Last week, Up on the Sun asked readers whether traveling to a different state for a music festival was worth the trip. Well, what about a different country? Last weekend in Puerto Penasco, Mexico marked the 14th annual Circus Mexicus Festival, and it was a circus indeed that rolled into Rocky Point as legions of faithful Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers and The Refreshments buffs converged on the small town.
The dilapidated outskirts of Puerto Penasco show the second-world reality of the country, but tourists would be none the wiser if they stuck to the towering skyline and lush golf courses of the Sandy Beach resorts, where a cluster of lavish beachfront properties consume the area and offer guests a peaceful escape from reality. That's where you'll find Cirus Mexicus, for the most part.
The festival itself spanned from Thursday to Sunday and alternated musical destinations nightly between the oasis that is the sand-filled, oceanside cantina named Wrecked at the Reef and a rocky, portside bar called JJ's.
The mastermind behind this getaway is Roger Clyne himself, singer and guitarist for the highly successful Tempe-based band the Peacemakers. Saturday night was the main event, with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers closing the evening with two 90-minute sets. In addition to the Peacemakers, Roger Clyne's original band, The Refreshments, was also back together for one night only to play a full set for the first time in 15 years.
"My expectations for tonight are mostly personal," Clyne explains to me as we stand beneath the blistering sun after his soundcheck to prepare for the evening's show. The wind coming off the ocean tears past us and sends his curly hair, soaked with sweat, into a spin.
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"I want to put a lot of bad blood [behind us]. We didn't give a real farewell to our fans when we broke up as The Refreshments. So, this is closure personally for me. It's going to be a good way to say thanks and give back for a really cool career."
Clyne has orchestrated a true community event that allows the small foreign town to thrive. Local vendors stand out front of shops offering travelers unique Mexican-made paraphernalia (much of it marked with The Peacemakers insignia) while others wander the beach toting briefcases filled with souvenirs to sell the sunbathers.
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Thursday's festivities at Wrecked at the Reef consisted of simple music and a friendly vibe. La Merca closed the evening with an array of cover songs. The party moved to JJ's on Friday night as concertgoers sat with their backs to the ocean and jammed to the Roger Clyne-approved bands. The Pistoleros closed Friday night and had one of the most energetic and entertaining sets of the weekend.
When Saturday morning arrived, the party really kicked off. At 8 in the morning, a soccer tournament commenced on the beach in front of Wrecked at the Reef and lasted through the morning and early afternoon. The ocean wind had kicked it up a notch overnight and the calm surf of Thursday and Friday turned into an onslaught of large waves that crashed violently on the beach around the players.
I arrived at the soccer tournament in time to watch Roger Clyne's team, Mexican Moonshine, play a few games. Onlookers sat in the sand and cheered the teams on as they hoisted their endless supply of beer cans and margarita glasses in the air to celebrate.
The intensity of the soccer tournament was more than surprising to me -- it was moving at a full-speed, hold-nothing-back pace from the start. Although the sand and waves may have slowed them down a bit, I was expecting to experience a few people tossing a soccer ball around, not the breakneck speed of play I actually saw.
Competitors collided with each other regularly, and several misplaced kicks sent soccer balls whizzing at the heads of spectators. After a team photo, Clyne departed the beach and mingled with the crowd for a bit before making his way to the stage to prepare for the night.
While Clyne tuned his instruments, I got a chance to speak with original Refreshments guitarist Brian Blush about why he likes being in Mexico.
"It's not dangerous or anything here, because it's so touristy," he explains to me. "But Mexico still has an element of lawlessness to it that I enjoy. It's a little bit Wild West."
I completely agree with Mr. Blush, considering that a few hours earlier my friend and I were able to suborn the local law enforcement not only to let us detonate dynamite in the desert but to actually light it with us.
"The vibe is celebratory and joyous and very communal," he concludes. "We just let it rip. It's rock and roll, baby. You know what I mean?"
Finally, Roger Clyne finishes preparing on stage, and he makes his way over to me, still sporting his red Mexican Moonshine soccer jersey. A bit of dried blood has accumulated over a cut on the bridge of his nose -- an injury sustained during the soccer campaign, I can only assume.
