Thursday, March 24, 2016

Breaking news: Quartzsite survives -- maybe thrives on -- big rock festival

Last fall we posted information about an upcoming Quartzsite event – a rock festival. It was a "duh" moment for this writer – on seeing the big billboard advertising it, all I could think of, "What? Another QIA?" [Quartzsite Improvement Association Gem & Mineral Show.] Silly fellow, as I soon learned this "rock" had nothing to do with minerals, and everything to do with decibels – as in, lots of them, pounding out musical rhythm.

In case you got out of town in time to miss it, you may be wondering how the first-ever Latino rock concert went down. Well, label me an "old fossil," I guess I'm here to tell you that I'm kind of relieved it's over, but truly surprised at how well the whole event went.

Panteón Rococo in 2014. Libertinus on
The two day event, which took place along the Interstate 10 south frontage road at the Desert Gardens Showground was truly a tribute to modern Mexican rock. The weekend of the 19th and 20th saw nearly two-dozen top bands from the U.S., Mexico, and elsewhere from Central America appear on stage before huge crowds of ecstatic Latin music followers. Maybe I'm dating myself, but the crowds weren't anything like those that showed up at Yasgur's farm back in '69, but for a "first time" festival, there were plenty on hand.

Prior to the arrival of construction crews who put up fencing, huge tents, portable lighting systems, stages, and pulled in plenty of semi-trucks of cerveza, many locals were placing bets on how big the riots would be. I spoke with one land-owner from the north side of I-10 who told me she wasn't setting foot outside of her home during the concert, she was certain there would be violence.

Violins, maybe, but no violence. Actually, the violins would have better been termed fiddles, as at least one band – a Mariachi cum heavy metal outfit showed up. We watched a Youtube video featuring the group, and I almost hate to admit it – the group was good! If the lead singer were left out of it, the music was great.

I will confess I didn't cough up the freight for even a pre-festival ticket ($99) but I managed to interview one well-known festival-goer (hint: he works behind the counter in the post office) who told me that while the place was definitely crowded, the attendees were about as well-mannered as we could hope for. Most stuck to the festival grounds for the show, but plenty migrated out to Love's, Burger King, and McDonalds for refreshments. No, the National Guard never had to be called in, and the state patrol boys assigned to keeping an eye on local roadways looked like they were working harder at keeping their eyelids propped open than any other activity.

While the festival itself was slated for the weekend, the Wednesday evening prior to the show the outfit did a little "sound testing." OK, the showground is close to Loves, and our humble abode is behind the local strip mall, quite a distance away. We definitely got plenty of sound at our place, leading me into a grumble fit about how I'd ever sleep through the weekend. But come opening day, organizers chose to turn down the volume, and other than an occasional "bump, bump" of bass, we never heard a thing. A friend who stays on at Desert Gardens – a scant ¼ mile away, tells me that the wind came in from the west and carried the sound away.

Mainstream media suggested that as many as 20,000 festival goers would cram in and rave all weekend. In reality, only about 4,000 advance tickets were sold; my "insider" source guesses that by the end of the first day of the festival maybe 8,000 were on site. Judging from the amount of labor and equipment involved, it would be a mighty close shave if the promoter made a profit, but the festival goers seemed to enjoy it – and like the big Gringo music festival down the street in Coachella, the first year could be more of a trial balloon. Coachella lost money in its first roll-out – but today, it's a booming annual business.

Having been around QZ since the late 1990's and watching the seeming decline of winter visitors (most of us aren't getting any younger), maybe an annual music festival isn't such a bad idea. Seeing a lot of young people having a good time and bringing a few bucks into the economy is strangely refreshing.


  1. This year's Riverbend (June 10-18, 2016 Chattanooga, TN) line up includes REO Speedwagon, 38 Special, Heart and Blood Sweat & Tears. At a low price of $40 advance/$55 gate for the entire festival. I like the price of Riverbend better than the price of the one noted above. The last night has fireworks too. We would stay at nearby Chester Frost County Park or Racoon Mtn Campground for the entire event. The line up generally covers a wide range of genres.

  2. I listened to that youtube clip, and Russ, your patience is 100x beyond mine. That lead singer's voice makes chewing ground glass seem appealing.



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