Home News La Onda fest brings good vibes, Latino pride to Napa Valley

La Onda fest brings good vibes, Latino pride to Napa Valley

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On a bright, cloudless June day, a masked luchador with a clown nose and a Mario hat runs around an open-air ring taunting his opponents. After a growling introduction from an announcer in Spanish, the clown joins in a two-on-two melee. He and his blue-masked partner bounce their opponents off the ropes, engage in a series of acrobatic flips and kicks that sometimes include the referee, until they finally take down their opponents with theatrical slaps and a shocking piledrive. The clown and his partner emerge victorious, drinking in the cheers and jeers of the nearby crowd.

It’s not a scene you might expect at your typical music festival — but this was not your typical music festival.

Festival La Onda, run by the same company as BottleRock Napa Valley, is dedicated to Latin Music. It celebrates its inaugural run this June 1 and 2. The celebration of Mexican and Latin American culture is the first of its kind in Northern California, and after a day full of delightful musical offerings and steeped in Latin pride, it had patrons begging for the festival to return.

“It’s like my roots,” said Eduardo Matus, a Mexico City native who has been in the US for twelve years. “It’s always nice to enjoy your culture even when you’re not at home… It’s special for me.”

All day, crowds hustled past giant Loteria cards and gleaming low-riders to enjoy the festival’s offerings. While the crowd of 30,000 was largely youthful, dozens of families – from abuelitas to infants in arms and kids in strollers – came to take part in the festivities and made up a mellow, friendly throng.

Robert Grey came from Sacramento with his wife and sister to take his daughter and nephew to their first concert. He bounced up and down to the beats of the Mexican reggaetonero YNG Lvcas with his three year old on his hip. “We want to bring our kids and have a good time,” he said, noting that sharing this music served as a way for passing the torch. “We have to keep it going, for the culture.”

The musical selection offered a diverse slate of genres and artists from pop, rock, and rap to regional Mexican, cumbia, and reggaetón. Almost all of the artists were outspoken in their joy of playing for a festival dedicated to Latin music and their delight was mirrored by the deeply receptive crowds.

“These Latin festivals are so important,” said singer Ximena Sariñana in Spanish during a press conference after her set. “It was so beautiful … to be able to play here.”

Early in the day, rock trio Wonderfox helped kick off the festival with an invigorating set that flitted from grungy, aggressive headbangers to dreamy, hypnotic alt rock. Lead singer and guitarist Isabel Valencia performed with infectious delight, stomping atop speakers and jumping around the stage as she shredded and sang with a measured bite and beauty perfect for the genre.

A few hours later, Latin pop wonder Danna Paola took the stage for a spectacular performance in every sense of the word: she began the set standing alone atop a giant black pyramid in a shimmering golden corset, singing about her tendency to fall in and out of love too quickly when moments later a cadre of ten scantily clad dancers burst from behind the pyramid in an explosion of frenetic motion. The dancers carried her and dangled her upside down as she belted, crooned, and delivered impressive, tumbling vocal flourishes – matching the dynamic performance with skilled vocal chops over danceable pop beats.

Los Angeles Azules delivered their classic brand of cumbia that has been making crowds sway for nearly five decades – last night being no exception. The iconic two-beat rhythm seemed to compel the crowd to move: with partners carving space to spin one another, single people engaging in jaunty, articulated cumbia footwork, and one member of the crowd balancing on one foot to swing their crutch to the rhythm.

After a day celebrating the new and the old school of Latin and Mexican music, a representative from each took the stage to close out the night. Junior H, whose singing hits the satisfying sweet spot between croon and whine, brought out his modern take on corridos tumbados. Supported by skilled band playing stuttering brass, he poured his heartbreak into the microphone

Alejandro Fernández represented a dynasty of Mexican singing excellence, son of the legendary Mexican singer Vicente Fernández and father of singer Alex Fernández – who opened the festival. Bedazzled in a leather mariachi outfit, the hitmaker transfigured the crowd into a multitude united in song – with the crowd belting along to lyrics, some blinking away tears.

Sunday offers even more delights, including Maná, a titanic force in Latin rock for decades, Silvana Estrada – winner of the 2022 Latin Grammy for new artist for her affecting vocal performance and shimmering lyricism, and Café Tacvba, darlings of the Latin Indie rock wave since the early 90s.

Beyond the two main stages, the festival also features a club, a dancefloor, a silent disco, karaoke, shops, and a spa, along with plenty of food and drink offerings

Beverages offered selections from nearby Napa valley wineries as well as custom cocktails and good old beer, with the addition of Mexico’s delicious Aguas Frescas and Argentina’s high-caffeine Yerba Mate.

Food leaned heavily into Mexican offerings – burritos, tacos, birria, tortas, and churros – with empanadas and ceviche holding down the rest of Latinoamérica and a smattering of fusion and Italian fare rounding things out.

Despite Mexican food’s notoriety for being affordable, expect to pay festival prices: a soggy (if tasty and ginormous) burrito paired with an agua de jamaica ran nearly $30 including tax and tip, and a typical entrée sat between $18 to $25 a pop, though several festival goers reported their satisfaction with the crispy fish tacos and flaky empanadas.

Gabby Martinez, was one of those patrons, and between bites of fresh food, she reflected on the warm welcome of the festival and its patrons. “It feels like one of those cookouts where you don’t know everybody, but you know you’re going to get along with everyone – it’s family,” she said. “What I love about this festival is that it brings us together. I hope they keep this going.”



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