Unlike past years, most of the Fiesta del Pueblo is indoors at the N.C. Fairgrounds this year. At first, it was a bit disappointing not to be outside (could have left my sunscreen and straw hat at home), but in a way it made the Fiesta seem bigger and easier to navigate, because it was all concentrated in a smaller space.
It seemed like the cultural element was a bigger deal in the booths and crafts vendors this year, which was nice to see. For instance, there's a little Rincón Cubano set up, with a domino table and a bunch of Cubans just hanging out, talking with you about their culture and handing out free shots of cafe Cubano.
Tomorrow (Sunday): the Cubans are having a domino tournament at 1:00; come one, come all.
Among the vendors, there was some pretty, hand-made stuff for sale, like Colombian hats and Andean embroidered tops, as well as lots of chavo gear, beaded necklaces and athletic wear displaying national colors and religious emblems. Pride and protection. Speaking of T-shirts, La Firma's musicians all wore the same one that amused with the saying: "Legally Latin."
To eat: I had a plate of picadillo with rice, beans and mariquitos (platano chips) from Carmen's, which was good and priceworthy, at $5; the pupusas next door looked great too. I recommend the lemonade vendor just outside the Jim Graham building, this vendor (who had a long, thin braid down his back) had a great way of shaking up the lemonade to activate the pulp, and not oversweetening it.
I'm told that Sunday the Main Stage moves outside, it was all under cover today due to rain threat. While it is just not as nice to hear music inside the cattle exhibition hall, on the upside, there was a nice temporary dance floor installed which paid dividends for the salseros, merengueros, etc. Yes, people were getting down. Pablo Antonio y La Firma (from D.C. and environs) closed out the night, I think I remember them from last year, a Dominican-led large band that does mostly merengue, so their merengue sounds right (with a real tambora player) and their salsa is respectable. Timbalero (a Haitian dude, I'm told) played a real cool solo in the Oscar D'Leon cover "Lloraras". This band had a good rapport with dancers.
I missed a few sets I might have liked to see, like Charanga Carolina, but, musically the day was satisfying and filled with discoveries.
Besides the cultural gem Costa Colombiana (about which, more to follow), rock was the big news at the Fiesta today. North Carolina bands Tercer Divisa Nacional, Razpa and Braco (Winston-Salem) all came out swinging, not to mention visitors Santino, from Peru via L.A., and (gospel rock) El Trio de Hoy, from Massachusetts and Miami.
I missed Tercer Divisa Nacional's set, but hung out and talked with them afterwards; last I heard them play was at Shakori Hills, where they will return in October. Their Mexican-style blues-rock reminds me of El Tri, with conscious lyrics about human rights and immigration, delivered with a frank, rebellious attitude. Leaders David and Luis I've known for many years, as fellow denizens of the salsa scene, and let me tell you: a dynamic duo, these guys always bring the party. A lot of impish, youthful energy fills the band's ranks; I look forward to seeing more of them.
Razpa takes the blue ribbon in this pie contest, a 6-piece of nothing-but guitars and percussion which suits this Triangle indie rock atmosphere. They have focused their sound considerably since I saw them last, over a year ago (maybe 2 years?), at Carmen's, when they were full of talent and good ideas, but a little all over the place. Zac Adelman (drumset) and Levy Vargas (bass) lead the group, Chris Calix is the guitar wunderkind, but that's not to sleight fellow guitarist Alex Mesplede, a talented Latin rock veteran in the Triangle, though still a young man. Multi-percussionist Brevan Hampden, the hammer for any nail, was filling in on congas, and a back-up singer Jorge Guerrero provided vocal harmony and hand percussion.
They've been gigging around Chapel Hill quite a bit, at places like The Mansion and Jack Sprat, and it's great to finally see some original Latin rockers breaking in to the college circuit. No longer a diamond in the rough, Razpa has polished up their act and begun to flash fire. This isn't salsa, and you don't need an introduction. I think they've really fulfilled a fantasy of mine, which is to have a creative, native Latin rock band that doesn't need translation. If you're looking for a band to see, just go check it out.
Braco and Santino rocked hard, drew crowds and deserve their props. Red ribbons all around.
But the wonder of the evening was, well...surprise, the Christian rock band, Trio de Hoy. Is Trio a play on the holy Trinity? I don't know, because there are five of them. They were so talented, as instrumentalists, and so guided by some obvious spirit, it was hard not to take the Lord's name in vain. Wow. The rumors go around that they started out at Berklee School of Music; not so. That the two classical guitarists, the acrobatic bassist, and power drummer must be classically trained. Nada de eso. They are all pastors' sons, family-trained, formally untutored. Jaw drop. Is this some kind of missionary gimmick?! Believe what you want. But Trio de Hoy is musicianship I haven't seen since Paco de Lucia was in town.
Trio de Hoy: playing again at La Fiesta Sunday at 4 p.m. in the Cafe Teatro. Do not miss; make you wanna shout.