Making music in Mexico: One lucky PCV

29 10 2012

I’ve had the incredible good fortune to play a lot of music during my service, and last weekend I played what may be my final show with my band, Leones Negros / Atletas Campesinos, at Jardin Guerrero here in Queretaro. This was certainly one of the best parts of my service, and I like to think it contributed in some way to the Peace Corps’ Goal 2 (“Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served”) in addition to leaving me with some great friendships and experiences. Here are a few memories:

  • I was actually in 3 bands here. I met my first band through my host family- my ‘host-aunt’ was friends with the trumpet player. A bunch of guys had gotten together and started a ska band called Raskazon. My host mom and dad weren’t very encouraging about it but I was desperate to find anybody to play with, so I was happy for the opportunity. They were just getting started and they played covers of Mexican ska songs. They were nice guys but it wasn’t musically a great fit. Although I did learn some great songs by latin ska bands like Panteon Rococo and Gondwana.
  • I did play a few shows with them and I’ll never forget the first. It was in a barn about an hour outside of Queretaro and was filled was teenagers. Having played lots of ska shows in the states, this wasn’t that unusual for me, although unlike my previous shows, I was pretty sure I was the only American in the place. And it was the first time I had played a show with cows right outside the door. Fortunately, just like in the states, when the music got going, the crowd started moshing and fighting and I felt pretty much at home.

    Halloween in the barn

  • Shortly after, I got lucky and met my buddy Aldo, a UAQ student and guitar player who invited me to practice with his reggae/ska band. That was my second band here, and I played my first show with them about 2 weeks later out in La Cañada. I also sat in and played with another local band that night. I think I was lucky because there aren’t a lot of slide trombone players here, so I’ve been something of a novelty!

Other memorable times:

  • Breaking down on the side of the highway late to a show in DF when a mechanic happened to stop and see if we needed help. Within 15 minutes, he had gotten under the van, fixed the problem and we were on our way. I was surprised that the mechanic was wearing a Choate Rosemary Hall prep-school sweatshirt.
  • The band had an old 15 passenger van that broke down a lot, and often smelled like gas in the back, where I spent many hours learning Mexican card games. Once we broke down on the side of a small highway a few hours from Puebla with a leaky radiator and spent a few hours trying to find water and fix the leak. It was amazing this didn’t happen more because no one in the band really knew anything about fixing cars.

    The campesina

  • We got stopped at checkpoints innumerable times. I can only imagine what the police thought of our dread-locked driver (and lead singer) and his graffiti’d van full of musicians. But we never had any major problems.
  • After a show in a small town between DF and Puebla, we were put up by the promoter in his family’s house. There were about ten of us, and we took over all the rooms- the family stayed at a neighbor’s house. I felt bad since we kicked all the kids out of their Winnie the Pooh and Barbie rooms for the night. But they treated us like rock stars and insisted on making us a huge breakfast in the morning.
  • A couple times after staying overnight for shows, we’d spend the next day at a hot spring or alberca, relaxing with a carne asada picnic and listening to mariachi or banda bands.

  • We played a couple festivals at Cerro de la Estrella in DF, the park where Mexico’s largest Easter procession finishes. Once the crowd was at least 5 thousand people- the biggest crowd I’ve ever played. Fortunately we were almost finished with our set when the first incoming water bottle hit our trumpet player.
  • We played many shows in little bars in pueblitos with no stage, where once the moshing gets going, the microphone stands don’t stay up for long. But of course the music goes on. Another way Mexico is just like the US!
  • Often playing on a packed stage – the good times were when it was full of musicians or singers from other bands (or fans who wanted to dance!) who would join our sets. Other times it was borrachos who would get past the bouncers and crash the stage. When there were bouncers.

  • Getting spoiled by routinely playing shows with terrific sound engineers and equipment. And often, very elaborate staging and lighting. Even in small towns.
  • Even more than in the states, Mexicans seem to love smoke machines. I hadn’t played with them many times before and I learned that it’s really tough to play a horn that’s full of fake smoke.
  • Playing a quinceañera party, in a little town’s basketball arena. We were treated like guests of honor, had our own table and they brought us cases of beer and tequila, because I guess everyone knows that’s what keeps musicians happy. It was my only quinceañera here, but it was complete with a girl in an amazing, frilly, purple satin dress and her 6 suitors in matching tuxedos with purple ties or something. We played on a stage under the backboard and they had an impressive light show and great sound production. And smoke machines.
  • I was often flattered to be asked to be in pictures with fans or sign autographs. Usually on copies of our records, but sometimes t-shirts, skin or other stuff. A lot more often than in the states!

  • We played a number of farms and barns, with cows either right behind us or just outside. No idea if they enjoyed the shows or not, sometimes they mooed, usually they kept quiet.

  • I played weekly shows for awhile at Harry’s in Queretaro with a blues band. We had a great time and almost always had a very fun crowd. Unfortunately the management decided we were too loud and fired us.
  • I also played open jams at other local bars including Wicklow’s and Funky Mama’s. I try not to take it personally that the city has since practically outlawed live music on that stretch of 5 de Mayo.

All in all, an incredible part of my service, which I can’t believe is coming to an end in just a couple weeks!



2 responses

29 10 2012

Awesome post! It’s a shame I never got to make it out of a show and that’s pretty awesome you guys fired from Harrrry’s. See you this weekend.

29 10 2012

Thanks buddy, looking forward to the weekend!

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