For those who actually got to the underpopulated festival in Monterrey, the spectacle was what you made of it. We thought it was a riot, but maybe you hated it. Who could blame you if you got caught in the death threat bus?
7am on Sunday morning; after months of full work days, mounds of paperwork confirming insurance, CDO licenses, and references for contracted bus drivers to shuttle Monterrey-bound gringos to the Laredo border, after Todd P and his volunteers had “dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's”, they were left looking for a new bus driver on Craigslist to leave in three hours, because over the past 12 hours, two had canceled. About four hours later, and 35 miles outside of Austin, the woman in the captain's seat was threatening to kill her passengers. “I could rub you out right now and no one would know,” she reportedly said, before ultimately being persuaded to return the school bus (max speed: 40 mph) to the parking lot in Austin where it began, to wait for a new driver.
There was also the driver who parked a bus outside of Austin, locked it up, and left for his day job. Monday the bus fell in a ditch a few feet from the entrance to Autocinemas las Torres, where the three-day festival was held, but that was just comical; the Mexican service hired was far more reliable.
For all the mishaps that occurred north of the border, Todd Patrick may sue Blue Star Line, a bus company he claims has a “monopoly” hold on South Texas bus-chartering. “Fuck yes, I have a case,” he said over the phone yesterday from Monterrey. “There's nothing we spent more time on than the buses in the planning stages. They rented us buses that were 20 years older than promised. They gave us buses that were 15 miles under the maximum guarunteed speed. They raised the prices. The week running up to the festival we called the drivers once a day.”
He was quick to add that ultimately “the blame lies on us [the organizers] for relying on them [Blue Star Line]. We haven't run a bus shuttle before. Some people didn't make it. That's what we failed at.”
But a cloud of scrutiny had settled on the festival site at Autocinema las Torres even before the bus troubles, or the generator failed the Friday before the festival, or narco-traffickers made headlines for burning 18-wheelers into road blocks on the fringes of Monterrey one night, and engaging in gunfire on University grounds the next, where two students died. Before anyone was pointing fingers, before even some locals decided not to go out that weekend, before anyone talked about the festival as a perfect storm of logistical implosions and possible violence, media (Impose included) poured countless words on the project, as if it held an ultimate response to the industry noise running simultaneously in Austin.
From this vantage, the resulting festival now reads like false-advertising. 75 promised bands became 40 or so.
But no one, lastly us, rejected the festival outright (though plenty have gotten close), because in essence, we all witnessed an idea in its earliest forms of practice. It was almost a political gesture: the blueprint of a non-corporate festival on a massive scale. That, and some truly sick bands played. Also, did you know you can buy a jug of mezcal in Mexico for about a dollar fifty at Mexican Walmart?
As Liars frontman Angus Andrew quipped to close out the festival early Tuesday morning, the many festival dropouts didn't come because “they were too careful.” Then he descended into “Proud Evolution”, where sublimely nasty guitar fuzz laced his gruff chorus: “You should be careful, you should be careful,” ad finitum.
He was right, lots of people were indeed careful. The locals are the first to admit that this was an unusually tense weekend. Ricardo Ramírez Franco, one of Yo Garage's organizers, explained that he “can't deny that the violence of narco-traffickers increased during the weekend of the festival.” Ramírez shares one local sentiment about the violence that appears to have no corollary in foreign media coverage, that the violence is, while terrifying, a light at the end of the tunnel that signals desperate outbursts from cartels that are in increasingly weak positions. “It appears that what happened this weekend was an act of vengeance for what's been done to the drug cartels during the previous weeks,” he said. “I think that it's a good signal that things are improving.”
Still, some locals chose not to travel the five minutes down Prieto from San Pedro, the wealthiest per-capita city-sized “suburb” in Latin America. Other Mexicans drove halfway across the country and offered up some of the most involved Dan Deacon dance-offs in any hemisphere along with hundreds of others who clung close as the Baltimore performer tried to “pack as many jams into the set as possible.”
Monterrey is as stratified as any wealthy American city, and the breakdown in attendance can be loosely compared to what happened to bands and fans up north, some of whom didn't come because of the broken bus system, and others who never tried, out of fear.
A handful who made it across—Best Fwends, Lemonade, Indian Jewelry—spent 20 hours in waiting and transit time before delivering empassioned Monday performances. Others tried relentlessly before relinquishing the attempt to their tour schedules. Thee Oh Sees crossed at Laredo in a rented car, making it as far into Mexico as the 20 kilometer checkpoint, twice. Talk Normal waited 13 hours, sleeping in a school bus in an Austin parking lot over night before giving up after the “rub you out” driver dropped them back off in Austin. “We would have waited longer if we could have. We only bailed once the driving schedule for our remaining tour dates was seriously endangered. Let that only be a testament to how much we wanted to take part in the MtyMx festival.”
