As I wait in the hot sun to go into the Tropicalia Fest grounds, the crowd at security checkpoint cheers when they hear music from the main stage by Los Angeles Azules. As I finally walk in, the first thing you see is an assortment of food, booze, and merch booths.
A sea of people make up of an assortment of latinx hipsters rocking Joy Division shirts, one dude sports a righteous Mariah Carey shirt, flocks of mustaches, retro ‘90s Aliyah glasses, Selena ‘90s-inspired getups, some punk rockers, a shit ton of Morrissey shirts, and a dedicated fan on crutches limping through the vendors area.
I continue on to the main stage, and hear the singer of Los Angeles Azules shout the ladies into a frenzy with his wit:
“No importata si son flacas, gueras, chonchas, esta cancion es para las mujeres,” says singer Erik De la Pena. The English roughly translates to “all women are beautiful, this song is for you.” The band then begins to play their hit song heard in every latino’s backyard all over the world “Como te Voy Olvidar.” This turns the crown into a venerable dance party. It’s a mix of gringos trying to dance cumbia with those who can actually dance. Dad’s dance with their daughters, friends dance with friends, and lovers dance with lovers. I hang around a couple songs to see the spectacle of the cumbia backyard scene turned mainstream before I head on to the other stages.
To get to the other two stages, the Juanga and the Chavela, you have to go through a tunnel covered in graffiti and fluorescent day of the dead flags. Spray painted names like spanky Lolo, Styx, and Acme, Hulk, and Bambi cover the tunnel walls. This is a natural attraction for Instagram pics which causes some slowdowns. More people also add to the wall covertly writing their tagger names — or maybe it’s just their regular names. There is also a bridge you can use, but it’s more narrow and cluttered, so the tunnel is the best option.
Once on the other side, there are more vendor booths: Delmys pupusas, Future Weed, Smile and Say Richeese, Aguas Frescas, vegan tacos with meat names, and Swisher merch. Making my way closer to the music, I can hear soulful, dreamy music from Still Woozy at the Juanga stage with a sizable fan base of youths. After their set of dreamy sounds with lyrics, 40 feet across in the Chavela stage, a raucous duo appear. The whole crowd runs from one stage to other to hear the noise up close.
The Garden come out in suits and start rapping, jumping, lively shouting like a B-version of the Beastie Boys. The Garden is a band of two white boy brothers from the OC. They mesh mellow vibes with full on staccato punk beats, sprinkled in with vaporwave; or what they call the Vada Vada style, a mesh of everything. At the peak of the noise as they play “Call This # Now,” a guy in an orange bandana crowd surfs, extending his arms like a perfect cross like if it’s the second coming.
I go back to the Chalino stage — the main stage — to the VIP section because as part of the 4th legislative government, I get to purchase one of my only two 12 dollar beer’s that I can barely afford separately from the peasant class. However, I’m banned from the Cabana VIP section which has seats and couches. I assume these go to the Illuminati.
While I’m settled in at the main stage, I wait for Devendra Banhart, as ads of Dom Pen, At&t, and Corona flicker on the screen every 2 minutes. Banhart dances as he and the crew prepare for his set.
“Que belleza hoy, se necesita el amor,” says Banhart and begins to play the mellow “Mi Negrita” as everyone gets darker from being in the sun all day. After a couple songs, I wander back to the other side of the fest to check out Omar Apollo.
“Wassup Tropicalia, on tan los Mexicanos,” Apollo says. Although playing mellow tunes, this comment jazzes up fans to begin to crowd surf to undistorted tunes which is quite a feat in itself.
I wander around until Toro y Moi and catch them playing their funky electronic dance tunes. I actually wander around a lot. Since the festival isn’t too spread out, you can catch many different bands if you’re willing to walk. So I go back and forth. Because all of the punk and garage bands in the line-up, the most lively section of the fest is the back end where the Chavela and Juanga stages are at.
Even the most mellow bands still manage to turn the crowd into a proper punk show, beer throwing, shoe throwing, and hat throwing, shirt or a jacket? I’m not sure. Seeing all the havoc I get hungry and go buy some pupusas. To my shock though, Morrissey uses his clout to ban any meat being sold from 5 pm to 11 pm. This fascism is discriminatory to the Mexican/Salvadorian meat culture, but the frijoles and cheese are enough to satiate me from starting a revolution.
After stuffing the pupusa from Delmy’s down my throat, I go see Frankie Cosmo. Her mellow pop tunes as the sun turns orange seems very appropriate. She plays the “Ballad of R & J” as I go into a food coma and lay down.
I wake to the sound of Jim Morrison’s voice: “When I was back there in seminary school. There was a person there who put forth the proposition that you can petition the Lord with prayer. Petition the Lord with prayer. Petition the Lord with prayer. You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!”
