The secret is out: Pachanga Fest is one of Austin’s top cultural events
Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 11, 2014
For the last several years Pachanga Fest has felt like Austin’s best kept secret. The festival offers a well-curated, diverse selection of Latino music on three stages with many acts travelling in from Mexico and Latin America to perform. It’s idyllically set in Fiesta Gardens on the Eastside banks of Ladybird Lake with a lushly grown pathway leading from the Pavillion stage and the main festival grounds to two more stages, one set on the patio in front of the Fiesta Gardens Club House and another back in a clearing where massive trees provide shade cover to a good section of the audience. The whole event has a great vibe, equal parts neighborhood get-together and smashing international dance party.
2014 felt like the year Austin finally caught on. With ticket prices noticeably lower — last year’s Saturday advance tickets were $40, this year they were $33 — and programming condensed from two days to one, founder Rich Garza estimates that attendance topped last year’s Saturday numbers by 30 percent. The exact figures are still coming in but Garza guesses the total will be around 5,200. It was a diverse crowd that Garza referred to as “a wonderful mix of people from all parts of Austin.”
Many families showed up early for the special Niños Rock Pachanga children’s fest that kicked off at noon. Little ones made traditional Mexican crafts like masks and Ojos de Dios, learned about Tejano music and participated in a piñata party. As a special treat, DMK a Colombian Depeche Mode cover band geared to kids, closed out the Niños stage. Even after the kids’ area was transformed into the festival main stage an impressive number of children remained in the mix showing amazing stamina and dancing along with their parents late into the night.
By late afternoon crowds drawn in by excellent local talent were starting show in droves. A steady line of fest-goers streamed across the bridge rushing to catch Brown Sabbath the excellent funky metal cover Black Sabbath cover band presented by Brownout. On the other side of the park, Del Castillo packed the pavilion with flamenco-infused Chicano rock.
Spitfire rapper Niña Dioz, part of the new generation of hip hop artists from Monterrey, held court to an enthusiastic throng on the patio stage at around 5:30 p.m. and Brooklyn’s Chicha Libre held a fantastic psychedelic cumbia dance session at the same spot an hour later.
Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno was lovely and gracious in her riveting sunset performance on the pavilion stage, a set made even sweeter by a surprise appearance from one of Austin’s favorite sons David Garza in her backing band. Moreno said that Garza travelled nine hours from El Paso to make the performance.
As the sun dipped down, bringing relief from a hot but not unbearable day, the energy level on the Hierba stage at the back of the park kicked up to 11 for Monterrey rock band El Gran Silencio. A huge crowd went insane as the band mashed up elements of ska, punk and cumbia into a raucous body-moving mix which had fists pumping throughout and the whole crowd jumping by the end.
The vibe at the festival remained upbeat and friendly throughout but with the increased crowds there were a few glitches. Beverage lines remained very long all day long. Around 8 p.m. a frustrated Garza grabbed catering bins full of tacos from V.I.P. and walked the lines handing them out to folks who were waiting to try to ease the pain. This year also marked the appearance of the “chair people,” a very Austin indicator that your festival has arrived. A large group parked their folding chairs at the front of the stage in the pavilion early on, creating an awkward tangle for fans on foot trying to get close to the music. There are easy fixes to both of these problems and Garza fully intends to address them before next year’s festival.
Before this year’s event Garza floated the idea of franchising this festival out, recreating it in other Texas cities. Selfishly, part of me hopes that doesn’t happen. Pachanga Fest is such an incredible showcase of the diversity and beauty of Austin. I would love to see it instead become a destination fest, drawing our friends from around the state here to experience one of the best cultural events our city has to offer.