Gloria Estefan Saturday at the Alamodome (photo by Joe Turner, special for the Current)
Here’s my quick take on the 2013 Festival People En Español, which took place Saturday and Sunday at the Alamodome.
The Good: The crowd was considerably larger than in 2012. This time, about 80 percent of the 11,000 seats at the Alamodome were filled on Saturday, and about 75 percent on Sunday (a 30 percent improvement from last year, based on my visual calculation; these numbers are not official). The sound (when the artists were performing live) and lights were even better than last year, and the sets by Gloria Estefan, Alejandro Fernández, Demi Lovato and Wisin & Yandel alone justified the ticket prices ranging from $30 to almost 300 bucks. Special mention to the Alamodome employees (each and every one of them), who were courteous and allowed me to do my work without giving me any crap.
The Bad: The first part of Saturday’s show, immediately preceding Gloria Estefan, was pathetic. It was a gross, old-fashioned case of playing over tracks. Main culprits: Carla Mauri and Jencarlos Canela, who sang live backed by a bunch of clowns pretending to play. I couldn’t believe what I had seen, so after their performances I went to look for them at the press area to make sure I wasn’t being unfair. The question: Did your band play live?
“In parts,” said Canela in Spanish. “In parts, they weren’t, but for most of it they were.”
yes,” was Mauri’s answer also in Spanish. “I think so. I don’t know. I was in my own trip.”
Guys, if you’re going to do that, at least learn how to fake it or just admit it. “That’s the way these shows are,” someone close to one of the performers told me on Sunday. “It’s a TV-oriented show.” Wrong: the Grammys and MTV Awards (at least the ones I’ve been in) are all live. What took place on early Saturday was a Televisa/Univisión-styled big ball of garbage. But, hey, doing it right would mean paying more people and working a little harder. So the plastic in exchange for gold that started with the conquistadores continues to this day. And most in attendance bought every single of it, so they got what they deserved.
The feo: The presenters. Even when things got going and the performances were good, on Saturday sooner or later you had to put up with the insufferable hosts of El Gordo y La Flaca (Univisión’s top rated show) or the People En Español publisher/editor team who didn’t pass a chance to remind us all that their magazine is “the most trusted name in Latino culture in the U.S.A.” (whatever the hell that means). Besides the usual disposable teleprompter chitchat, the marketing onstage was a buzz killer throughout Saturday. Fortunately, things ran much better on Sunday and the gente was nowhere to be seen.
But this as only the surface. Here's my personal Top 10 moments of Festival People En Español 2013.
Underutilized: Chris Pérez Project
In his short set, local hero Chris Pérez presented and intro and three songs, two from his upcoming album produced by Emilio Estefan Jr. (“Corre” and “Regresa septiembre”). During “Día a día,” videos with photos of Pérez and Selena and scenes of the making of the Estefan album were shown onscreen. Very nice, but I hope next year he’s invited to do a full set.
The surprise: Noel Torres
This Sinaloa guy can play some mean accordion, with jazzy licks you seldom see in Mexican Regional music. His stuff is a mix of banda and norteña with above-average arrangements. I didn’t get video of his Sunday performance because I was frozen—I couldn’t believe my ears. But this narcocorrido will give you an idea of here he comes from (if you have trouble getting the point unless they speak to you in English, jump to 2:44).
Keepin’ It Real Award: Kat Dahlia
The Cuban-American rapper-singer deserved more time onstage, but her teaser of My Garden (the album coming up on February 2014) was enough to send the message: she’s for real, she can play by the rules (she refused to use the F-word during “Clocks”), but at the same time she’s doesn’t give a damn about being polite. According to her, somebody from People En Español told her Gloria Estefan wanted to meet her. As a Gloria fan, she was thrilled. So when she met Gloria at the gym, she couldn’t control herself and shouted across the room. “Hi, Gloria! I’m Kat Dahlia!” Gloria returned a lukewarm “Hi” and kept working out. “I still love Gloria, but thanks, People En Español, for setting me up for the most embarrassing moment in my life,” Dahlia said half-jokingly. Unfortunately for her, her sound failed at the very beginning of her hit "Gangsta."
Unsung Hero: SA’s own DJ Tone
The winner of the “Best Texas DJ” competition organized by People En Español kept the party going and saved the day especially early on Saturday, when things were kind of lame. Every time he was onstage, he got immediate crowd reaction and proved to be in touch with what people wanted without having to get cheesy.
The Kid Who Made It: Sebastien De La Cruz
Sebastien De La Cruz so made it. First, he nailed the National Anthem again on Saturday, then he serenaded Gloria Estefan (whose birthday was Sep. 1 but celebrated it on Saturday night) and sang las mañanitas to her (the Mexican birthday song). He was superb, and if you were there you can tell your children you saw a 10-year-old sing Pepe Aguilar’s “Amo y esclavo” (Master and Slave) to a 56-year-old woman: “I don’t know what is it about your eyes/I don’t know what is it about your mouth/ that controls my desires/and drives my blood crazy.”
Most Popular: Demi Lovato
Judging by the signs and crowd noise, Demi Lovato was the one people wanted to see on Sunday, and I’d bet she was the most popular on both days. She started erratically (would miss easy notes and hit the highest octaves), but got her shit together and delivered a terrific show.
#4 and #3
Best of Day 2: Demi Lovato and Wisin & Yandel (tie)
I’m not at all into reggaetón, but you have to give it to them: these kids know how to throw a damn good party. Daddy Yankee did it in 2012, and now Wisin & Yandel did it on Sunday.
Huevos Award: Alejandro Fernández
He had the difficult job of following a near-perfect performance by Gloria Estefan on Saturday, but “El Potrillo” (“The Stallion”) delivered with his usual solid sets of pop and ranchera. Sorry I don't have any video of his performance (I was swimming in a sea of maple syrup), but here's a photo taken during his Saturday performance.
(photo by Joe Turner)
Best in Show: Gloria Estefan
She delivered an explosive 90-minute set of her more danceable hits (everything from Afro-Cuban to dance and pop) backed by a superb 12-piece band with three singers. No room for ballads here: this was Miami Sound to the max, but improved with the contemporary twist that only time and wisdom can give. She has a new album of American standards (The Standards) out in September, and she’s still on fire.