Albert Hammond Jr. walks up to the mic and cooly says: “This is how it goes.” The band starts playing “Far Away Truths” from his latest record, Set to Attack. Since the Chavela stage and Juanga stage are so close, and there are issues with overlap between bands, this causes bands to pollute each other’s sets. The first time I noticed was between Hammond’s set and Mexican ska group Inspector’s set.
“This is Mexican ska!” screams the frontman of Inspector, as the band plays a ska-tinged cumbia and Albert Hammond’s band continues to play their final song. However, the most band’s sets don’t bleed more than a few minutes overtime. So the sound mixing wasn’t terrible, but it’s definitely distracting.
After Alebert Hammond Jr, I wait at the far side of the fest until los gruperos de Mexico, Bronco, go on. If you ever saw band making fun of the Mexican band look, they were basically making fun of Bronco. The progenitors of the groupero sound. The crowd is surprisingly young and diverse. It just shows how much of impact Bronco has had on our parents and us children. Maybe that’s why there was a combo of parents and children. There are even some gueras confounded, but still grooving on the Mexican vibes.
“Que gritan los latinos” says Bronco singer, José Guadalupe Esparza. The whole crowd turns into a dance and sing along fest.
“Un grito mexicanote,” says the singer again. Everyone does the mexican scream or impression of one. Despite my Mexican blood, I am unable to do that. Blame it on colonialism for causing damage to my Mexican vocal chords.
After a stellar Bronco set, I mosey on to see Morrissey at the main stage. As I approach, I see the ‘60s music videos of old rockabilly and even David Bowie, playing before the Morrissey set.
Suddenly, an image of writer James Baldwin appears on the screen as Morrissey walks out. He kicks off with the Smiths’ “William It Was Really Nothing” to a roaring crowd. He peppers in some Spanish in between songs and says things like “estoy en casa” and “Guadalajara.” He goes through a bunch of solo songs, a cover of “Back in the Chain Gang” and closes with the juggernaut, “How Soon Is Now.”
Day two of Tropicalia was less dense than Saturday. This is probably because Cardi B, Cuco, BadBadNotGood, and Ronnie Spector dropped out of the fest. It’s also Sunday, so that doesn’t help.
I go to the main stage to catch La Sonora Dinamita.
“Are you guys read for cumbia, shouts singer Vilma Díaz.“ Vamos a bailar hasta las seis de la mañana!” The band goes into the party starter “Escandalo,” sending the crowd into a cumbia dance fest of epic proportions.
“A los que saben espanol traducela a los que no saben español,” the singer says. She goes into “No Te Metas Con My Cucu” which translates to you non-Spanish speakers roughly to this: “Don’t mess around with my boo unless you want a big slap to the face.”
After the cumbia fest, I head over to so the other side of the fest. “Listen up you kids” sings the Current Joy singer. Crowd surfers are reaching to the sky even though the band is pretty mellow with lyrics that go “I’ve been contemplating suicide.”
I wander around more and catch the Maria’s shortly after Current Joys. “Who’s gonna vote,” Maria asks. “You can register to vote and vote on the same day.” Not feeling the Maria’s, I go wander around more grab a slice of za’ and a plastic cup of good ol’ beer. This isn’t the only political speech I hear.
SWMRS singer Cole Becker yells “Fuck Donald Trump, brown and black lives matter” during his set. I meander around some more and stumble upon Boy Pablo playing a cover of “Beat It’ by Michael Jackson. I wander around some more and catch Triathlon. However, noise pollution contaminates their sound for a brief moment as the band in the other stage rushes to finish their song.
“I want y’all to say we love you Cuco on three,” says singer Claire Cottrill, otherwise known as Clairo and DJ Baby Benz. I stay around a little way to see her electro-pop set. Her sound is cool, vibey dreamy music for hipsters and teens, but it’s an age bracket I grew long ago. So I wander off to the main stage again.
By this time, my old man knees are kicking in so I lay on the grass while I wait for Mac DeMarco. Mac comes out in a fat suit and cooly says “Make yourself at home, get comfortable, and be respectful.” With no backing band, he presses play on his computer and sings to the pre-recorded instrumentals. After finishing up “On the Level,” he screams “Now you see, now you see!” He takes off his fat suit and tells the crowd to hold their cells out “classic rock concert style.”
“As you can see I have no band, that’s because I have a mortgage to pay now,” says DeMarco. He presses play and starts dancing and singing jovially to “Rock n’ Roll Night Club.”
I walk back to the other side of the fest to catch Surf Curse. With my knees about to give out, I decide this is my last band. “What’s up Coachella,” says the singer Rick Rattigan sardonically, as Surf Curse gets ready to start their set. And Surf Curse did not disappoint. The crowd is made up of the most die-hard fans I’ve ever seen. The whole crowd turns literally to a mosh pit. The youngins’ are crowd surfing, throwing water bottles, and just enjoying themselves. I go into the crowd for a while, but the old knees and hips aren’t what they used to so I call it a day and make my way to the shuttles one last time.
I like to stare at my computer. Occasionally I type words to pass the time. Those words are usually about music.