needed to be cranked up one more notch, maybe not to 11 but at least to get the ears vibrating. Because of this, when they finished we wove our way across the bleachers to get closer for Molotov, a super popular Mexican rap/punk/etc. band that I’d never yet seen in concert, a glaring omission in my Mexican live music experience.
I’ll give it to you straight — we got a little bored during Molotov. Yes, we got to hear their classic songs that mix Spanish and English, songs I play on guitar with Mexican friends at parties, like “Frijolero” and “Gimme the Power.” They played a cover of the Misfits song “I Turned into a Martian,” translated to Spanish, so it was “me convierte en marciano.” The recorded version is a departure from the original, but live it was sufficiently fast and rowdy to surely earn Danzig’s grudging approval. The stage lit up with the colors of the Mexican flag during “Frijolero:”
But maybe, just maybe, punk rock isn’t made to be heard in a huge outdoor arena with 80,000 other fans. I’m sure it was exciting on the floor up front, but from high in the bleachers, we just weren’t feeling it.
So it was back to the nearby Escena Indio stage to be surprised again. It was well after midnight and no band was playing yet. We walked right up to the stage, where a few people were lingering.
Suddenly the lights shone bright and the speakers blared loud with frantic techno sounds that weren’t quite dance music, more like organized noise and craziness. But it sounded good. The members switched instruments, left the stage and returned. For a while there were only four of them, one on drums (which sounded nothing like drums, but triggered programmed effects) and the other three on keyboards, sometimes picking up a bass or guitar.
This was Titán, a Mexican electronic group formed all the way back in 1992 that, coincidentally, includes a former member of Molotov. I’d never heard of them before and I won’t miss them again. The field was totally full by the end, with stoners bobbing heads, drunks stumbling, and couples fighting.
So, another year, another Vive Latino. Even though the two bands I was most excited to see, Panteon Rococo and Los Amigos Invisibles, were way too quiet, other shows were unexpectedly fun. For me, the highlight and biggest surprise was Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, the only full show we saw, and from up close too. There were more surprises with Morrissey sounding excellent and the final head-trip of Titán. Good times had by all, I’m sure.
Next up in Mexico City in April: David Byrne and then LCD Soundsystem. See you there?
I’ve been an English teacher for more than 15 years now, in three different countries and in all kinds of situations: university, high school, general ESL schools, conversation clubs, meeting rooms in factories, people’s homes, even at a kindergarten in South Korea, which was my first teaching job.
What began as a means to adventure and living abroad has become my career. But it’s more than a career; it’s still a means to adventure and living abroad, and it’s also opened other opportunities, such as translating.
I’ve learned a lot, from teacher training courses and especially experience, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. These experiences (including mistakes) informed my newest article for Transitions Abroad: the Guide to Teaching English as a Second Language Abroad. Please click the link for the article.
International ESL teaching is a profession that’s not going anywhere, and it’s a great opportunity for anyone who likes working with people and wants to see the world. Whether you are an aspiring teacher or are teaching already, I hope you can gain some insight from the article. I welcome questions and different opinions in the comments.
Jambands in the Yucatan, 2018 edition
A year ago I wrote about something really cool: U.S. bands putting on multi-day concerts at resorts in the Mayan Riviera.
With support acts and a beautiful natural setting, these shows have a lot in common with U.S. music festivals. In fact, many of the bands are festival mainstays, especially jamband festivals. Time-tested road warriors like Widespread Panic and My Morning Jacket are known for long, multi-set, dynamic concerts with unique setlists, making them perfect for both festivals and destination events.
The big difference, of course, is that at a resort you won’t be sweating like crazy in a stuffy tent full of your drunken friends, lining up for filthy porta-potties, or surviving on veggie burritos and lukewarm beer.
Instead, you’ll stay at a sprawling, super-luxury complex with all the food and drinks you want, on a private white-sand beach and the stage a short walk from your hotel room, if not within view of the balcony.
Hell yeah. Sounds awesome. Ok, I’ll admit, I’ve ever been to one, at least not yet. Well, not through the front door, hahaha. (That’s another story.)
These shows aren’t cheap, that’s for sure. If you look at the Facebook pages for these events, you’ll see plenty of complains, mostly about price. The fact is that these resorts cost a lot anyway, any time of year, even without a great band playing. But there’s no denying that they are expensive. For instance, my wife and I saw five shows of Phish’s Baker’s Dozen last summer, staying in New York for a full week. Our modest but nice hotel was a short walk from Madison Square Garden. Even with all the restaurants and bars we patronized, it was still cheaper than the three-day Phish event at the Mayan Riviera. (Which would have felt even more expensive to me, because I typically stay at small hotels in nearby Playa del Carmen for about $20 USD a night.)
On the other hand, if you really love music and have the money, what could be better than watching your favorite band while standing in powder-soft sand with gentle lukewarm waves lapping at your ankles?
This year, 2018, January and February will be busy months. The events are at either the Hard Rock Resort (not the restaurant in the hotel zone in Cancun) or put on by CID Presents at the Barceló. Both resorts are between Playa del Carmen and Tulum on the Mayan Riviera, an hour or two south of Cancun.
I’ve listed the shows below, although for general interest more than anything else, considering that most of them are sold out already. So if your favorite is sold out, check out the photos, prices and all other info, and start planning for next year.
If you’re going to one of these shows and want some tips about the area, check out the article I wrote last year. I give some advice about getting out of the resort and checking out the fascinating and gorgeous surrounding areas, which have secluded beaches, Mayan ruins, colonial towns, and clear-water limestone sinkholes called cenotes.
Or (shameless plug), you could buy my guidebook, the Cancun and Mayan Riviera 5-Day Itinerary, written for the independent traveler who likes the beach but also wants some culture:
I’ll be happy to answer any questions in the comments, however.
Here’s the list for 2018:
January 12-14, 2018
Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds
Dave and Tim come up first in early January.
January 17-20, 2018
Crash My Playa: Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Sam Hunt, many more
Sure, country isn’t a jamband, but this 4-day event deserves mention.
January 26-30, 2018
Panic en la Playa: Widespread Panic, with various jamband supergroups
This is the seventh edition of WSP’s big party. Unknown in Mexico, Widespread Panic was one of my favorite bands in the ‘90s, and they’re still going strong.
(Side note: Beach Vibes with LCD Soundsystem was originally announced for these dates, but it was cancelled last summer.)
January 31-February 4, 2018
The Avett Brothers at the Beach: The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, John Prine, more
Look no further for than this for some excellent U.S. roots rock, including legendary John Prine.
February 15-19, 2018
Playing in the Sand: Dead & Company, Michael Franti & Spearhead, more
Last year the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, along with the String Cheese Incident, hosted Los Muertos Con Queso. This year they return in a different format: their collaboration with John Mayer (among others) in Dead & Company.
March 2-6, 2018
One Big Holiday (Dominican Republic)
My Morning Jacket, Portugal the Man, Broken Social Scene, Toots & the Maytals, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, more
Although this took place in the Mayan Riviera last year, in 2018 it’s in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Nice place I’m sure.
Finally, if you’re into classic rock, check later for Rock Getaway, which happened on October 26-29 in 2017 with Santana and many more. There’s no announcement yet for 2018 dates, but the website is up and ready.
Thanks for reading, and if you’re going to any of these, I would love to hear from you.