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Lake Atitlan International Music and Arts Festival
By Roberto Luz
This year's festival was almost too much for me. The mistake I made was not insisting on stronger committees and taking the workload upon myself because it seemed easier than talking somebody else into helping. The fact is that most people will sit there and watch you try to do something nice for them and the thought of pitching in to make it better will not even cross their minds. Along those same lines, everybody likes to party, but nobody wants to pick up the trash.
That said, it was an amazing festival….we definitely pulled off a first rate show by anybodies standards.
Since festival organizational knowledge is accumulative, there were many of the simple problems that we already knew about: we built more and better outhouses, I made an (I thought) ironclad agreement with the boat people to make sure we could move everyone, we got together a better first aid kit and even had a registered nurse, and many such details that you figure out with experience.
The grounds, propaganda (this year we even did some radio spots), kitchen and bar crews were well set up by the time the first boat arrived at 10 AM on Saturday morning. The whole place changed from a nice eucalyptus grove into a colorful and festive party almost instantly: with people circulating around the kitchens (this year we had a pizza stand, hamburger joint, chili stand, tamales stand (this one put on by the hospital committee), a euro-quiche stand, Chinese food, watermelons, and the always welcome magic brownie lady) and checking out the artisans (yes, there is a tribe of traveling south American artisan- hippies who have managed to maintain their subculture).
The first glitch was when I noticed that Ixim Acha, the first band (they are a native Mayan group who does sacred songs for the old ceremonies) was nowhere to be found….. After my introductions and the festival dedication (this year the festival was dedicated to our friend Liz, a beautiful 22 year old belly dancer from California who has graced our festival since it's conception and who died a month ago of cancer, and to Mariah, my drumming buddy David's brand new daughter….) I got Ezzie to do a couple of acoustic songs (she is a giant black earth mama, with a voice that tears through you like a lightning bolt) until Ixim Acha showed up characteristically non chalant about being late. The crowd always likes Ixim Acha because they are such a surprise to most people.
Next on the bill was a series of kid performances: the Pana piano kids gave a recital, followed by the 3JJJs, a singing, dancing trio a la Selena. The Pana Choir (23 people) sang some nice tunes and the whole "amateur" section was rounded out nicely by Jeroma's Dance Troupe, four very talented pre teens. This part of the Festival is very important: it gives the whole day a family character and makes it so that more parts of the community are involved and interested. The vibe of a Festival is VERY important, and if you include the kids it helps towards creating the peaceful festival ambiance that is what is addictive about these kinds of events… no Altamont here!
Next on the bill we listened to Cristobal do a solo act with his "hippy Troubadour" material. '
About this time I started getting little messages from the bands: one group wanted to play earlier, so they could leave on the 4 PM boat back to civilization (gotta gig tonight!!!!) other groups thought that they should be able to play later… everyone wants to be on prime time (so much for letting me know before). So we did a little juggle and ended up putting on "Jazz Onda", a very hot jazz set by a great bunch of musicians that sat in to jam on some standards and ended up surprising even themselves.
Next came Jyam-eros , a 70's covers band from San Marcos la Laguna. They cranked up the old guitars and started the people dancing.
Right about this point I got a message from the gate folks: there was a large crowd of hippies with drums at the gate wanting to get in, but claiming no money. This Festival is a not for profit deal: this year the money went to the Santiago Hospital fund, but somebody has to pay for things. We have made it possible for ANYONE to get in free, if they work on the festival, but there are always those who believe that they are above all that. Don't get me wrong: I am an anarchist, it's just that my definition of anarchy includes a sense of personal responsibility, which means that it's about taking personal responsibility for every aspect of your existence, not just vamping off of other peoples energy. What I did was make them come up with whatever they thought that they could afford…… and it was a mistake. These were people who don't respect other peoples rights and I ended up spending a lot of time having to deal with their trip (like stealing food from the vendors). These are folks who I recognize and who
I will definitely go and talk to now that the party is over. They are definitely not invited next year.
