Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 12, 2013
With a lineup notable for showcasing a broad spectrum of music by Latino artists — everything from hip-hop to Tejano was represented — cover bands were also well covered. Along with Austin-based act Selena Y Los Burritos which plays the music of the late great Tejano sensation Selena, we had the L.A.-based Sweet and Tender Hooligans covering Morrissey and the Mariachi Mystery Tour doing mariachi renditions of Beatles songs. The two bands were both pretty amazing in very different ways.
Sweet and Tender Hooligans lead singer Jose Maldonado, who bills himself as The Mexican Morrissey, has spent 20 years performing as the British king of angst pop. Every aspect of his performance is clearly the result of meticulously detailed study. Not only does Maldonado sound strikingly like Morrissey, he has both the look and the mannerisms of the English idol down pat. From the restrained flail of his dance moves to the weighty sincerity of each gesture and the incredible eyebrows, he’s a dead ringer. The crowd for his show was a predominantly female group of 20-40 somethings, many of whom likely spent at least one lonely night of their high school years crouched in a corner quietly weeping to Smiths songs. The band’s covers of Smiths’ hits were ecstatically received. Their cover of a newer Morrissey song was well tolerated. At the end of the band’s set everyone seemed upbeat. Seeing Maldonado really did feel like the next best thing to seeing Morrissey himself.
The Mariachi Mystery Tour, a Beatles cover band from Albuquerque, New Mexico took an entirely different, but equally intriguing approach to cover music. The band, anchored by brothers Lorenzo and Roberto Martinez, who are featured on violin and guitar/lead vocals respectively, is a 9-piece outfit sporting traditional mariachi instrumentation and garb. While Roberto does a solid, if somewhat schtick-y, Paul McCartney, the band’s real appeal is their reinterpretation of the Beatles’ music for mariachi. Considering the Beatles’ penchance for orchestral experimentation it’s not at all surprising that some of their music works extremely well in mariachi form. With the plaintive strings and trumpets, "Yesterday" was positively lovely. The rollicking energy of the band’s namesake tune the "Magical Mystery Tour" provided a fun romp. Overall the band provided a thoroughly entertaining early evening set.
Three unassociated overall observations about Pachanga Fest 2013
1. The space . Pachanga Fest utilizes Fiesta Gardens, the riverside East Austin park space beautifully. I love the way the festival grounds sprawl out, stages separated by quiet wooded walkways with lovely waterfront views. Plenty of huge trees provide ample shade and the ground on Saturday, particularly considering Friday night’s downpour, was in excellent shape. The guiding directional signs dangling from pinatas along the paths were a nice touch too.
2. The murals. A series of colorful graffiti style murals that incorporated the festival’s name were scattered around the park. They provided a fantastic backdrop that countless fest-goers utilized for photo opportunities, posing in front of them with family and friends. Festival promoter Elaine Garza said the murals were donated by San Antonio artist Cruz Ortiz (brother of La Condesa chef Rene Ortiz). Over the next few days, as those mural-front photos trickle out on the Facebook pages and Instagram accounts of Pachanga attendees, the graciously accepted contribution might be re-imagined as a stroke of genius branding.
3. Grupo Fantasma. A longtime fan, over the last couple years I’ve been somehow been sleeping on the 13-yr-old cumbia funk outfit. My bad. Somewhere along the line this Austin-based powerhouse has grown into a bona fide national treasure. I caught them at SXSW where they literally blazed the stage. At Pachanga Fest they were just as great, dropping back to back wall-of-sound, irresistible grooves to one of the biggest crowds of the day. They closed their performance with the bittersweet announcement that founding member Adrian Quesada, one of the city’s most prolific and adventurous composers, was parting ways with the group to focus on his other projects. It’s certainly a loss, but I have no doubt that the ensemble will boldly persevere, funking up stages around the country and across the world, representing for our city in the best way possible.