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.
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.”
Whether that fear is what kept more than 30 foreign bands, many of whom cancelled at the last minute—including putative headliners No Age, Fucked Up, and Washed Out—from attending the fest, was a distinction that became a contentious issue between MtyMx organizers and the bands. Logistics may have been more of a problem for the festival than the violence. Acts like the Coathangers and Aa spent 14 hours on MtyMx-run shuttles coming down from Austin on a trip that was only supposed to take five or six, changing buses as many as three times en route. Some shuttles left Austin nearly 24 hours behind schedule, or not at all, in part because the drivers MtyMx had hired didn’t reliably show up. “There were no reassurances given” about transportation arrangements after the news started getting out about problems with the buses, said Carter Adams, whose Windish Agency represents Washed Out, Small Black, Tanlines, and Salem (none of whom made it to the festival), as well as Lemonade, Dan Deacon, and Male Bonding (all of whom did). “I just didn’t feel very confident about sending my bands there.”
Jesse Cohen, half of the band Tanlines, defended his band’s decision to ultimately not play the festival, noting that he admired Patrick and would’ve played the show if he’d thought that they could get there. “One hundred percent of our conversations about getting to the festival were logistical,” he wrote in an e-mail the day after his band was scheduled to play, “and zero percent were about ‘safety.’ “
For his part, Patrick chalked up the plague of band cancellations to different reasons: “It’s one thing for a fan to want to do this, because your mom doesn’t know where you are necessarily. But when you’re in a band, Mom does know—most of these cancellations have been about moms.” He conceded that attempting to arrange his own DIY international bus service had been a mistake. Patrick himself had been stranded at the border for hours on Saturday as he attempted to bring 300 secondhand, military-issue tents into a country on high alert. He arrived past midnight on the festival’s first day, and sat looking weary in the 40-degree weather as his staff assembled the promised tent city by the light of a truck’s headlamps.
Sitting in the shade the next day behind the festival’s improvised operations center, he talked candidly about the missteps of the past 24 hours, which involved an ill-advised decision to remain at SXSW instead of coming down earlier to help with MtyMx preparations, and the festival’s underwhelming attendance, which he pegged at 1,000, down from expectations of 1,500 to 2,000. Most of the time, the crowd seemed to be about half that. But some things, he added, were entirely out of his control: “We are definitely victims of some bad timing.”
This was undoubtedly true. Anyone who made it down from Austin to the festival, or attended from as far away as Guadalajara—though the majority of the MtyMx crowd, which was mostly Mexican, hailed from the festival’s immediate surroundings in Monterrey—would have been greeted with a nearly idyllic scene. Saturday’s early chaos faded, over the next two days, into more or less what the festival was meant to be in the first place: a cultural exchange program. Thus American acts like Coasting, Explode Into Colors, and the Coathangers got to test their various degrees of basement sound against an echoing and visually dramatic venue, and Monterrey locals got to encounter the unhinged phenomenon that is New York rap trio Das Racist, who were half-mobbed by the crowd after they finished. Meanwhile, the Mexican acts, which by and large played as scheduled, unveiled a few common threads as well: Yo! Linares, White Ninja, and Ratas del Vaticano, who played on successive days, revealed that hardcore punk is still very much alive in Mexico—a weird discovery made more thrilling by the fact that their same fans could be seen later in the evening, vibing contentedly to Neon Indian. MtyMx had a big tent, if you could find a way to get underneath it.
Dan Deacon, taking the stage (or the gravel in front of the stage, anyway) Sunday night in the aftermath of Patrick’s speech, had perhaps the best gloss on the situation. “Can we all just look around and appreciate where we are?” he asked, as the majority of the MtyMx attendees who’d made it clustered around him. “As a weird fat kid from Long Island, I never thought I’d be playing a sick show in Mexico.” Nor, probably, did many weird fat kids from Long Island ever imagine attending a DIY festival in Mexico where a guy like Dan Deacon was one of the main draws. In the end, the best argument for MtyMx was the simple, unlikely fact of its very existence. “I wish it was more crowded,” Yo Garage’s Ramirez Franco had told me earlier. “But we have been visited by the right people.”