LA La Land -Woodstock at 50 in Mexico
LA LA LAND: Cerveza, mezcal, tequila and bratwurst. Woodstock at 50 in Mexico
The Bar El Camaleón is a “Cheers” kind of place about three doors down from the Music Sin Fronteras radio studio. It is wildly painted with a huge wrap around mural of a chameleon lizard – the bar’s namesake – and inside is much bigger than it looks from the outside. There is a large barroom with tables and booths and a TV set, a second room open to the sky with more tables and a large tree for shade, a stage which doubles as a pool table room, an upstairs veranda – what Mexicans call a mirador, with more tables and a second bar. A big place.
It’s a good thing it was such a big place because it had to accommodate a very big crowd for the Woodstock 50th Anniversary celebration Saturday and Sunday.
Who knew Woodstock was a such a big deal in Central Mexico? It is, especially in Jalisco, where Woodstock icon Carlos Santana was born, just a few miles from the Bar El Camaleón. Santana and Woodstock are especially loved because he introduced Latin rhythms and Spanish to the growing acid rock scene at Woodstock.
Of course, a population of American and Canadian retirees who remember the music doesn’t hurt either.
Posters were plastered all over town promoting the party, beginning at 4 pm, incredibly early for Mexico and pretty much any club I know of. But nevertheless, the Camaleón began filling up around 3 in the afternoon with regulars and groups there specifically for the Woodstock 50th anniversary party and had the tie-dye to prove it.
By 5 pm Bar El Camaleón was close to standing room only in the lower levels and the upstairs tables were filled. The grill upstairs had also been fired up with bratwurst, served on bolillos – luscious Mexican rolls. As the people at the tables munched their bratwurst and washed it down with cerveza or tequila, they told me they came to the Woodstock celebration, because they loved the music of the 60” and because they wanted to dance (see interviews of patrons at https://youtu.be/EkiyDEJgV_s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9jFnp2B93o).
There were a lot of tie-dyes, headbands, peace necklaces, and shits opposing the war in Vietnam, much of in preparation for an announced hippie costume party. The audience was largely ex-pats but not completely, as Mexican locals filled tables and booths, ready to rock.
The rocking started around 6 pm with Daniel Cordero, a multi-instrumentalist from the neighboring state of Michoacán. Cordero brought a memory board full of 60’s song accompaniments that he was able to blend in with his gravel-pitched voice, serious guitar chops and harmonica. He also brought a Las Vegas-worthy collection of stage lights, mixers, microphones and other gear and turned the pool table room into a sophisticated night club stage for his act and those of the other bands.
Cordero knew what the audience was looking for – the experience they had in the 60’s, or thought they had, or have heard about other people having. Given the age range, it is likely that at least half the audience were born after Woodstock (or as a result of it) and half were contemporaries. I could not find anyone who was actually there, but Richie Havens’ cousin, who was there, dropped by, although I missed him.
Cordero took us through Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe and the Fish, Richie Havens and many others. He blew everyone away with his version of Burt Bacharach and Robert Hillard’s 1961 Any Day Now. Things really got moving when he pulled out his harmonica and launched into a high energy Take a Load Off Annie/Fanny. The dance floor filled up and never calmed down. He had hit his stride and the crowd’s dance nerve. The party was on.
Cordero continued to work through the sixties, seeming to never get tired although he had been on stage for almost 2 hours. But eventually, he took a break to make way for Los Tres Mosqueteros, a rock trio made up of locals Paco Casas on electric guitar and vocals, Sergio Casas on bass, and Chelo González on drums.
Paco is a first-class guitarist and had tuned his Fender to the 60’s sound before he launched into Creedence Clearwater Revival – known in Mexico as “Los Creedence”– singing Born on a Bayou. That pulled even more people out of their seats and onto the dance floor. Then Paco really upped the energy with his version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ 1956 song I Put a Spell On You. The Mosqueteros did not try to duplicate the original (no one can – Hawkins confessed he was drunk when he recorded it and was not sure he could do it again), but stuck closer to the 1969 Creedence cover, including John Fogerty’s guitar feedback. For people close enough to see it, Paco had a wicked grin on his face as he held his Fender next to the speaker and wailed away.
The band took a break while the microphones got rearranged. Everyone had another beer or tequila (at one point mezcal samples were served) and folks headed upstairs to the grill for seconds on the bratwurst. The night was getting on but no one looked tired. Even Cordero, who had jumped onto the dance floor himself, was full of energy, talking to fans and even signing a poster.
The third band up for the night was the Los Bad Hombres, a misnomer at least as far as their talent was concerned. Comprised of Esteban Olvera, Kevin, Diego Casas, Ameyalli, and Faridbak on vocals, LBH is no stranger to Bar El Camaleón or many other venues in the Ajijic area and even coastal resort towns on the Sea of Cortez. Faridbak brought a warm vintage condenser microphone with him to give his great voice even more depth and tone. The party continued on with them and reportedly way past the end of their set, going until 6:30 in the morning according to one bartender the next day ( I was not there when the sun came up!)
The party started again Sunday night, although subdued, with Daniel Cordero playing solo to a smaller but equally happy crowd. Faridbak was there from Los Bad Hombres, but did not sing without the rest of the band. Cordero wrapped up and joined a crowd in the bar celebrating a successful Mexican Woodstock 50th Anniversary at Bar El Camaleón with music, beer, mezcal, tequila, and bratwurst.
Until next time! Stay tuned for more LA La Land next week.