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The Day That Music Died --Concert of Rock and Wheels

The Avandaro Rock Festival took place on the 11 and 12 of September of 1971, in Valley of Bravo, State of Mexico. It became known as Avandaro, Rock and Wheels because  originally Avandaro was nothing more than  a series of auto races. Then somebody suggested to  EduardoLopez Negrete that he include a pair of rock bands to cheer the racingatmosphere. Finally the group of organizers of the race decided to consult with Armando Molina, a veteran rock and roll promoter. It was suggested that a Rock Festival would have a great impact on the track and that the ideal number for the event would be  twelve bands. The best bands of Mexican rock were contacted and Avandaro Rock and Wheels was born.

The original proposal with the groups, was to provide a free festival that would be held in conjunction with a auto race. The groups were to each receive a token payment of three thousand pesos ($240 US) regardless of popularity, and money for transportation to the event, lodging, food and security. As it turned out these promises became the main disagreement with the promoters and the bands.

The promoters had made promises guaranteeing security and providing full accommodations including food and shelter to each of the bands. Many bands would later complain that the promoters made too many promises they couldn't keep, which almost led to a mutiny pitting the bands against the promoters in the hours before the concert officially began. This revolt was finally abandoned when the audience swelled to more than twice the number of people originally expected to attend, and the musicians realized it was all for one and one for all in this monumental event.

 The groups had ben told that there was not a need for contracts as the wide  press and worldwide publicity they would receive would more than compensate them for their performances. But the reality that resulted was that the least reported item on Avandaro by all the press was the name of the bands and even less on the quality of the performances. Even the radio stations omitted a list of participants. 

 An advertisement for the festival which appeared in Piedra Rodante (the short-lived Mexican equivalent of Rolling Stone) about a month before the show gives the originally planned date as the weekend of September 4 & 5, and lists Batiz, Love Army, and Conjuntos Tapatios among the scheduled performers.

But Batiz, one of the first musicians they approached, protested that $300 was not enough for his services, and he refused to participate. However, on the weekend of the festival, Batiz suddenly had a change of heart, and actually attempted to drive to Valle De Bravo to perform, but by then, the traffic on Toluca Highway, the road leading to Valle de Bravo, made it impossible for him to reach his destination.  Another invited band, Love Army, also started their journey to Avándaro a bit too late, meeting the same disastrous fate as Batiz in the process.

The final lineup for the show, which ended up taking place on the weekend of September 11 & 12, was, in order of appearance: Los Dug Dug's, El Epilogo, La Division Del Norte, Tequila, Peace and Love, El Ritual, Mayita Campos & Los Yaki, Bandido, Tinta Blanca, El Amor, and Three Souls in My Mind. To avoid arguments amongst the bands as to who was to play when, this order was determined by putting the band names into a hat, then listing each name in the order in which the names had been pulled out.

Still, many of the bands remained unhappy with the accommodations, and claimed they were told Avándaro would be a free festival when it actually cost 25 pesos per ticket, and that they were not informed of the intention to film and broadcast the concert.

On that magic second weekend in September, the youth of Mexico City came to Valle de Bravo in large numbers – a good one third of Mexico City youth between the ages of 15 and 20, according to estimates. Some of them arrived early enough to hear Los Dug Dug's and Three Souls in My Mind test the sound system the night before the concert. Right from the beginning it was far from being a state-of-the-art sound system, and as band after band took the stage the following day, the primitive setup of just three big Altec loudspeakers and a simple sound mixer would experience a steady decline, finally collapsing entirely by the end of the show.

It seems to be a miracle that a festival of such scope and magnitude could have taken place in a country notorious for its oppressive government and its role in two deadly student massacres in Mexico City. The first on the night of October 2, 1968, when a student demonstration ended in a storm of bullets in La Plaza de las Tres Culturas at Tlatelolco, Mexico City, leaving hundreds dead and buried in secret graves, the second mass killings just three months before Avándaro. The presence of the Mexican Army at the event seemed ominous, with some people fearing that there was a set-up in progress and that the Army would attack the massive crowds at any given moment, but the soldiers just stood by as the party raged on.

The organizers had originally anticipated a crowd of 100,000 people, but by Saturday afternoon it became obvious that more than twice that number were arriving, and it became necessary to cancel the race scheduled for Sunday afternoon. It is said that the promoters consoled the disappointed race car drivers by offering them the food and shelter originally planned for the musicians. It also became necessary to reschedule some of the performances for the afternoon hours, to keep the massive crowds entertained as they waited for nightfall.

During the afternoon, there was a yoga demonstration, a performance of the Who's rock opera Tommy with a live band and several actors (including the director who filled in for the lead actor, who was stuck in traffic on Toluca Highway, at the last minute, and legendary rock accordion artist Carlos Steward), and sets by the bands La Sociedad Anomina and La Fachada de Piedra. There was rain in the late afternoon and in the evening, which the crowd reacted to by chanting "No rain! No rain!" – just like at Woodstock, and in English! In fact, many of the top rock bands of the day (including almost all the bands which played at the festival) sang in English, to lend the local rock some "authenticity" and, perhaps, so that they could possibly get away with inserting subversive words in their songs. (A big radio hit in Mexico in 1971, by the radically named La Revolucion de Emiliano Zapata, was actually titled "Nasty Sex"!)

