Patrick O’Heffernan and Armando Esquivel with additional photography by Jazmin Stengel. Jocotepec is a municipalidad– a county down the road from me on Lake Chapala, about an hour from Guadalajara. It’s small, just under 40,000 people. Among its distinguishing features are acres and acres of white plastic covered farms, which produce most of the berries Americans and Canadians eat – Mexico’s second largest agricultural export.
It is a pretty active place, but kind of conservative, with people going about their business – farming, sales, lake tourism, church holidays – a lot of church holidays. There are a few music clubs, but no large venues for music. Music is provided mostly by local bands and most of those are regional Mexican bands that play in the Lake Chapala area, with a few from the big city an hour away.
So it was a big deal when a local promoter announced that the Fest Eclectico was coming to “Joco” as part of the celebration of Señor de Monte (Jesus – a holiday for a church established in 1529, but that’s another column). And it was an even bigger deal when the posters went up and at the top was Cesar “El Vampiro” Lopez, formerly of Maná, Azul Violeta and Jaguares, and now living in LA. Also on the poster were Danyela Rubens, Omar Celis, and Agustin Villa “Cala”, vocalist from the band Rostros Ocultos, and his daughter, Dr. Babe.
Fest Eclectico is an interesting beast. The organizers bring in headliners like in any concert, but also mid-level but highly respected artists and a very good local band. They set up the schedule so that there is a lot of artist exchange and interchange on stage – sort of like an ongoing jam session. It works beautifully.
However, he photopit did not work so well. The pit is the space between the crowd and the stage where the photographers are free to roam and shoot , and it was a zoo. Usually there are half a dozen or more photographers dancing around each other to get their shots. It can be aggressive, but everyone knows the rules (and frequently all the other photographers) so it is dynamic, but orderly. Not here. There were about a dozen photographers, plus grandparents sitting in chairs the pit, children, at least one dog, a dozen or so people who had passes but did not seem to be taking pictures (except selfies), and at least one bottle of tequila, plus various sound cases and cables. This doesn’t take into account the photographers on the stage with the bands (tempted, but I did not do it). It was fun, but virtually impossible to get a steady video due to the people bumping me, squeezing around me, and talking next to my microphone Plus the musicians who jumped off the stage and sang with the fans scattered the photographer’s right and left., including me.
My colleague, Jamin Stengel, was very smart and occupied the top of a equipment crate next to the stage above the fray and with a great sightline onto the stage. That is her great photo of Dr. Babe.
Back to Fest Eclectico. The headliners play their sets like in any festival, but the members then join the other bands, other band members join them, they bring on friends and mix it up. The result Monday night was a wild musical night that delivered Rock in Espanol, ska, pop, country, and even regional Mexican music, as well as a tribute to Jenni Rivera.
Fans – young and not so young – poured into the main plaza sporting rock star t-shirts and studded black jackets. They crowded against the barriers around the stage and lined up at the stands selling food, tequila, beer, and and souvenirs. The plaza’s gazebo was full when the regional mariachi rock band Chachorro Rújale played in a tribute to the late singer Jenni Rivera.
Fireworks celebrating Jocotepec’s patron saint festivities lit the sky as the “Eclectic Fest” kicked off, beginning with “El Vampiro” Lopez. He laid down guitar tracks, shreds, and complex finger-picking riffs behind the vocals of Danyela Rubens, Omar Celis, and “Cala”, all of whom took the stage at some point or all through the concert in Danyela’s case. The crowd loved it, chanting “El Vampiro” and “Cala” and singing “Me vale” by Maná.
The plaza was packed with people singing the classic melodies of “Rock en tu idioma” (Rock in Spanish). A woman around 50 years old pressed against the barrier in the front row seemed to never stop singing; whatever the song, she knew it. Giant Mexican flags waved in the 2000-person crowd. One very tall man with long hair and a beard and a glass of beer chanted nonstop until Omar Celis jumped down from the stage and pointed a microphone at him, urging him to sing – and he did.
“Dr. Babe”, Cala’s young daughter, made her debut performance with two songs, one of them by Dua Lipa, and a duet with dad. She thanked the Jocotepec audience for their kindness and applause and danced off stage, but at midnight, she came back and joined the crowd singing happy birthday to her father.
Eduardo Gameros, from the group “Caballo Dorado”, unlimbered is blazing hot fiddle and played hits from the 90s in Mexico, like “Arriba abajo” and “No rompas más”, giving a slice of country to the night. But it was the song “Payaso de Rodeo” that got the audience dancing in a conga line that somehow moved through a totally jammed plaza.
The lineup on stage also included China Smile, Benjie Evans, Gallero and Rex Flowers, who all backed the stars and kept the audience moving all the way to its close with a hip hop finale.
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