Rocanrol Heartburn

The Valley's unstable Latin rock scene leaves a bad taste in local promoters' mouths -- and keeps international acts away

"We really need the radio," Montenegro says. "When we ask for a favor, they ask us for a lot of money. Those people don't know; they think we are doing a big show like Tucanes [de Tijuana, a popular norteño band] or something. They don't understand that we are trying to build a scene of rock in Phoenix." Even if stations wanted to help, the costs are usually too burdensome for smaller to midsize acts such as Rata Blanca.

And then there's the matter of the artist's rider, which, at a 2,000-seat venue like Celebrity Theatre, might not be a big deal, but for a smaller club could be a deal breaker. Gabriel Trujillo Palacios, a pioneer of rock en español in the Valley and also the Spanish voice of the Arizona Cardinals, explains, "Riders are very expensive for these bands. With sound and lights, it can be very high, around $3,500 to $7,500. It's too much." Palacios puts on occasional shows at Club Paraiso, where he is known as "Doctor Fiebre." He transforms the popular norteño club into a Spanish disco night every Friday night, attracting 600 young Latinos clamoring to hear and dance to their favorite Spanish rock bands. He also tries to host one major act every three months. "Out of 10 shows offered to us, we may pass on four because costs are too high." Acts of major importance that passed on Paraiso this year include La Ley and a reunited Fobia.

Some bands complicate matters with lofty expectations. They are essentially presenting themselves to U.S. audiences they are trying to capture, sparking the desire to put on grand productions like they do at home, where better ticket sales usually call for higher budgets. Thomas Cookman of L.A.-based Cookman International, whose firm books and manages acts such as Fabulosos Cadillacs, La Ley and Gustavo Cerati, has lived in and toured Latin America extensively with his bands, where he says the role of the promoter is to take care of the band's needs -- all of them.

The band plays but no one listens: Rocanrol strikes out at a Chandler gig.
Emily Piraino
The band plays but no one listens: Rocanrol strikes out at a Chandler gig.
So much for that strategy: Door charges as high as $20 keep fans away.
Emily Piraino
So much for that strategy: Door charges as high as $20 keep fans away.

"Everything you could possibly need is taken care of by the promoter," Cookman says. "Every moment you are in that town, you are like their baby. It's the promoter's job to take care of you." The treatment is similar to that of what a pop star would receive here in the States: rides from the airport, nice hotels, shuttles to and from interviews, etc.

"If a band has false expectations," Cookman says, "it's the promoter's fault for letting them have them. Everyone has to make money. A general market promoter will give you directions to nearby hotels and restaurants. Tell you what time load-in is and give you $6,000 and might say, Hopefully, there will be money to split at the end of the night.' For most Latin artists, taking a lower guarantee is usually out of the question. They won't do a split with a promoter [here] because they just don't trust them."

Latin bands sometimes have a simple goal of getting the most money possible from a promoter, sometimes hooking up with someone who is promoting his or her first show. Or they may demand the same fees from every city they play, not realizing that U.S. markets vary not only in population but also in size of the Spanish rock scene.

"To walk into Boston -- or Phoenix, for that matter -- and expect $40,000 and to find a promoter willing to pay it is bullshit, because you know he's not going to make it back." Cookman warns that, because it's a glamorous business, a lot of people with investment money get into it for all the wrong reasons. "You get people with money from a meat market and a travel agency, and that's crap," he says. "It leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth."

While the fate of rock en español in Phoenix is not determined by whether Rata Blanca's tour stops here, its story paints a daunting picture of the state of Valley rocanrol. Clubs like Paraiso will march on, and guys like Montenegro will still try to further the scene. However, a question remains: Will clubs, venues, promoters and media outlets come together with enough consistency to keep major touring acts from flying over Phoenix?

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