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On June 25th 2011 I attended the Dia de San Juan event held at Liberty Station Point Loma, San Diego. This was my first time attending this event, which I believe has gone for a few years. Let me preface this review with the following: any time I am spending with good friends in a park, especially in San Diego, will be an exceptional time. Therefore I have to write this as an individual who showed up solo.
Liberty Station Point Loma was a phenomenal place to hold this event. There was free parking along the streets, the park setting was great with a beautiful ocean breeze, and there was plenty of space for all the guests. The negative was that shade was almost non-existent. The trees were along the edges of the park, so if you failed to bring a canopy you got a nice sun burn. Which really isn’t a bad thing if you came prepared with sunblock.
By far the biggest complaint by all of the dancers was NO DANCE FLOOR. That deserves repeating, NO DANCE FLOOR. By putting on events I realize that renting a dance floor is very costly. Yet if you want a memorable event you better have a dance floor.
Where were they? There were five booths of vendors, yeah only five. One was for a local dance studio, one was for financial consultation, one was for used cds, and two were for t-shirts and such. As anyone that knows me can attest, I love to shop. Five vendors, which boiled down to really about 2, was horrible. Where was the shoe vendor? A T shirt vendor selling Dia de San Juan 2011? Painting or sketches of Puerto Rico? Jewelry? Etc Etc.
Huge plus was the t shirts were only $5 instead of the normal gauge prices found at festivals and congresses. Next year I may get a booth and sell sunblock.
Again only four options, but two of them were Mexican food. I love me some Mexican food, but not at Dia de San Juan. Senor Big Ed was the Puerto Rican food representative from Orange County. If you’ve never eaten there, apologies to any owners or workers at Senor Ed’s, their food is horrible. It is a Mexican/Puerto Rican restaurant.
The San Diego representative was Andre’s Cuban Restaurant. Their prices made up for the deals on the T shirts.
BANDS AND DJS
The first band to hit the stage was the JD All Stars (www.JDallstars.com) from San Diego. They had a great song selection and almost every song was only four to five minutes in length. Classic covers by great Puerto Rican artists included Puerto Rico by Eddie Palmieri, Lobo Domesticado by Tommy Olivencia, Guarare made famous by Ray Barretto, and El Nazareno by Ismael Rivera. Their sound was average.
Next up was a legendary band from Los Angeles, Costa Azul. Songs included Esa Mujer, No Critiques, and Maruquita. I’m heard them on a few occasions and they are either on fire, as they were in the battle of the bands at Stevens Steakhouse, or very bland. Unfortunately they were the latter. Still they will always have a clean sound.
The DJs/MCs consisted of Rick “La Voz” Chriss and DJ Rumbero. The vast majority of the event was handled by Rick Chriss. It was immediately evident was he is known as La Voz. Great microphone presence, with short, timely announcements. His musical selection was appropriate for the crowd.
One major problem that I had was when he tried to get the whole crowd into the grass area in front of the stage. He stated that he wanted to have a special dance. Immediately I’m thinking, “Okay. Here comes the Boricua Anthem”, which would have worked well. Yet he played………wait for it……..the Cha Cha Slide. Are you freaking kidding me? The only thing that could have made it worse was if he followed it up with the Electric Slide. Oh wait, he did. Was wondering when we transported from Dia de San Juan to a wedding.
Other than that major mistake the DJs did a great job.
In the Orange County/Los Angeles area it was non-existent. I saw an event on FB and that was it. The only people I saw from OC or LA were the people in our group of friends.
San Diego has some major dance companies with sustained histories. The only SD team was from A Time To Dance Studio, run by Angel and Tulane Rivera. They were one of the event sponsors, but I saw neither at the event. They may have been in attendance, but if they were there was no noticeable presence. Majesty in Motion, Amicitia, Alma Latina, etc etc. None were at the event.
In such a perfect location this could have been an amazing event. Unfortunately it was rather lacking and I would be surprised if there were 400 people in attendance.
SPANISH HARLEM ORCHESTRA (http://spanishharlemorchestra.net)
They deserve their own spot since they were the big ticket. Once they started it was immediately apparent why they are a world class band. With their first note they had the crowd in the palm of their hands and kept them there throughout the whole set. Oscar Hernandez’s (http://www.oscarhernandezmusic.com/) musical direction was impeccable.
In total they played 9 songs with 5 coming off of their latest album Viva La Tradicion. The highlight being Negro Tiene Tumbao, which was originally recorded by their newest addition Carlos Cascante. The other songs included Se Formo La Rumba, En El Tiempo del Palladium, and Ahora Si from their album United We Swing. They ended with a stirring rendition of Arinanara, which featured a mind blowing solo by timbalero Luisito Quintero.
Marco Bermudez and Carlos Cascante killed it on vocals. While La Voz de Caribe, Herman Olivera, did a great job sitting in for Ray de La Paz. My favorite part of their set was a 13 minute version of Ahora Si. It was spectacular and hopefully I will have a copy of the video soon for you to enjoy. Two disappointments I encountered: would have been great to hear Jimmy Bosch and when they had to end, in order to catch a red eye flight to Toronto for a Jazz Festival.
Spanish Harlem Orchestra was amazing and, by itself, made the $20 entrance fee a deal.
The impression I am left with was missed opportunities. A perfect setting with a world class band should have been a recipe for a truly epic event. Unfortunately the lack of proper promotion, dance floor, vendor selection, and sub par opening acts made the event rather lacking.
I give huge credit for booking Spanish Harlem Orchestra, the free parking, and the entrance fee of only $20. Would I come back next year? Depends on the featured band. I polled 23 attendees and their average grade on a scale to 10 was a 7. The high was a 9 and the low was a 2. My grade for this event is a 5.5.
Thomas Medina, co-founder of AMP Entertainment