Pachanga Festival: I came, I saw, I cumbia-ed

El Gran Silencio

Monterrey, Mexico’s El Gran Silencio performing live at Pachanga Latino Music Festival in Austin. Photo by Mari Hernandez.

Considering Austin is well known for its variety of festivals, Pachanga Latino Music Festival might just be the city’s best kept secret. Fiesta Gardens was the perfect setting for this one-day festival that had just about everything you’d want in a fest: food trucks, free goodies and lots of music. Oh, and plenty of tacos.

I started my afternoon with Making Movies, an Afro-Cuban indie rock band from Kansas City. I fell for their band instantly as I walked up and they were covering the classic “Aguanile” by Hector Lavoe. Lead singer Enrique Javier Chi was all smiles as people danced their way closer to the stage. As they performed, I couldn’t help but notice the different kinds of people in the crowd. It made me happy to see that this festival could bring out so many people and represent the diversity in Austin. Chi thanked the crowd for kicking off the day with them and expressing his love for events like this.

“For us, music is our freedom” Chi said. Their feel-good music made you feel just that, free.

Making my way through the festival, I loved that every set I saw had its own sound.

DMK, a Colombian Depeche Mode cover band made up of a father and his two kids, closed out the Niños Rock Pachanga Fest. The early fest gave the kiddos a chance to create festival screen print tote bags, make traditional Mexican crafts and learn about Tejano music.

Nearby, Austin’s own Brownout renamed themselves “Brown Sabbath” to do their own rendition of Black Sabbath tunes.  More and more concert goers piled in closer to the stage as the band knocked out some fan-favorites. A short distance away, Austin favorite Del Castillo blew the roof off with their brilliant guitar skills.

Rapper Niña Dioz at Pachanga Latino Music Fest. Photo by Mari Hernandez.

Rapper Niña Dioz at Pachanga Latino Music Fest. Photo by Mari Hernandez.

Later in the afternoon, Niña Dioz brought in a little bit of rap into the mix of the day. The lady rapper from Monterrey, Mexico looked like she stepped right out of an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Her raps flowed so perfectly as she made sure to keep the crowd’s energy up while the hot Texas sun beat down on the audience.

After Niña, I faced my only schedule conflict and decided to watch the first half of La Vida Bohème, a band from Venezuela that I had heard some buzz about. I did not want to leave once I heard these guys. They reminded me a bit of Los Enanitos Verdes but edgier which especially showed through their intense stage presence. It’s impossible to set these guys in one genre because they do it all. Their ability to infuse punk, funk, dance and electronic music into rock is impeccable.

At some point, I tore myself away to catch the last part of Gaby Moreno’s set. Moreno’s far from your cliché “girl with a guitar” mold. Her music is both in Spanish and English, but no matter the language, her voice is beautiful. She gave off this classic, old soul vibe that made her the darling of Pachanga Festival.

Both Chicha Libre and La Santa Cecilia were crowd favorites when it came to dancing, but my personal favorite was El Gran Silencio. Never in my life did I believe I’d witness a Mexican mosh pit, but that is exactly what was happening.

As the sun set, the crowd got crazy. El Gran Silencio’s set was where the real pachanga went down. I don’t think I saw one single person standing still as they played. Their rock/reggae sound mixed with cumbia made for the most epic dance party. Friends, families and couples spent the whole set screaming along to songs and kicking their legs out as small mosh pits were created all over the place.

Pachanga Fest headliner Julieta Venegas. Photo by Mari Hernandez.

Pachanga Fest headliner Julieta Venegas. Photo by Mari Hernandez.

It was perfect to end the evening with Julieta Venegas considering I had exhausted myself dancing for an hour straight. Julieta Venegas was a name I was not familiar with until her set began. Obviously, I’ve been missing out on so much. Julieta was the perfect mix of sweet and sassy on stage. Her heartfelt messages she prefaced almost each song with set the tone for the entire show and everyone was head over heels.

Fans yelled “Julieta, te amo!” all through the set. She played music from all different points of her career while switching between playing guitar, accordion and keyboard. There couldn’t have been a better cherry on top of this wonderful day.

If there’s anything I took away from this festival, it’s to appreciate the culture that Latinos have created and continue to develop over the years. My Latina pride was bursting out by the end of the day and I loved every second of it.

Natalie Del Castillo

Natalie Del Castillo's earliest memory is listening to the oldies station every day in her dad's Oldsmobile. He raised her on the classics and ignited her passion for music. Natalie recently graduated from Radford University in Radford, Va. with a degree in Media Studies with a concentration in journalism. She spent a summer interning for her hometown paper but quickly realized writing about town meetings wasn't her strong suit. While Natalie can't carry a tune or play an instrument, she can't go a day without discovering, listening and learning about music.

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