Todd P’s MtyMx Mexican Standoff

The chaotic, contentious, possibly dangerous, proudly defiant scene at the promoter's Monterrey festival

At night in March, the temperature in Monterrey, Mexico, can dip below 50 degrees—cold enough that attendees at MtyMx, the three-day Mexican-American music festival organized by New York concert promoter Todd Patrick, were using stray pieces of wood to light fires on the several-acre gravel lot that made up the festival’s grounds. In front of the venue’s two side-by-side stages, 300 people or so—mostly Mexicans, punctuated by scattered, grizzled-looking refugees from Austin, Texas’s South by Southwest conference and fans who flew in from New York, Colorado, Canada, and elsewhere—gathered, encircling Baltimore spazz-core hero Dan Deacon. It was Sunday, March 21, day two of the festival; Patrick, since arriving late the night before, far later than he’d planned, had been forced to deal with everything from security issues to the depleted morale of his own staff, to say nothing of the fact that nearly half the American bands he’d booked, including many of the headliners, had dropped off the bill in the 36 hours since MtyMx began. The crowd was understandably upset. Todd P was upset, too.

“So I got a lot of text messages from booking agents and from, you know, bands’ mothers, saying, ‘Mexico, oh, it's so dangerous,’ ” Patrick said from the stage, Deacon at his side. “ ‘Mexico—oh, they hijack buses there.’ ” As he paused, a chant arose from the crowd, and Patrick picked it up: “Yes, ‘pussies,’ that’s the word. They all thought they were going to die. Now I don't know, but I'm looking around—you all seem pretty alive!” And, perched on the side of a hilltop, strung out across the grounds of a semi-abandoned drive-in movie theater overlooking the lights of the city down below, we indisputably were.

As it turns out, though, they do hijack buses in Mexico. On the Thursday and Friday preceding MtyMx, local drug traffickers had commandeered dozens of civilian vehicles, lighting them on fire and leaving them in the streets and highways around Monterrey to serve as impromptu roadblocks. On Friday, two students were killed as cartels and the Mexican Army engaged in a gunfight outside one of the city’s most wealthy private universities. At the Monterrey airport that night, as scattered ticketholders were arriving, clusters of armed soldiers greeted travelers at terminal entrances and exits. In the MtyMx-sanctioned Hotel Fundador, located in Monterrey’s Barrio Antiguo nightlife district, clerks warned travelers in Spanish about the dangers of going outside after dark. The next day, as attendees waited for shuttles between the hotel and the venue, army convoys carrying machine guns and men in ski masks could be seen, cruising warily past.

Fans and band members at the MtyMx festival in Monterrey attempt to remove a shuttle bus from a ditch.
Rebecca Smeyne
Fans and band members at the MtyMx festival in Monterrey attempt to remove a shuttle bus from a ditch.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When MtyMx was first announced in early February, it had all the makings of a coronation for Patrick, 34, whose steady ascendance from outer-borough raconteur to nationally known promoter always seemed destined to culminate in an undertaking this ambitious. The festival promised a bill featuring everyone from Japanese psych-rock legends Acid Mothers Temple to the L.A. punk duo No Age, curated by Patrick and his Monterrey-based partner, Yo Garage’s Ricardo Ramirez Franco: 78 bands in total, a full third of them from Mexico. Patrick and Ramirez Franco arranged two stages, concessions, beer, a tent city, hotel accommodations for those who wanted them, and a shuttle between Austin—home to SXSW, the concurrent, corporate, sponsored, promotional orgy that would serve as a tidy example of everything MtyMx wasn’t—and the venue, 350 miles to the south. “We wanted to prove that we can do something hard,” Patrick said in the run-up to the festival.

He never really got the chance. On the morning of Monday, March 15, five days before MtyMx was scheduled to begin, the State Department announced a warning for Americans traveling in Mexico after several U.S. citizens were murdered in the town of Ciudad Juárez, hundreds of miles north and west of Monterrey. That same day, Patrick announced that he would be going forward as planned: “We have concluded that the MtyMx festival need not be affected in any way by last week's statements by the U.S. consulate. The recent travel advisory is alarmist, and it fits with the normal protocol of the U.S. State Department, which has a history of advising against travel to anywhere but the most sanitized international destinations.” His written statement cited as evidence the fact that MtyMx had sold tickets “to literally hundreds of well-heeled Mexican indie rock fans from Mexico City, Guadalajara, San Miguel Allende, and dozens of other Mexican cities.”

Many of them never came, though some did. The festival began late on Saturday at the Autocinema Las Torres, a gravelly stretch of open field halfway up a hill overlooking one of Monterrey’s poorest neighborhoods, bracketed on one side by an old drive-in movie screen and a half-inhabited apartment complex, and by brush and weeds on the other. Views to the north and south were of mountains and the American chain restaurants that line the city’s roadways. San Pedro, one of Monterrey’s wealthiest districts, is about five minutes away—too far for some, according to local attendees like Maria Vidal, 29, who said that many of her neighbors had declined to attend. “This weekend’s been really difficult,” she said. “With the violence and everything that’s happening—there aren’t as many people here as there should be.” Dolce Jiménez Gámez, 22, at MtyMx as part of Franco’s Yo Garage team, said something similar: “Many people are afraid of being killed.”

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