Bethel New York, the actual site of the Woodstock Arts and Music Festival is 4205 kilometers and 50 years from Ajijic Mexico today, but none of that mattered to the crowd at Bar El Camaleón Saturday and Sunday nights. The iconic watering hole at the corner of Calle Constitución and Calle Corona. Although posters all over town said the party would begin at 4 pm – which to most people meant 5:30 or 6 p.m., the Camaleón began filling up around 3 in the afternoon. Being a local “Cheers” bar, Bar El Camaleón saw many of its chairs and stools occupied by regulars, but not all. Several groups were there specifically for the Woodstock 50th anniversary party and had the tie-dye to prove it.
By 5 pm it was close to standing room only in the lower levels and the upstairs veranda and mirador tables were filled and the grill fired up with bratwurst. People told an interviewer that they came to the bar because of the Woodstock celebration, because they loved the music of the 60” and because they wanted to dance (see interviews at https://youtu.be/EkiyDEJgV_s). There was a lot of tie-dye, headbands, peace necklaces, and shits opposing the war in Vietnam. The audience was largely ex-pats but not completely as Mexican locals slid into some of the barstools and floor tables, ready to rock.
The rocking started around 6 pm with Daniel Cordero, a multi-instrumentalist from Michoacán. Cordero could not bring his band with him but he brought a memory board full of 60’s song accompaniments that he was able to blend in with his gravel-pitched voice, serious guitar chops and harmonica. He also brought stage lights, mixers, and other gear, requiring multiple trips from his van into the bar. He also served as his own light and sound roadie, setting up a very sophisticated system for his act and those of the other bands. Once he had the gear in place, a sound engineer took over, controlling the system quite nicely from his iPad.
Cordero took us through Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe and the Fish, Richie Havens and many others. He blew everyone away with his version of Any Day Now, written in 1961 by Burt Bacharach and Robert Hillard, made famous by Chuck Jackson and covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to The Weeping Willows. Things really got moving when he pulled out his harmonica and launched into a high-energy Take a Load Off Annie/Fanny. The dance floor filled up and never calmed down. He had hit his stride and the crowd’s dance nerve. The party was on.
Cordero continued to work through the sixties, seeming to never get tired although he had been on stage for almost 2 hours. Part of his energy came from the fun he was having, evidenced by the broad smile on his face when he played and talked between songs, and from an adoring crowd that danced as long as he kept playing.
Next up after a break was Los Tres Mosqueteros, a rock trio made up of locals Paco Casas on electric guitar and vocals, Sergio Casas on bass, and Chelo González on drums. Paco is a first-class guitarist and had tuned his Fender to the 60’s sound before he launched into Creedence Clearwater Revival – known in Mexico as “Los Creedence”– singing Born on a Bayou. That pulled even more people out of their seats and onto the dancefloor. Los Tres Mosqueteros got it pretty close to the original; they couldn’t duplicate the depth of Los Creedence because they had fewer band members, but Paco’s guitar came close and Chelo kept the beat moving perfectly with nice, sharp snare hits and an addictive kickdrum.
Paco really upped the energy with his version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ 1956 song I Put a Spell On You. The Mosqueteros did not try to duplicate the original (no one can – Hawkins confessed he was drunk when he recorded it and was not sure he could do it again), but stuck closer to the 1969 Creedence cover, including the guitar feedback John Fogerty created by playing his electric into the speaker.
The band took a break while the microphones got rearranged. Everyone had another beer or tequila (at one point very good mezcal samples were served) and folks headed upstairs to the grill for seconds on the bratwurst. The night was getting on but no one looked tired. Even Cordero, who had jumped onto the dance floor himself, was full of energy, talking to fans and even signing a poster.
The third band up for the night was the Los Bad Hombres, a misnomer at least as far as their talent was concerned. Comprised of Esteban Olvera, Kevin, Diego Casas, Ameyalli, and Faridbak on vocals, LBH is no stranger to Bar El Camaleón or many other venues in the Ajijic area. Faridbak even brings a warm vintage condenser microphone with him to give his great voice even more depth and tone. The party continued on with them and reportedly way past the end of their set, going until 6:30 in the morning according to one bartender the next day.
The party started again Sunday night, although subdued, with Daniel Cordero playing solo to a smaller but equally happy crowd. Faridbak was there from Los Bad Hombres, but did not sing without the rest of the band. Cordero wrapped up and joined a crowd in the bar celebrating a successful Woodstock 50th Anniversary at Bar El Camaleón with music, beer, and bratwurst.
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