The second annual Festival People en Español returns to San Antonio with something to prove: that last year’s poor attendance was an understandable first-time fluke, and that the festival is destined to grow in years to come.
People En Español is the largest Spanish-language magazine in the U.S., and the festival—inspired by New Orleans’ Essence Festival—is an attempt to reflect what the magazine is all about: a glossy, superficial and, yes, fun look at the most marketable figures in Latino entertainment, all presented in a detail-oriented luxury package. The magazine has no room for intellectual or edgy content, but it is well-written and edited, and it looks just as good as its English counterpart. Similarly, Festival People en Español has little room for alternative or anti-establishment artists, but those who performed there last year were, at the very least, capable performers and, in many cases (Daddy Yankee, Luis Miguel), cultural icons of Hall of Fame stature. They all looked and sounded great and the City of San Antonio was fully behind it. So what went wrong?
The Festival got a city commitment of up to $500,000 (via the Convention & Visitors Bureau) for a three-year deal and a crowd of 40,000 was anticipated for the first year, but only about 15,000 showed up at the paid night concerts on Saturday and Sunday. Total attendance, counting both concerts and Convention Center events, was about 30,000.
“That was expected,” Emilio Estefan Jr., who is the festival’s producer this year, told the Current in February. “I remember the first time we did the Calle 8 festival [in Miami] only 30,000 showed up, and now we have more than a million people and it’s the biggest festival in the U.S.”
To make things worse, the first Festival People en Español took place in the same year that the acclaimed International Accordion Festival (which gets only $30,000 a year from the Department of Cultural and Creative Development, formerly OCA) was forced to take a hiatus after two straight years of financial loss due to rain (the IAF is coming back this year on September 14-15). Reporting for Plaza de Armas, former Current staffer Gilbert García wrote that going from IAF to Festival People en Español was “like trading an original of Picasso’s Three Musicians for a black velvet Elvis.”
In spite of last year’s poor sales, the musical festival itself was a technical marvel.
“I’ve never heard the Alamodome sound so good,” Councilman Diego Bernal told the Current, and he was speaking as a musician, not a politician; I was there, and I agree with him. Estefan predicted that this year will be even better.
“It’s going to be a spectacular stage,” Estefan told the Current in February. “We’re bringing the light person who worked at the Olympics and the MTV Awards.”
Last week, Chris Pérez saw the actual stage plot and was bowled over.
“Dude, you have no idea,” he told the Current. “The equipment is top-notch, top-of-the-line. The stage’s going to be huge, hanging speakers, the lights … It’s monstrous, gigantic.”
The Festival got a new sponsor: Coca-Cola, and incumbent sponsors like Target, Jeep, AARP and HBO Latino are returning. But if sales don’t improve considerably, will there be a third year?
“Yes, there will be a third edition [in 2014], no doubt about that,” CVB VP of marketing and communications Andrés Muñoz told the Current. “There’s not a condition on whether there will be a festival [in 2014], but how much we will give them based on performance. But we’re all very excited about the future of the festival and for this edition we’ve all worked [on it] for a whole year.” Last year, the CVB gave organizers $250,000.
Our Mayor is just as enthusiastic as he was last year.
“We’re expecting a great event with a strong turnout this year, and we’re anticipating a Festival People en Español for many years to come,” Mayor Julián Castro told the Current.
If sales exceed expectations this year, skeptics will have to eat their words. If not, we may get another black velvet Elvis—but it will sound and look great.