The summer festival scene is upon us. In a past column I ran down the scheduled festivals and those that have been cancelled by Covid. I am still worried about BA5 variant of Covid which is spreading rapidly through the US, and in Los Angeles where I will be next week and hopefully where I am going to hear some music. Fingers crossed and mask on.
Here in Ajijic, the Lake Chapala Society launched its Summer Music Festival events with an all-rock, mostly covers, Saturday afternoon with two local bands, Gargamel and Traficantes. The Festival del Lago classic music festival has been underway at the Music House, a large private residence set up as a concert hall. More about that in a later column.
This is the tourist season, so the clubs and music venues are filled not only with regulars and the legions of local jazz fans, but with tapatios – well-heeled tourists from Guadalajara who come to Ajijic for the cool lake breezes, the hot night life, and the low prices. We love them – mostly.
We are also getting a bumper crop of tourists from the USA, Canada, even Europe, who come on the easy direct flights to Guadalajara because we are a Pueblo Magico – a Magic Village – and they want some of the magic to rub off in the form of art (we are a major center for artists in Mexico), great climate, great food, and music. We love them too, unless they try to buy property and shove out local residents.
But both groups’ music tastes run toward US rock and roll covers, and the many talented local bands are very good at giving their audiences what they want.
So, LCS’s music festival featured two Mexican R&R cover (mostly) bands. Gargamel was strictly covers, which they delivered with very tight musicianship, matching their all black uniforms. Their delivery was much too formal, practiced, rehearsed and un-Mexican for my taste, but a lot of festival goers were dancing, seemingly having much more fun than the band.
Traficantes (full name is Traficantes Del Ritmo – Dealers in Rhythm, not to be confused with the Texas band of the same name) was another story. Fronted by the ever-enthusiastic and diversely talented Adam Elmo Lorenzo backed by the very talented foursome of Sergio Casas on bass, Chelo Gonzéles on drums and a new player to me, Javier Polanco on lead guitar.
The afternoon belonged to Elmo. My usual context for Elmo is singing show tunes and, jazz standards and love songs with big bands and orchestras. I knew he did rock and roll, but this was my first experience of Elmo in his pure cover rock persona and I loved it. So did the audience.
The band is all about Rock in Latin bailongo – dancing. Their covers are true to the original, but there is a Latin twist to them, and they mix it up – cumbia songs along with Santana classics (a local Jalisco boy). Lots of Spanish, lots of cowbells (“You can never have enough cow bells” says Blues queen Doña Oxford), and all of the other paraphernalia of Latin music. They are fun, musically terrific, and know how to connect with an audience.
And Elmo, who was out there! rocking on stage, rocking on the runway, rocking in the middle of the dancers, plus telling stories, greeting audience members, and connecting, connecting, connecting.
Traficantes’ brand of music is growing in popularity along with the skyrocketing demand for Latin music in general. Places like the LCS music festival and the Ajijic Malecon Music Day gives bands like Traficantes and Mary’s Island a chance to be seen and heard by the larger world. That is a lofty goal for bands who are living in a world where music pay is flat and the cost of living has gone up 25%. Rent, gas, medical bills all are in line before recording, music attorney and agent fees. The barriers to platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, deezer, etc. are very difficult for local live bands regardless of how good and regionally popular they are.
Plus, the platforms have made CD and album sales – once the income mainstay of bands – gone. Around 90% of Spotify fees go to .8% of bands, according to a study by Ruling Stone. The other 99.2% cannot make a sustainable living on platform fees. Ironically, playing live is the best way for young, and even seasoned live bands – to make a living, but the low pay keeps them from joining the platforms. But unless they join a platform, they will be invisible to 99% of music lovers and almost all labels.
What can be done? At one level, stuff the tip jar, regardless of whether or not you think the band is getting paid (they may not be). And buy merch – that is money the bands get to keep. If you can afford it, become an executive producer – i.e., invest in a recording. Put together a group of fans for your favorite live band, each pitch in a few hundred dollars until you have enough for the to record an album and pay the agency fees to get it online. With new technology it is cheaper than you think.
Finally, go out and listen to bands because the summer festival season is here.
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