It’s another beautiful Saturday in Austin as the third annual Pachanga Latino Music Festival goes down in Fiesta Gardens. Set in East Austin’s park area adjacent to Town Lake, this rising festival has become another date to circle in Austin’s ever-busy music calendar. With its eclectic lineup, scenic natural setting and low $20 price tag, the Pachanga Fest has quickly become one of the Austin music scene’s best values. The sweltering temperature reaches into the 90s in the early afternoon, but the site features several desperately needed shade spots to mitigate the heat, allowing fans to enjoy the musical fire that transpires all day long.
The availability of mango popsicles is another savior, a key ingredient amongst the other festival fare that includes the requisite tacos, aguas frescas, snow cones and cervezas. It becomes clear in the dinner hour however that the festival could use more than one taco stand, as a lengthy line forms. The beer tent also runs out of the local Austin Amber Ale in the evening, leaving patrons forced to choose amongst Budweiser products. But there wasn’t much to criticize as the festival featured a superb full day of music geared to almost every taste. Regional bands from Austin and San Antonio dominated the lineup with good reason, but it was ultimately Columbia’s Bomba Estereo who would steal the show with their evening headlining slot on the second stage.
Amplified Heat, Hierba Stage
This loud, lo-fi blues rock power trio from right here in Austin put out a hot sound to match the mid-day heat. The band’s vibe is grungy and retro, but all three musicians have got chops to burn. Their sound recalls the classic rock fuzz of bands like Blue Cheer, Cream, Deep Purple and Steppenwolf. One tune features a groove that recalls Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”. Another tune, “The Gunny”, is dedicated to American soldiers. The vocals from guitarist Jim Ortiz are rough, but his hot guitar licks are smoking and brothers Gian Ortiz on bass and Chris Ortiz on drums make a mean rhythm section. “What Went Wrong” features some serious bass jamming from Gian Ortiz, whose Gibson SG bass delivers a superb sound, while Jim shreds it up. “They Try to Deny”, from the band’s upcoming new album, closes the set with another high-energy rocker that sounds something like AC/DC meets the Stooges.
Brownout, Patio Stage
The adjacent Patio Stage doesn’t have much shade, but it does have great sound, which makes the intimate stage a big draw all day. Brownout is a side project of Austin’s Grupo Fantasma, who are playing the main stage later in the evening. But if this set is any indication, the side project may be on target to overtake its predecessor. With two guitars, bass, drums, congas, extra percussion and a horn section, the band throws down a great set of tight groovy jams that blend James Brown-style funk with Carlos Santana-styled Latin rock. “Make My Life Much Easier” features a funky riff that recalls Brown’s “Superbad”, with a great horn-driven groove. Guitarists Beto Martinez and Adrian Quesada mix in funk with strong psychedelic leads, giving the band’s sound a diverse sonic palette.
Vallejo, Hierba Stage
Back over on the Hierba Stage, the festival’s second largest, Vallejo delivers a more polished rock than the preceding set from Amplified Heat. Another Austin band based around three brothers, the group throws down a tight set of catchy and rocking tunes that mix some alternative influences in with their classic rock and Latino foundation. Guitarist/vocalist A.J. Vallejo is the ringleader, with melodic vocals and a charismatic presence that commands the stage. The first song works around a “Third Stone From the Sun” groove, with drummer Alejandro Vallejo and bassist Omar Vallejo demonstrating a strong familiarity with the classic groove as A.J., and second guitarist Bruce Castleberry crank up their guitars. “Salvation” features a Santana-ish style groove along with hot guitar licks.
David Garza joins the band to jam on War’s “ The Cisco Kid”, but encounters technical difficulties with a guitar strap. He’s able to rise above though as the band keeps rocking, revisiting that “Third Stone” groove for a second time. A big drum solo ends with a crowd-pleasing five man percussion jam as all band members get in on the action. A guest on electric fiddle adds an additional bluesy element to the sound that fits perfectly. The band then hits the “Third Stone” groove for a third time and here it blossoms into a full jam on the Hendrix classic, which soars with the breeze blowing. Young Matthew Vallejo, who looks no more than 12, sits in on drums for another song and shows the family’s next generation is ready to rock too. The band closes out the set with a high-energy romp through Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio”, with A.J. Vallejo throwing in a “Get Up Stand Up” tease for a big finale.
Y La Orkestra, Pavillion Stage
Tucson, Ariz.‘s Y La Orkestra takes the main stage at 4:30 pm. The covered pavilion offers maximum shade and even some bleacher seating too, making for a nice mid-day set where folks can relax a little if so inclined. But the big shed creates a boomy reverb that makes the main stage the worst sounding one at the festival. The group’s indie-mambo sound has a lot of folks dancing though. Their upbeat mix of cumbia and salsa features two drummers and a six-piece horn section for a big band sound that hits some deep grooves.
