Day 1, Saturday 23rd May
As I take the taxi high up into the Circunvalar, I begin to see the cityscape open up before me. I’m on my way to the Media Torta open air theater for the first day of 4 Extraños Fest a full day of local and international rock talent in support of a local cancer charity SIMMON. The grey clouds looming in from the mountains threaten to put a dampener on the fest and I cross my fingers it won’t be a wash out.
As I walk down the winding steps to the back entrance of the dressing rooms with Lucy Sánchez, one of the organizers and my partner in crime for the weekend, the turnout looks dismal and I know that’s always the way it is in Bogota. People never show up to an event until hours later which is a real shame for the local bands starting early. I know that by 2pm the place will have filled up considerably proving that there really is such a thing as fashionably late Colombian time…
As I enter the backstage area everyone is running around like crazy, cell phones glued to their ears engrossed in their task at hand barely noticing the guttural screeching from the band on stage. Familiar faces start drifting in as my friends join the crew weighted down with cameras and tripods and bags full of tech.
The place slowly fills up as the afternoon goes on and the local bands play their hearts out to a mildly interested crowd. The atmosphere is laid back and I see how tough it can be to get a crowd’s energy going. The sound is great and the bands play well but I feel something lacking from the audience a little. The media torta theatre has a great stage, but the space is maybe not the friendliest for the audience.
There is a huge division between the stage and public which at the moment is jammed full of the press clicking away and getting all the great shots of the performers up close and personal. There is also a tiny amount of space for the mosh pit and the concrete steps make it quite dangerous to really get into it. Everyone looks like they are enjoying it though and there’s a calm atmosphere as people nod their heads to the music. Backstage is a little more frantic people working like crazy to keep things going.
There is a bit of a crisis and Lucy and I are sent off into La Candelaria on a pizza and whiskey mission. The international bands are about to arrive and the catering dropped out. We run down to a local pizza place and put in an order for 10 giant pizzas. The owners look happy and we even get a little discount. Then we trawl around every liquor store looking for Jack Daniels checking prices and as usual end up right where we started.
After a swift beer to calm the stress a little I hoist the bag full of booze and soda on my back praying the bag doesn’t split and we head off to pick up the gigantic stack of pizzas. We arrive back and one of the American bands Valient Thorr are already onstage. We return the heroes bringing food and drink to the hungry workers.
I’m pleased to see in our short absence more people have arrived and the crowd is now up from their seats and getting into Valient Thorr’s performance. The shirtless bearded man is crushing it with his little red wrestling booties that seem to be the highlight of the day. The crowd looks happy and energetic finally responding to the great show going on. I managed to grab a slice of pizza and have a chat backstage with band members from Los Viejos and Cardiel who came in from Mexico due to play on the next day’s lineup.
As the afternoon was drawing to a close everyone was looking a little weary. It had been a tough day for everyone. Energies were low but people seemed content. I sat backstage writing up my notes while the windows shook violently from the thundering music of US rockers Battlecross and the vocalist chanted along with the audience “F***K CANCER!!!” the sound like a warcry reverberating in the entire room.
There was going to be an after party with more performances and I was sure a lot of beer and fun…but I politely declined and slipped off home to get a good night’s sleep, ready and refreshed for the next day. This tired writer had the good sense to go home and glad of it. Sunday was the punk lineup and I didn’t want to miss a thing.
Day 2, Sunday 24th May
Arriving a little later I got there happy to see that there were many more people already filling up the rows in the media torta and the sky was grey but non-threatening with a warm breeze flowing nicely. I had a good feeling about the day. Chite were on stage and the crowd was loving it their catchy upbeat punk moving the pogo nicely in the front. I saw carefully crafted mohicans, denim and leather jackets adorned with patches and brightly colored hair painting the crowd punk.
I arrive backstage and the change from yesterday was visible. People looked tired even a little hung-over from the after party but much more in control and organized. My good friends Aire Como Plomo were gearing up to take the stage ready to belt out some metal fusion for the crowd. I went outside as Chite were finishing up the crowd had gotten bigger.
When Aire Como Plomo came out I was shocked to see many of the crowd sitting down with arms folded as they started up with the first song. This was a tough crowd to win over. Musical sub-cultures here are difficult to cross over and mix sometimes. If your crowd prefers punk and you don’t play that…be prepared to have to seduce them. That’s exactly what ACP did the vocalist took off the stage and went closer to the crowd before they played a cover of The Misfits “Mommy Can I go Out and Kill Tonight”. The crowd goes wild and seems to have a newfound respect and the rest of the concert goes well.
I watch all this and realize how difficult it is for Colombian musicians to break into their own music scene. The public is a tough nut to crack and a bit like pulling teeth to get them interested in new music they don’t know. Most people would be happy with local bands doing covers of their favorite songs instead of trying to play their own original music. There are a number of Colombian bands that have managed to gather a following of course but breaking into the scene is a real obstacle that local acts face all the time.
The following band Narcopsychotic also seasoned musicians have a dynamic frontman that goes beyond the borders of the stage and gets right into the crowd when performing. Donning a boxing helmet, possibly to protect him as he climbs about the stage and throws himself into the pogo, he’s like an energizer bunny hopping about the stage everywhere entertaining a delighted crowd.
The atmosphere is certainly picking up as the bands continue to play. Los Viejos, a duo hailing from Mexico play like there are 5 members of the band instead of 2 their sound so strong and vibrant. Mexico seems to know its punk and the music is ultra-catchy.
Before the last band of the night take the stage Jaime Moreno organizer of the fest speaks to the now almost full media torta to say thanks. The crowd cheers as he asks for a round of applause to his mom who tragically passed away from breast cancer. The fest is for her and all the women who have become victims to the terrible disease. One of the sufferers from the foundation SIMMON bravely removes her wig on stage and says “I want to say thank you all now because I don’t know if I will be able to in the near future” right then everyone remembers why they are there supporting the cause. It’s an emotional moment for us all.
The Casualties coming in from the USA take the stage and deliver fast pace aggressive punk attitude and the crowd love it. A photographer says to me it’s a miracle that everyone is behaving and there have been no problems. I guess everyone was expecting something violent to kick off but I knew everyone here was just having a great time. All was well and the fest was a success.
After the show I went backstage for the final time, drank a couple shots of sweet honey-like mescal with Los Viejos and I got a little surprise. Jorge Herrera vocalist for The Casualties gave me a great pic and a warm friendly hug before telling me a punk story about his first trip to England.
He said “The first time I ever went to England was with a toothbrush and my leather jacket. Someone just bought me a ticket and I went alone. I slept in all the train stations in London and I got arrested so I stayed in jail a couple nights then went home. It was awesome”
Proof that punk is indeed not dead and that some rock stars are just warm friendly people who like to hug their fans.
I went home that night tired but feeling great most of all proud for Jaime and Lucy and all the people that made this fest a success. There was some great music and fantastic friendships. Let’s hope there will be a 4 Extraños Fest 2 in the coming future.