For a few busloads of Coachella-bound Mexicans journeying to the United States with travel agency Live Tours this April, the real revelry began at a 7-Eleven.
After flights from all over Mexico into Tijuana, taking the Live Tour bus ride to the border and doing the requisite customs checks, the concert-goers walked into the U.S. and headed to the convenience store, their nearby reunion point.
“They go buy food and beers,” said Enrique Rébora, head of Mexico City-based Live Tours. Later on, the groups also stop at a liquor shop “so they can have a bottle of rum, tequila, whatever they want, mezcal.”
During the ensuing three-hour drive, everyone talks about their favorite groups on the line-up.
“It’s the moment of introduction –– and the moment when many people get to know each other,” says Rébora.
And these days, there are a lot more people to know. Since Rébora first began selling Coachella travel packages in 2007, purchases have skyrocketed: from nearly 40 then, to 700 in 2011.
It’s his business’s most popular festival, which is no big surprise considering its proximity to the border. But Live Tours also recently sold roughly 40 to 100 travel packages to other festivals like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Outside Lands in San Francisco and Austin City Limits in Texas, jumping up from just a handful of purchasers for each event a few years ago.
That success is just one of many signs that Mexicans, in general, are becoming a larger presence at certain U.S. music festivals. Organizers from Lollapalooza – where Live Tours expects to send 300 people this year – also say they’ve witnessed a marked increase in Mexican ticket sales in recent years.
Starting around 2008, Mexico emerged as a prime area for ticket sales, says Lisa Hickey, a festival marketing manager with Austin-based C3 Presents, which markets Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and other shows.
The following year, Mexico’s Federal District became one of the festival’s top 20 markets (including major U.S. cities) and was “probably the year we had the most ticket sales from Mexico,” says Hickey.
Overall, Mexicans composed “roughly two percent” of the festival’s total attendance. Though Hickey wouldn’t specify exact ticket sales, she called the numbers “very significant.”
“It might be close to what we see coming from an entire state like Minnesota, which is just really close to Chicago,” she says.
As for Coachella, Rébora believes roughly 5,000 Mexicans have annually attended the event during the last three or four years. This past year, when Coachella sold out in six days, an Internet theory developed: Mexicans had gobbled up tons of tickets to see classic Mexican band Caifanes play a reunion show.
"We must infiltrate the personal lives of the band members of Caifanes...we must convince them NOT to reunite and to decide NEVER TO SPEAK TO EACH OTHER AGAIN," wrote what looks to be the idea's original author. (Rébora doesn't subscribe to the theory.)
Coachella producer, Goldenvoice, did not fulfill a request for ticket figures, but a representative pointed out that the festival has already saluted the importance of Mexican fans: in 2008, the festival announced its line-up from Mexico City as “a way for us to get closer to our fans throughout Latin America who have been supportive of Coachella for the past 10 years,” said Goldenvoice’s Paul Tollett, founder/producer of Coachella, in a press release.
According to a Los Angeles Times article about the announcement, Tollet gushed “about the surprising resonance of the Coachella brand with Mexican fans, artists and press.”
He even said he’d thought about staging a counterpart festival in Mexico.
Musician and writer Mauricio Pastrana recalls noticing a distinct increase in Mexican concertgoers in 2008, four years after his first Coachella. Mexican band Austin TV played. The group was “super unknown and super independent” at the time, he says.
“It had a fairly good crowd and that’s when I felt the big jump,” says Pastrana.
Pastrana has also noticed a steady – although lesser – swelling of Mexican crowds at other events. He first attended South by Southwest several years ago, back when Mexican music lovers barely knew it existed.
“There was not a lot of Mexican presence and not from press either,” he says.
Since then, the Mexican crowds have picked up.
For many Mexicans – especially those from the interior – these trips can easily add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The trek is worthwhile, says Carlos Arteaga from Mexico City, because the festival experience is one-stop shopping to see tons of small bands that never visit Mexico.
“The majority of the headliners, it’s very possible that they come, but small local bands rarely do,” he says, writing through Facebook because he couldn’t squeeze in an interview before heading to Glastonbury Festival in England in late June.
Neto Guzmán Barbosa has battled, basically, the same problem: he’s an avid punk fan, but Mexico’s scene is too small to attract major bands, says the Guadalajara resident.
“Promoters don’t bring these bands to Mexico because it’s really expensive,” he says. So he independently seeks out the bands and has attended four Vans Warped Tour concerts and various other U.S. shows.
Lalo Jiménez, a two-time Coachella attendee, says he’s seen two types of Mexican concertgoers at U.S. festivals: the hardcore music lovers and the rich kids, who go for the coolness factor.
The first faction believes “if I’m going to see thirty bands there, it’s going to cost much less than seeing them little by little in Mexico,” he says.
As for the second group, Jiménez sums up the mentality as: “it’s like my friend Jaunito is going to go to the festival and I don’t want to stay behind.”
Mexican fans also realize their presence is a two-way street. More of them may signify more homegrown Mexican bands in the line-up. For example, besides Austin TV, Coachella has invited a number of south-of-the-border performers in recent years: Caifanes, Café Tacvba and Porter to name a few.
“There is a recognition and openness with respect to Coachella and the Mexican fans,” as Rébora says.
Ruth Samuelson is a freelance writer living in Mexico City. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.