Girl in a Coma, Hierba Stage
San Antonio’s Girl in a Coma hit the second stage around a quarter to six and rock through a high-energy set powered by the dynamic voice and guitar of 22-year-old Nina Diaz (who’s been fronting the band since she was 13)! The trio started with a punk foundation but has added in a blend of alt-rock and Latin rock influences for a unique Tex-Mex grunge sound. The band has recently released a series of EPs called Adventures in Coverland, and their upbeat take on the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a gem, with Nina delivering some of her most powerful vocals to date. “Pleasure and Pain” from the band’s 2009 Trio B.C. is another winner, with some great alt-rock sonic flavor from Nina on guitar. Another cover of Richie Valens’ “C’mon Let’s Go” takes the pop classic and cranks it up several notches for a punkish rendition that is definitely not your father’s version of the classic tune. The crowd rocks out, loving every minute.
“Vino” shows some of the band’s versatility, starting off as a melodic ballad before shifting into a punk bridge and then a breezy swing jam where drummer Phanie Diaz (Nina’s older sister) and bassist Jenn Silva show they can turn their rhythm section on a dime. “Say”, a big rocker from the band’s 2007 debut Both Before I’m Gone brings the energy way up, as does Trio B.C.‘s “Static Mind”, which has become a surefire crowd pleaser. Nina Diaz is at her best on this electrifying tune that seems to hint at her mercurial personality, and this version stands out as it goes into a hard-rocking jam that surprisingly segues into “Ven Circa”, almost like a jam band would do. Girl in a Coma have always had strong songs, but this kind of jam shows some intriguing musical growth. This is the type of development that could help take the band to the next level if it continues. It’s not hard to imagine Girl in a Coma headlining Pachanga in the not-too-distant-future.
David Garza, Patio Stage
David Garza hits the Patio Stage right after Girl in a Coma finish up, and his sound shares many of the same influences as GIAC and Vallejo. “Can I Dance With You Baby” has a melodic rock sound that gets the crowd moving right away. The next tune goes in a heavier direction, with a bluesy funk groove, and psychedelic sounds from both guitar and accordion. Another tune about hearing voices features a polyrhythmic percussion jam and several layers of big guitar. Later, Garza says he heard there’d be a $100 fine for not playing a polka song on this stage. “The accordion is the official sponsor of beer,” says Garza, as the accordion leads the polka number, which does indeed seem to go well with the beer drinking.
Bombasta, Kids/Chicano Stage
San Antonio’s Bombasta hit this smaller stage at 7 pm, but they’ve got a big sound. Mixing funk with Latin rock, reggae and hip-hop, the band’s sound is eclectic to say the least. The “post modern collective’s” four-piece horn section is featured on the opener for a big funky sound that recalls New Orleans funk masters Galactic. Another tune features some Spanglish hip-hop vocals, and more New Orleans-style horn breaks. Band leader Roberto Ybañez Livar switches from guitar to accordion for a groovy cumbia number that keeps the set rocking. His rap style at times recalls Michael Franti from Spearhead, though they probably share similar influences. The horns remain a strong funky presence throughout, and it’s not hard to imagine Bombasta on a larger stage at next year’s festival.
Grupo Fantasma, Pavillion Stage
Another of Austin’s own, this Latin funk orchestra is becoming a rising phenomenon not just locally but with national acclaim. Going strong for a decade now, the group has backed the likes of Prince and won raves from sources as wide-ranging as LA Weekly and the Washington Post. Like their side project Brownout, the group blends a Latin rock sound with a James Brown-style funk, but with even more bells and whistles. There’s also some more of the New Orleans funk vibe. The big shed is still having a detrimental effect on the overall sound as the band hits the stage at 7:30 pm, but a large crowd gathers here to dance the night away.
Pacha Massive, Hierba Stage
Pacha Massive out of New York City, play at the same time as Grupo Fantasma and offer up a different alternative, mixing Latin influences with electronica, rock and soul sounds to create a fairly unique vibe. Guitarist Ramon Nova and bassist Maya Martinez are the mainstays of the band, recording with several different singers on their latest album. Here, the band is laying down some basic grooves but enhancing them with a variety of ambient guitar sounds, saxophone, flute and some soulful vocals from both Nova and the female singer they’ve brought along.
“There’s always so much love, such good people… and beautiful women,” says Nova in complimenting the Austin scene before the band launches into “Tonight”, a groovy tune that gets the crowd dancing as the sun is setting. “Gonna lose myself tonight,” the band sings, as the crowd is soon lost in the song’s swirling, layered groove. The song blends funk with electronica ambience in a way that hasn’t been heard yet today. “All Good Things Have to End” is another highlight with a similar formula, mixing a basic funk groove with some ambient guitar and soulful vocals for a tune that is both danceable and chill at the same time. This is the band’s sonic flavor and it’s a great one as the evening shifts to twilight. The band closes out their triumphant set with “Don’t Let Go”, another funky yet atmospheric tune that sparkles as Martinez picks up the groove to lead the band into a hypnotic jam.