After the Jyam-eros came the Duo Colibri. This time their band had expanded to include a whole 5 piece group, with a wonderful Sax player and Drummer from San Francisco, Cal who traveled here JUST for the festival (WOW!). Duo Colibri is a sweet group with a strong positive environmental message.
Then , at about 6:30 PM, after the evening boat had come in, Marcos and Marta, a duo whose strength is their great harmonies came on. In the middle of their set the lights went out. Oh shit! We are in Central America, after all….. So we scrambled (after melting down) and sent a boat across the waters to get a generator. Luckily there was a troupe of fire dancers, and between them and the drummers they managed to entertain the crowd while we got it together.
O roar went up when we finally cranked up the generator, and we were 1 ½ hours behind schedule……
So the next act went on: this was Rene Zimzik, Flamenco guitarist deluxe. It is always
interesting how Rene weaves his spell: it's not easy to play solo acoustic guitar in
a rowdy atmosphere, but Rene always manages to hypnotize the crowd: even the hard core
rockers love Rene!
Next on the bill was La Trova del Lago, with Juan Sisay singing Trova Nueva, a very modern
and intellectual musical style from Latin America that combines great Latin rhythm with
socially conscious messages. Since I didn't have time to put together a group of my own
this year, I sat in and played flute with the Trova. At the end of the set I did my little
steel drum trick: I played a tune on the steel drum, recorded and looped it, and then
played the flute over that… It worked great! Halfway through the set the lights came
back on, to the delight of the food vendors, and caused a rush to the food court. By
now it was 11 PM and we still had to present three more bands.
Just before the next band started the lights went out again, this time until the next
morning. Sadly we didn't really have enough power to drive everything, so we had to
cut out part of our equipment……
Pata de Conejo was great anyway… this is a new band, put together by Alvaro,
the guitar player for Bohemia Suburbana to present the music that he recorded as a Unicef
project that was meant to reinforce the 1996 peace accords among the youth. The recording project included musicians from all over the country (including me) and will definitely be a hit record in Guatemala when it is released next month.
At midnight I went to see about the last boats out… went to the dock and only found one small boat, already almost full, and no big transporter like we had contracted. The pilot and helpers had been drinking and had decided that they didn't want to drive the big boat, so that was that. Before I even got to announce its departure, the last boat sailed precariously out. Was I ever pissed off! Here I was, stranded with 300 irate folks who were ready to go to bed and not enough electricity……yikes. So I just got on the microphone and calmly explained to people that there was nothing to do but make the best of it. So we went to my house and brought back a huge pile of firewood and lit a couple of fires. I'm sure that people are still pissed off about that!
Next came Chupacabras, a highly electric rock salsa band from the city. The
exhausted crowd got right up and boogied on… what else can you do? Chupacabras played
for 2 hours.
At 3 AM the last band started playing…. Method to the Madnezz is Ezzies
punky rock band, and they undoubtedly woke up whatever neighbors weren't already
there. I believe that they finished around 4, but to be honest with you I was out
of it by that time and don't really remember. After the band finished and we turned
off the generator things quieted down and a series of folks with acoustic guitars
entertained the crowd until the 7 AM launch took them back to Panajachel. At about
4:30 I went to bed, got up the next morning expecting to have a day of picking up
trash. Luckily, the crowd got interested before leaving and, by the time I showed
up at 9:30, the grounds were pretty well cleaned up. Of course, I spent all of
this last week tearing down the stage, putting the fields back into their natural
states, and hauling out garbage (too much). I really need to set up this part of
it better for next year.
So, all in all it was a GREAT time. Some people complained about the boat
problem, and the food vendors wish that they had sold more, and the Vampires got to
me, but the whole point of this Festival is to get people together for a day of
peace and music, and we definitely accomplished that. The hospital will get a
little boost in their efforts and the legend grows. Maybe next year YOU want to
come and be part of the craziness!!!