Talk Normal and like-minded bands became the casualties of the festival's short-comings, but were demonstrations of a commitment to something that really needs a new name other than “DIY”, something that generally means non-corporate and independent. It was these bands, who despite facing Kafka-esque frustrations, remained outwardly supportive and positive towards the essence of the project.
So with hindsight, it was universally about the buses, with a side of caution. Liturgy's Hunter Hunt-Hendrix: “We weren't so strung out about the drug wars, but we got word of some dire organizational problems with the shuttles and border crossing procedure. Didn't want to jeopardize the rest of our tour. ” DD/MM/YYYY were candid that while they did wait doggedly for nearly ten hours while buses never materialized in Austin, their decision was ultimately about the border town cross-over to a different, Mexican bus, a process that all festival-bussed travelers endured. “We thought about how scary it might be to hang around Laredo with our gear, just waiting for this magic school bus to pick us up. On top of this, our friend (who we were killing time with) said that Laredo is the last place he'd want to hang out with sentimental possessions.”
(A vaguely comical aside: Mexico has a problem with petty theft but in two of the three incidents of theft reported on and around the site, young local children snuck back onto the festival site to return a stolen bag and wallet, empty of credit cards and money, but with passports and ID still intact.)
Asked about rumors that his band No Age didn't show out of fear, Dean Spunt of No Age insisted, “We love Monterrey, but we had a schedule that made it impossible to make our bus, then we tried to get flights and there were none available. We played there twice last year and it sucks that we missed it.”
While we may have found the mezcal, not everyone had their sensors tuned to blissed-out mode. Americans who made it there were described variously as “grizzled-looking refugees” who had “a survivor air about them,” and, accurately for the first couple hours, “either in a band or a member of the press.” Others adamantly saw, as Todd Patrick did, “people hanging out and getting drunk and trying to hook up with each other. All the stuff that happens at a rock show.” While there were most definitely plenty who were simply “psyched to be in Mexico when Das Racist asked to 'turn the mushrooms up in the speaker',” it's safe to say that the “refugees” were a tiny minority of the festival attendees, and that MtyMx was largely populated by locals who'd never had the pleasure of HEALTH or Dan Deacon seen live.
Of course, that pendulum swung both ways, and it was the first time that most visiting gringos had the pleasure of ingesting White Ninja's screamo hitting a Krautwall, Los Fancy Free's fifteen-minute guitar-hand-out, Las Ratas del Vaticano's razor-sharp hardcore, Quiero Club's Stereolab'd quirk pop, Los Llamarada's shoe-gauzed garage cacophony. It was a chance for sonic tourists to dip into a deep well that most previously didn't know was in their continent's back (or front, if you like) yard.
But by late on Sunday, bands who hadn't made it down had left as large an impression as those that had. Todd Patrick's remarks on the subject, aimed at those who bailed fearing drug violence, was videotaped and quickly disseminated via youtube. A Mexican girl shouted “pussies!” as he apologized for the festivals failings. To that, he let loose: “Yes pussies, that's the word. So they all thought that they were going to die. Now I'm looking around, you all seem pretty alive!” Though he calls those statements “playful joking,” does he regret saying what he did? “Fuck no. I was standing next to Dan fucking Deacon and surrounded by a bunch of Mexicans who felt I had lied. I was only thinking of the people who cited safety concerns as the reason for not coming.” He shared with us an example text-message from one prominent band that ultimately canceled. “Can you guarantee we are not going to get murdered traveling to Mexico? My mom is like freaking out. Psyched!”
Dan Deacon perhaps summed it up squarely. “At no point did I feel unsafe. Some friends and I walked around the city a lot during the day and night and it was fine. While those problems are real I think most of the fear is created in the press. Baltimore has a lot of violence and drugs and shit but it's still a great place to live. Mexico is the same way. Things like this festival are what help to bring a community up.”
Patrick remains adamant that chance fell harshly on the experiment, not personal blunders. “My staff didn't drop the ball. The ball fell on them.” Patrick is already fiery and motivated to return to Monterrey, as soon as fall 2010, with a new festival. “Will we do it? Of course. Do I feel regrets? Tons of them. Do I have any shame? Not one drop.”
Whatever happens, Yo Garage's Ramírez Franco extends an olive branch to the bands who were, as Liars' Andrews put it, “careful.” “I want to invite those bands to come one on one to Monterrey and other parts of Mexico before involving themselves in a festival. That way, we could have a personal rapport, one of the things that we enjoy most when someone visits us.”