The second annual Pachanga! Fest probably couldn’t have been a much better event. Packed into one day, the Fest cut a broad swath across the Latin Music scene, from radio stars to indie standouts to the most traditional sounds, and was the perfect sampling of the musical landscape whether as long-time followers or uninitiated newcomers. Contributing to the Fest’s success was the beautiful late May Saturday weather and the event’s move from last year’s location at Waterloo Park to the Eastside’s more intimate and accommodating Fiesta Gardens. With two smaller stages alternating on the Park’s east end and the large Pavilion Stage a short, shady foot bridge walk away to the west, the music was constant and more than could be fully absorbed. The Pavilion handled a combination of most of the bigger acts and more traditional sounds (Michael Salgado, the Chris Perez Band, and the sprawling female Mariachi troupe), but the smaller two stages offered up the more intriguing performances of the day (Mexican Institute of Sound, Brownout!, David Garza, Charanga Cakewalk). Altogether, Pachanga! offered 20 bands and one of the best single days of music that Austin has seen in a while.
Arriving in the afternoon, Dignan impressed first with a smooth and mellow vibe that sank well in hot sun. With impressive touches that at times suggested both Radiohead and Fleet Foxes, the McAllen, TX quintet at first seemed oddly juxtaposed with following acts Los Bad Apples and the Pachanga All Stars on the other two stages, but only served to highlight the wonderfully eclectic nature of the Fest. The Pachanga All Stars appropriately seemed to best reflect the spirit of the event, not only for their presentation of traditional Latin ballads and its rock-tinged descendant, but also for Serranos owner Adam Gonzales actually grilling fajitas onstage during the set. The All Stars consisted of Vallejo with a host of guests, led primarily by new Austinite-via-San Antonio Willie Alvarado, with a jaw-dropping Zayra Alvarez, violinist Haydn Vitera, and incomparable Michael Ramos on accordion, to name but a few.
On the other side of the park, locals Los Bad Apples unloaded a suave and sexy set behind the dueling front spark of Anita Benner and Zeale, the latter throwing down his brand of hard rhymes while the former danced and laced her skittering vocals with a Latin touch to funky, dance-club rhythms. It was a sound that lead well into Ocote Soul Sounds’ intricate smooth funk and jazz arrangements. Debuting songs from their upcoming new release Coconut Rock, out later this month, leaders Martin Perna and Adrian Quesada packed the stage with an outfit that boasted multiple violins and flutes trilling against a relentless beat and spiked by Quesada’s electric guitar, most impressive on the mean baritone sax propelled new tune “Revolt of the Cockroach People.”
The best two sets of the day came from the tightly packed Plaza Stage courtesy of Guatemala native and currently Los Angeles based singer-songwiter Gaby Moreno and Austin’s own David Garza. Morena delivered the undeniable break out surprise of the Fest, with a vocal prowess that recalled the fire of Fiona Apple and the subtlety of local standout Dana Falconberry; intoxicating and powerful. Garza also stepped up with Moreno to offer an exceptional acoustic guitar on the beautiful “Amapola,” one of the many standout Garza contributions to the day, which included his leading the “Hokey Pokey” in the Ninos Rock tent. His own set later in the afternoon sparked a dance party in front of the stage behind his dual percussion kit rhythms. New tunes from this year’s Dream Delay like “Minority Boys Got $” and “Dead French Dudes” spun scatting and soulful bursts as Garza sweat down the set, with brief help from Suzanna Choffell, and even Garza’s charming between-song banter carried a rhythmic and poetic lilt.
If Garza launched the Soul Train, then Brownout surfed a chilled, pysch-funk flow through the crowd. With bongos pummeling out front and a dual guitar blitz that at times carried an almost classic rock faceoff, the local standouts burned up what was left of the afternoon heat and proved themselves once again as a pillar of local Latin scene. Maneja Beto held their own as well, though it took some time for their indie-synth driven sound to find its proper groove. The same can’t be said for the abominable Chris Perez Band on the other side of the park, who, judging by the crowd crammed in front with camera phones clicking, draws most of their appeal for Perez’ apparently being Selena’s widower. The music was simply an amusing, lukewarm wash of radio balladry that played like big haired, Latin Bryan Adams from the Eighties. Ouch.
Yet Pachanga is all about its inclusiveness, and to that end, the Pavilion Stage was soon cleansed of Perez’ sound for the remarkable nine piece female troupe of Mariachi Altenas, who re-upped the party vibe with a crowd involving, playful and impressively rendered set of familiar tunes. Likewise, Michael Ramos’ Charanga Cakewalk was inspired behind his fervent accordion fury, pulsing the Plaza Stage’s closing set with a billowed brilliance. Leaving the Mexican Institute of Sound to shut down the east side with their tres-laptop grooves, and Michael Salgado’s traditional suavity lingering to west, the second Panchanga! Fest was an impressive success and hopefully a harbinger of many more great events to come.