Mexican Music Festivals Reveal The Splendor Of Our Southern Neighbors

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Festival Frequency is a monthly look at music festival-related topics that step beyond the shadow of the Ferris wheel, discussing everything from the performances to the inner workings that make this a global phenomenon.

Literally right now, there are thousands of American troops lined up at the border of Mexico, just days after firing tear gas into another country at families in an act so heinous, it’s kind of hard to believe it actually happened. But for people on that side of the border, it’s likely less surprising, just the next logical step of an increase in hateful rhetoric that began long before Donald Trump ran for the presidency but has been given the green light to escalate into acceptance.

Two years ago, just a couple weeks after the election, I visited Mexico City for the first time to attend Corona Capital music festival. The event featured artists ranging from LCD Soundsystem to Tegan And Sara to Lana Del Rey to The Killers, but the acts had more than performing a concert on their plate. They were also tasked with being ambassadors for decency, letting the Mexican crowds know that the hate they hear when they turn on the television isn’t how all Americans feel. “We love you,” Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell confessed, while Sara Quin, a Canadian-born woman who sometimes reside in the US, expressed solidarity with the Mexican crowd: “I know you’re Mexican and we’re Canadian, but this goes out to anyone who is mortified and scared that Donald Trump was just elected the American president.”

Two years later, and it’s safe to say things have continued to get steadily worse with how a vocal contingent of Americans speak about Mexico. I went back to Corona Capital last week for my third visit to Mexico in the last two years, each one ostensibly for music festivals but mostly because it is one of the most wonderful places in the world. Growing up as light-skinned with mixed heritage, the closest I’d get to my Mexican roots was tamales at Christmas or family gatherings to watch an absurd amount of Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya fights. It’s still a surprise to me when visiting Mexico that people assume I speak Spanish (I don’t) because in America I hardly register as part Mexican. I still feel as much a foreigner in Mexico as I do in any other country I travel to, but am consistently taken aback by how welcoming the Mexican people are to Americans, even as our government consistently uses hateful rhetoric and actions against them.

Every visit to Mexico is a learning experience where new parts of their culture reveal themselves. In terms of music festivals, it’s the quickest and easiest way for Americans to travel into a truly foreign environment while still maintaining many of the touchstones that make them feel comfortable. It’s not hard to figure out that pizza is still pizza at any festival in the world and that dancing to Chvrches looks about the same wherever you are. The things that are different about music festivals in Mexico are so slight and insignificant that it’s hard to say that anyone needs much in the way of preparation. If you are ready for a good time at a fraction of what it costs back home, then Mexican music festivals are for you.

The big differences? Well, corporate branding is probably the biggest. American fests accept corporate branding to varying degrees, with something like Coachella refusing to get sponsors for their stages, while Lollapalooza embraces that and sticks most of the branded installations into their own designated locations in the middle of the fest away from the stages. Corona Capital takes things a huge step further with giant installations from the likes of Doritos and its namesake Corona providing viewing locations for the audience. Bic pens had some sort of activity that involved people being harnessed in and the line to participate was abnormally long. Fans even line up for Spotify selfie stations, and to participate in activities put on by everyone from Amazon Prime to Nissin Cup O Noodles. In America, it might have stretched the limits of taste, with attendees often too cool to embrace the brand-sanctioned interactivity. But not in Mexico, where people were there to have a good time and dive headfirst into whatever neon-branded structure the event put in front of them.