Hacienda, Patio Stage
This San Antonio quartet is riding a buzz from being “discovered” by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who produced the band’s new album. Hacienda shares affection for the lo-fi retro sounds of the ‘60s, but they take their Beatles and Beach Boys influences and mix them in with a high-powered garage rock vibe that is loud and infectious. Guitarist Dante Schwebel and bassist Rene Villanueva share the vocals, with each projecting an energetic vibe that has the crowd rocking to the band’s catchy sound. The band is a family affair with Villanueva’s brothers Abraham on keyboards and Jaime on drums, while Schwebel is their cousin.
“You’re My Girl” is a melodic rocker, with Rene Villanueva powering the song with his punchy bass line. A new song, perhaps titled “I Keep Awake”, has a groovy mid-tempo sound and shows off the bands vocal harmonies. “You Say That You Love Me” is another catchy melodic rocker enhanced by Abraham Villanueva’s swirling Hammond B3 organ sound. The song seems ripe for release as a single. Touring this summer with both Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, the future looks and sounds bright for Hacienda.
Bomba Estereo, Hierba Stage
This 9:30 pm slot was the festival’s last. Robert Pulido y Los Clasicos were playing the main stage for those desiring a more traditional sound. But for those looking for a fresh new sound, this was the place to be. Bomba Estereo quite simply stole the show with a triumphant performance that closed out the festival in sensational style. The Columbian group had visited Austin before for the SXSW Festival, but playing outdoors in an evening slot with a balmy breeze blowing is clearly the band’s natural element. The band mixes Columbian cumbia with various modern electro-rock styles for a groovy sound that is tough to compare. They share some general qualities with Pacha Massive, but Bomba Estereo takes it to a higher level thanks to an increased level of jamming and the charismatic vocals of Liliana Saumet.
Saumet sings in her own unique style that mixes rapping and singing, and she does it almost exclusively in Spanish. But it goes to show the universal power of great music, because her joyous vibe is simply contagious regardless of whether you can understand what she’s saying. It helps that she has a great band backing her. Guitarist Julian Salazar, bassist/looper Simon Mejia, drummer Kike Egurrola and percussionist Diego Cadavid build tightly layered grooves that serve as great launch pads for Saumet’s spitfire vocals. But they also enhance the tunes with trip-hop embellishments, while skillfully building the grooves until everyone is dancing and then continuing to add psychedelic flair.
“Raza” is an early highlight – with its danceable groove and psychedelic vibe, the song instantly connects with the crowd and establishes a groovy dance party that doesn’t quit. The youthful Saumet is clearly a star, but everyone in the band plays so skillfully around her to where the whole starts to feel greater than the sum of the parts. “Cosita Rica” features Saumet’s only English line of the night when she joyfully sings “You make me feel so high.” The entire crowd is feeling high here, as the sexy and groovy energy keeps growing. But rather than cut the tune off after just a few minutes like most bands, the band demonstrates what seems something of a jam rock influence as they keep building the song while the crowd keeps dancing harder.
The “x-factor” circuit between the band and the audience is activated, creating an energy that drives each continually higher. Egurrola and Cadavid drive the beat in increasingly complex yet still groovy directions, recalling jamtronica stalwarts Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the Disco Biscuits. Saumet revels in the energy, bouncing, dancing and spearheading what has clearly become the set of the day. Another tune, seemingly titled “Caliente”, starts off with a psychedelic dub step type of sound that recalls some of 311’s more ambient tunes, but then evolves into another hot jam. Saumet continues to beam positive energy into the crowd, which drives the dancing harder, feeding back to the band once more.
Toward the end, Saumet brings about ten ladies out of the crowd to dance with the band onstage, setting off yet another big groovy jam. The energy, both onstage and in the dancing crowd, is off the charts. The band channels this energy into “Fuego”, one of the catchiest tunes from their latest Blow Up LP. The song about fire is soon en fuego itself, with Saumet and the band launching another fantastic groove into the stratosphere. The tune even features samples of a mission control unit for a rocket launch, while the trippy keyboards add extra psychedelic flair. “Otra, otra,” chants the crowd after the stellar jam finally ends and the band leaves the stage. They come back for one more crowd pleaser, extending the set past the 10:30 end time, much to the delight of the crowd. Bomba Estereo don’t tour heavily in the United States yet, but will be appearing at the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee on June 12. Fans attending are advised to take advantage of the opportunity to catch these rising phenoms.