The Pan Americana Festival, hosted by the US Hispanic Contractors and Bellas Artes Alliance, returned this month for its eighth consecutive year on March 16-17, 2018, bringing with it a new and fresh approach to its community
engagement. Bigger and bolder, the festival is quickly becoming an Austin staple, as this classic provides performance opportunities for local bands. During the time of the year when our city is full of visitors for South by Southwest, the independent Pan Americana Festival provides a home to our local musicians and showcases the best of Austin’s talent at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.
In the previous years, the two-day festival has included diverse Latin artists such as David Lee Garza y Los Musicales, 80 H Project, Pancho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band, The Tortilla Factory, La Mafia, Celso Pina, Kinky, Los Amigos Invisibles, and many more! The Pan Americana Festival has even made it into the Rolling Stone, which is a remarkable achievement given than more than 1200 bands showcase in Austin that week. This year’s festival featured Mariachi, Angel Gonzalez, Jorge Amayo Band, Ricardo Castillion y La Diferencia, Nikki Lopez, Tejano Idol winner Ashley Borrero, David Marez, and Little Joe y La Familia. Drawing crowds who camped out hours before the show began, this year’s performers really gave a show. They had the festival’s attendees on their feet dancing all night and enjoying the live music against Austin’s skyline. Senator Gonzalo Barrientos was in attendance both days, supporting the festival and speaking to the crowd. Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler also spoke at the event, wishing the attendees a joyous time at the festival.
The origins of the festival trace back to 2010, when several musicians complained to Senator Barrientos that they couldn’t get a platform in their own town when SXSW wouldn’t book them, and they wanted him to do something about it. In response, The Bellas Artes Alliance was created as a nonprofit organization to give local bands and musicians a chance to perform in front of hundreds to thousands of people. Andy and Linda Ramirez, and Frank Fuentes, took it upon themselves as founding board members to make Bellas Artes Alliance a reality and went on to produce the original Pan Americana Festival in 2011. “Our goal,” said Mrs.
Ramirez, “was to provide a platform on which local Latino musicians could perform before the music industry, so they could be represented during SXSW.” Frank Fuentes, who pioneered this year’s festival along with Senator Barrientos and The US Hispanic Contractors in honor of the late Mr. Ramirez, said, “Mr. Ramirez played a big role in driving this. This was his passion. This is Mr. Ramirez’s vision, and it continues.” This year, the US Hispanic Contractors Association really stepped in to help produce the festival. The association’s involvement, ranging from sponsorship to participation, had a positive impact and made a big difference, as USHCA board and members came together to ensure the success of the event.
In trying to help the effort and after this year’s event, Senator Barrientos shared that he felt “is was most fitting with the original goals of the founders of the MACC, to hold events there which the local Mexican American community most wants.” It can’t be denied that the Emma S. Barrientos
Mexican American Cultural Center and its staff were a pillar of support for the event, making it a success. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support from the MACC and the festival’s generous sponsors, including the City of Austin, The US Hispanic Contractors, Casa Chapala, Twin Liquors, The Austin Police Association, Viking Fence, Solis Constructors, Muniz Concrete & Contracting, (MPI) Materials Products International, LTD, Mayor Steve Adler, Senator Kirk Watson, and one of the original founders of the festival, Senator Gonzalo Barrientos.
This union of forces is a direct reflection of the importance of the festival, bringing the community together. As the crowd gathered, it was evident that not only had the
fundamental goal of the festival to create a home for local artists been met, but it had also created a home for our local Mexican American community. As the Rolling Stone described it, “the courtyard at the Mexican-American
Cultural Center felt more like a block party than a music festival, featuring a crowd – toddlers on their dads' shoulders, grannies on benches, and everyone in between up front dancing – that suggested a much fuller meaning of the phrase "all ages." This is home. In a time of much division, families had a safe place to celebrate culture and unity at this free public event, which meant more to this community than just a concert. The Pan Americana Festival will return again next year and will continue on to become a signature, Austin-based tradition.