Perhaps there shouldn't have been such a long break in between the afternoon and nighttime performances, as the crowd acted out its impatience by breaking down the wire fence separating them from the stage and climbing onto the support beams below the stage in large numbers, creating a potential safety and security hazard which the organizers tried several times to discourage to no avail, by frequently stopping the show to beg the crowds to climb down from the stage.

At 10PM that night, Los Dug Dug's finally took the stage to begin the "official" concert. Their performance included "Let's Make It Now" and an improvisational number in which Armando Nava led the audience in a chant of "Avándaro, yeah!" The progressive rock group El Epilogo was the second band to perform. Their guitarist in particular was a real trooper, performing through an illness, but in spite of the high quality of their music, they received a generally indifferent response from the crowd.

As the bands continued the use of some foul language during sets caused Radio Juventud's live transmission of the concert to be "mysteriously" knocked off the airwaves. (Felix Ruano, whose station had broadcast the concert, would be jailed and fined by the Mexican government for his part in transmitting the show.)

In the days and weeks following the festival, the press struck fury in the hearts of Mexican citizens with its highly slanted portrayals of what had taken place at Avandaro, presenting it as a disgraceful gathering of stoned hippies whose only cause was sex, drugs and rock and roll, and saying not a word about the power of music as a uniting force against repression. A topless woman photographed dancing atop the loudspeakers became known in the press as "La Encuerada de Avándaro" (The Naked Woman of Avandaro), and Mexican flags with peace signs painted on them (like the one pictured above) were condemned as desecrations of the national symbol. The media also attributed 23 deaths which had occurred near Valle de Bravo to the festival, although none of these deaths had anything to do with it. One newspaper actually printed a picture of a dead body on Toluca Highway, the victim of a traffic accident, and labeled it "Avándaro's First Victim." And the news magazine Impacto's front cover screamed, "The Infamy of Avándaro: We must punish those responsible for letting this happen!"

The government responded by forcing rock music underground, barring clubs, cafes, and concert halls from booking bands, and giving way to the age of the hoyo fonqui – illegal concerts held in abandoned warehouses and promoted in private. For a time, there were mobile concerts on flatbed trucks, which gave the bands a chance to escape with all their equipment intact in the event of a police raid. This outlawing of rock pretty much signaled the end of La Onda Chicana as it was known up until that time, and the casualties included many of the bands which had played at Avándaro.

Three Souls in My Mind streamlined their rough blues sound, wrote harsh and sometimes explicit lyrics attacking Mexican politics, and created a distinctive sound and image, attracting a large audience which would sustain the band through the decade-long ban on live rock in Mexico and bring them superstardom after they signed to Warner Brothers in the 1980s and changed their name to El Tri.

But other bands weren't so lucky. Some continued to make records, but without the benefit of official tours to promote the albums, there wasn't much of a chance at commercial success. Armando Nava has kept the name of Los Dug Dug's alive to this day with dozens of different lineups, performing long sets of classic rock covers in nightclubs to pay the bills, and a couple of original members of Tequila are doing pretty much the same thing on the tourist circuit in Cancun. But the other Avándaro bands broke up after only a few singles or one album.

Some performers, like Carlos Steward were hounded by the Federal Police and Army for years. Steward was producing documentary films that were not flattering to the ruling PRI party that included oil and land exploitation particularly in Chiapas on the Lacondon Indian Land. Once,the military captured Steward in Chiapas but they happened to be looking for someone else and let him escape. On another occasion his Lacondon Indian friends led him to safety in Guatemala.   On yet another capture in Mexico City at a Pemex security station, he was able to pretend to give up his film, by palming the real 16mm movie film with  unexposed raw footage. Steward finally returned to the US to perform with the Franzini Family.

In 1997 a concert was held at El Teatro Metropolitano, a former movie theater in Mexico City, to commemorate the 27th Anniversary of Avándaro. Felipe Maldonado put Peace & Love back together for the occasion, as did Armando Molina with his Maquina Del Sonido. There were performances by Los Dug Dug's, Javier Batiz, and the added attractions, from north of the border, of Big Brother and the Holding Company and Canned Heat, whose Mexican drummer, Fito de la Parra, is a good friend of some of the most legendary names in Mexican rock and Carlos Steward.  Rounding out the show was a supergroup named Las Estrellas de Avándaro and comprised of former members of various Avándaro bands. The show was originally planned for two nights, but slow ticket sales forced the cancellation of one of the nights. El Tri were unable to participate because of contractual obligations, but the night was remembered fondly by those who were there.