I spent the night of March 21st sleeping on the concrete patio of a chicken and waffles joint in east Austin, Texas. It wasn’t exactly what I had planned for, but after learning that my morning bus would be departing just a few feet from the trailer-turned waffle shack, I decided it was the ideal place to put my coat down and turn in.
It was the night before Todd P’s MtyMx Festival in Monterrey, Mexico and I had no idea what to expect. Some people, including myself, were hoping this thing would turn out to be an indie Woodstock – a marriage of youth culture and art-music unsullied by corporate bullshit. In an interview I had had with Todd a month earlier, he had told me that the festival was a reaction to the over-commercialization and institutionalization of SXSW. Wrapped up in my jacket and half-asleep, this made a lot of sense to me. I had spent the day in my Village Voice “Wayfarer” sunglasses completely overwhelmed, not just by the throngs of people but by the avalanche of cheap promotional schwag and corporate banners. For those who haven’t been there, during SXSW every inch of Austin has someone’s name on it.
MtyMx seemed like it could be the right kind of free-love, “fuck you” to the Man that could inject a little more fun and artistic integrity into the festival format. Optimism and wonder aside, I was also aware that It would be a proving ground for Todd P’s reach as a concert promoter and a test of indie culture’s sense of community and popularity in a foreign market.
In the wee hours I was awakened (along with some other fireside campers) by cold rain and ran to the awning of Cheer Up Charlies, a small vegan food shop that had served as a venue the night before. It was here that I met the rest of the early bird MtyMx hopefuls – among them Victor Vasquez and Ashok Kondabolu of Das Racist – the band that I was to follow and interview during the trip. I toyed with the idea of interviewing them right then and there, but they were missing a member, Himanshu Suri, and I was dead tired. Around six in the morning our transportation arrived, a retired yellow school bus like the one you rode in as a kid – except this one had no heat to speak of, a broken fuel gauge, and windows that didn’t close. Despite the rain and open windows, everyone was too full of enthusiasm or alcohol to give much of a shit, and we all napped on our way to the Mexican border. Unfortunately, crossing into Mexico would prove to be more of a headache than we had anticipated.
Walking across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas into Nuevo Laredo was very cool in a “now I’m in America, now I’m not” kind of way. Unfortunately, this joy was stymied when Mexican border officials told us that we were all going to have to pay 26 dollars a head to go anywhere beyond Nuevo Laredo. No one had warned us about this tariff, and many of us (including myself and a number of musicians) were penniless.
To make matters even more confusing, our MtyMx chaperone instructed us NOT to pay the tariff – that it was run-of-the-mill Mexican corruption, and that we would be best off if we just walked the hell out of there. Not wanting to be taken advantage of, I decided to make a stand and began arguing with the gentlemen in my unpracticed Spanish. Luckily, the gentlemen shut me down cold by producing a pretty legitimate looking document that clearly stated that we would have to pay the tariff. Only after we had begrudgingly paid the tariff and arrived in Monterrey did we discover that the first bus to depart Austin, the “artist bus,” had been forced to turn back after officials discovered that its passengers had not paid the tariff. This was a major kink in the plan as it resulted in many of the first day’s artists getting to Monterrey hours after they were scheduled to play.
From my window, I could see that Monterrey was an exceptionally clean and modern city. Monterrey serves as the seat for many Mexican industries and has the money and city planning to show for it. Even beyond the downtown and urban areas, I saw little of the sprawl associated with a metropolis like Mexico City. Then our bus pulled into the driveway of Autocinema Las Torres and we were there.
After eight hours of riding in buses we had finally arrived at a gravel festival grounds perched on top of a mountain range with a stunning view of the entire city and surrounding topography. There were two big stages at one end of the grounds and a little village of vendor tents at the other. I was ready for a weekend of sunshine, tequila, and beautiful music.
In a scenario that would play itself out many times over the course of the weekend, I immediately ran into my good friends from Brooklyn. It was crazy how many people I met at MtyMx from Bushwick, Williamsburg, and like-minded hoods. Interested in meeting some locals, I struck up a conversation with a guy named Carlos (my Spanish is infinitely better when I’m not arguing about immigration law). Carlos was a medical student and native of Monterrey who had purchased a three-day ticket to the festival. In our conversation he told me about the recent wave of crime that had swept through Monterrey, an upswing of such intensity that many Mexican music fans had chosen not to travel to Monterrey for fear of carjacking and other violent crime.
Aside from the warnings my worrisome mother and careful boss had given me, the thought of danger had not really crossed my mind. A week earlier I had heard about the drive-by in Juarez that killed U.S. consulate employees, but that was an isolated incident, right? Even after speaking to Carlos I did not start fearing for my safety, the safety of others, or the toll fear might take on the festival. The bands were not playing yet, so when I mentioned to Carlos that I would like to see a bit of Monterrey he generously offered to drive my friends and me around. It was taco time.
Carlos attempted to take us to a mall but we politely boo’d and insisted that he take us to, “the authentic Mexican thing.” Smartly, he laughed at us and took us to the center of town so we could find something “authentic” enough. Just off the main drag, near the beautiful centuries-old stone Catedral Metropolitana, is “El Barrio Antiguo.” Roughly translated to “The Old Hood,” El Barrio Antiguo is all colonial buildings made of mortar and stone with wonderful facades – some of which are crumbling and show the great stone work beneath.
After ruling out a few establishments for looking too “expensive” or “commercial” we finally found a place that was the right mix of rustic charm and perceived cleanliness. We sat down with our incredibly patient guide and let him do most of the ordering for us. The meal I had was by far, the cheapest and most delicious of all the ones I had in Mexico, and no one got sick even though we forgot to ask if the ice cubes were made with purified water. According to Carlos, Monterrey has one of the best water treatment systems in all of Mexico and we were making a big fuss over nothing. Carlos, if you’re reading this, sorry for being an ignorant gringo dick.
We got back to the festival as night started to fall. The bands were playing now and we got to see the city light up over some beers. With the breeze blowing and a set from The Coathangers in the background all I could think was, “Damn, it’s nice to be out of Brooklyn.”
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– Thompson Davis