We discuss his preparations for this weekend and I want to know whether he strives for perfection or imperfection during his performance.
"Tonight, I'm focused on making sure both sets are top-notch," he says. "I guess I tolerate or at least accommodate imperfection, because after all, we're all human, but we always come together and move forward. That's a baseline thing for the Peacemakers."
Later in the evening it was finally time for the event we all came to see. Lawn chairs and blankets were strewn about as people filed onto the show grounds that sat adjacent to Wrecked at the Reef, with the crowd facing the beach and the stage.
Shortly after 8 p.m., as the sun dropped out of sight, The Refreshments strutted on stage and Roger advised the crowd to pace themselves because there would be three more hours of music to come. He then introduced guitarist Blush and told everybody how great it was to be back playing a full Refreshments set.
"Let's see what we don't remember together," Clyne shouted as he struck his guitar and drummer P.H. Naffa picked up the beat, while fireworks launched from the side of the stage.
The energy inside the crowd was loving, peaceful. Young and old fans stood side by side as they sang along. Some danced with their children, while others waved every color of neon glow sticks above their heads.
Fifteen years may have passed since The Refreshments took the stage together, but they didn't miss a beat -- they still possess every ounce of charisma that carried them through the '90s. Even though the majority of them are now Peacemakers members, the addition of Blush on guitar was welcome, and his skills were on point all evening.
Between songs, Clyne paused momentarily to do a product plug for his own brand of tequila, called Mexican Moonshine, as he took a few pulls from a flask.
The Refreshments said their goodbyes and exited the stage as Blush let out one more guitar solo for what could be the last time The Refreshments grace us with their presence.
After a short intermission, the Peacemakers came out dressed in all white and began playing hit after hit. The easygoing and laid back individual that is Roger Clyne was on key and crisp and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. That personality radiates through his music, and at Circus Mexicus it encourages everyone around to dance and sing and tip a few drinks back.
After giving thanks for the sea breeze and the full moon, the band dug into some deeper cuts that got the crowd excited.
The wristband I wore all night says "Amigos y Familia" in large, black, bold letters, and there is no better way I can think of to describe Circus Mexicus. Friends and family were united in the crowd and on stage as Clyne invited up a variety of special guests to play songs with him.
The first guest appearance came from Josh Kennedy of The Black Moods. I was surprised to see Kennedy on stage, considering I had met him two nights earlier when he'd accidently wandered and stumbled onto the first floor patio of my hotel room because he thought he was on the third floor.
At that time, I had no clue he was a musician here to perform. We exchanged hellos and he moseyed on his way.
Throughout the night, other collaborations on stage with the Peacemakers included The Pistoleros, The Ghetto Cowboys, Shurman, and Jason Boots doing a cover of the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right to Party."
When the second set from the Peacemakers began, the audience was still full of energy. "Remember that whole 'pace yourself' thing?" Clyne said as he raised his beer high into the air. "Fuck it, let's go!"
The crowd roared even louder, and the endless supply of fireworks continued to light the night sky. After nearly six hours of music and drinking and playing soccer in the sun, the audience was still able to press on to the end, resurrecting their enthusiasm every time Clyne prompted them to.
The final act to close out the eventful evening was a collaboration among all the previously mentioned musicians, as they stood onstage with the Peacemakers and shared vocals and rhythms side by side during a cover of the song "Born to Run."
Is traveling to a different country for a music festival worth it? Well, in this case: Absolutely.
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CRITICS NOTEBOOK: Last Weekend: Circus Mexicus Festival in Puerto Penasco, Mexico featuring Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. The Crowd: Mostly Americans. Young and old people from all over the United States. Felt and looked like almost the same crowd you encounter on any given night in Scottsdale. Overheard in the Crowd: The entire crowd actually chanting "Three more songs!" to the Peacemakers after the second 90-minute set. Greedy. Personal Bias: If it turns out to be that Roger Clyne really isn't human, I won't be surprised. I have no idea how he had the energy to play soccer all day and then perform three full sets the same night. Impressive endurance.