Will Latinos and lovers of Latino music pay to attend an event that previously was free? Columbus's parks department and the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts are betting they will.
"But it's an experiment," said CAPA chief Bill Conner. "We're trying something new."
In addition to being more expensive this year-tickets will be $1 on Friday and a whopping $30 on Saturday-Festival Latino is shrinking in both size and length. It will be limited to 5 to 11 p.m. each night and will be held in Genoa Park on the west bank of the Scioto rather than spanning the river as in years past.
Will the Latino community accept the changes, particularly that $30 ticket price? Conner predicted it will because Saturday's concert will bring in Los Huracanes del Norte, the kind of Mexican-American dance band whose local appearances often command $75 tickets.
"So we think the $30 for Huracanes is more than reasonable," he said.
But there's another reason festival-goers might not mind the new policy, Conner acknowledged. In previous years, the event's atmosphere sometimes deteriorated late in the evening as groups of hostile youths infiltrated the crowd.
"I think there is sort of a general sense in the community," said Conner, "that having a gated activity with some kind of ticket is a good thing."
"I think it will be a big help to the police as well."
Though the gated Latino event will be an experiment for Columbus, the concert won't be anything unusual for Los Huracanes del Norte, a group with nearly four decades of touring and recording under their big-buckled belts. Member Jesus Garcia said the musicians spend much of the year on the road.
"We work from, like, March to September in the United States," Garcia said. "Then, starting in September, we work in Mexico and parts of Central America."
The group is especially popular in Mexico City and other big Latin American metropolitan areas, where its concerts sometimes draw 35,000 to 40,000 people, he said.
"The music is pretty good to dance to."
The "del Norte"-literally, "of the North"-in the group's name refers to the style of music it plays, which is known as norteņo or conjunto. Garcia's instrument, the accordion, is a prime component, as is the bajo sexto, a 12-string guitar
Conner said Ed Myers, artistic director of Columbus Recreation and Parks' Music in the Air program, suggested bringing in a Mexican-style band because an estimated 80 percent of Central Ohio's Latino community is Mexican.
CAPA's original choice was actually another norteņo group called Los Tigres del Norte. Myers recommended Los Huracanes, Conner said, after Los Tigres proved to be unavailable.
Technically, only Friday night's program will carry on the tradition of Festival Latino. It will be sponsored by Music in the Air, just as past festivals have been. Recreation and Parks officials have said the $1 charge will help to offset rising costs.
Saturday's program, which will be run jointly by Music in the Air and CAPA, will be known as Concert Caliente.
Conner said the collaboration grew out of a longtime relationship between Myers and CAPA, who "shared notes" on Latino programming.
"He came to us last year and said, 'Hey, should we try to do something that's a little more broad-based and would bring a larger audience?' So we said we would love to be a part of it."
Will CAPA continue to take part in Festival Latino in 2009?
"I think we're going to see how it works," Conner said. "But yeah, it would be our hope that we would be able to partner every year with Festival Latino to do a major Latino band."
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