Festival Rock al Parque, is it misguided?

Martha del Pilar Moreno
Martha del Pilar Moreno

As some of you have already read in previous posts, we have done some coverage regarding open-air festivals; and for a week or so now, we have focused on Festival Rock al Parque, one of the biggest open-air free festivals in South America. Of course, a festival that has been around for more than twenty years creates expectations regarding the edition’s act selection. For most of us here in Colombia, it has been the chance to see bands that would otherwise have never have made it here. However, with an increase in audience, and an increase of visibility of Colombia as a suitable stage for metal and rock acts, the subject of selection for the festival has become more of a sensitive issue.

Colombia was a forgotten country when it came to concerts for rock and metal. Due to its location in the tropics and idiosyncrasy during the 1980’s and the 1990’s, Colombia was not exactly the “go to” place for bands around the world. In the capital, Bogotá, there was a small but growing subculture among youngsters towards rock and metal, and this audience craved to go to those kinds of concerts. An initiative from the vocalist of a local rock band called La Derecha, a businessman and the sub-director of the Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo (Cultural and Touristic District Institute) spawned the first version of Festival Rock al Parque in 1995.

At first, the bands that were invited to participate were national bands that were relatively well known in Colombia, there were two acts that came from Mexico and Spain. In this first version, rock was the only genre to participate. In the next version, metal and punk were included in the mixture and the selection became broader, however metal bands that played that year were mostly national such as Agony with the invitation of Puerto Ricans Puya; but still, the proportion was more rock, less metal.

In 1997, the proportion between metal and rock acts switched in favor to metal, where national bands like Ingrand, Kraken, Neurosis (not to be confused with Neurosis from the United States of America), Agony, Tenebrarum, Ultrageno; and international acts from Argentina A.N.I.M.A.L. joined the bill; Festival Rock al Parque started to consolidate itself as a festival focused on the diversity of genres when they introduced some hip-hop and ska acts to the festival line-up. After this inclusion, Festival Rock al Parque organisers have tried to include as many bands from different genres as possible to keep the diversity alive.

In 1998, Festival Rock al Parque was in danger because the event is a government initiative from Bogotá’s Mayor’s Institute Of Culture, which means when there is a transition in the city government, there are changes in the city’s budget which puts Festival Rock al Parque at the mercy of whoever is in charge of the financial plan at the time. In that year, after three editions under the same Mayor, another sub-director came and that person thought having a three day festival was not worth the budget. With the serious threat of getting the festival cancelled, the same audience that came to the earlier three editions showed their support for the festival, insisting that the event was an institution in itself and that was part of the Bogotanian culture. Such an impressive public campaign before social media even existed; fulfilled its purpose and so Festival Rock al Parque survived another round. That year saw 175,000 souls in the festival and the line-up for that edition proved to be more diverse than ever. Also, that year was the start as far as local auditions to support emerging bands in Bogotá goes.

From 1998 to 2004 in Festival Rock al Parque, the bands selected were mostly national bands, and the international acts invited were from the South American circuit. In 2005, international acts became more diverse with the appearance of Apocalyptica and Suicidal Tendencies, opening the doors for highly praised international acts, for example in 2008 we had a little British invasion with Carcass and Paradise Lost. In 2009, Haggard (Germany) and Morbid Angel (United States of America) made their appearance. Since then, the festival line-up always takes diversity into consideration with Krisiun (Brazil), and a United States of America invasion with acts such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Inquisition, Symphony X, Havok, Cannibal Corpse, Black Label Society, Soulfly and Nile among others that have made their appearance at this South American site.

The issues arise when Bogotanian audiences, or even the Colombian public as a whole never seem satisfied with the invited international acts. Last year, it was a nostalgic trip back to the late 1990’s sound in metal, rock, and ska. For people of my generation, it was a treat to hear Sepultura and Suicidal Tendencies together with more recent acts like Baroness. For a younger crowd, the heavily influenced punk Monday was not what they wanted to see. In fact, many claimed the festival is getting too outdated in their choices.

This high expectation also gets translated into national acts. There are plenty of local and national bands, I reckon that. All of them work hard to create a good product to be enjoyed by the masses, such was the case in 2016’s presentation of Perpetual Warfare, No Raza from Medellín and Southern Roots, among other bands. The quality of their sound and their presentation as whole was very good, but the ever hungry audience tends to eat bands alive or even worse, decide to ignore them. That is a particular issue, in my humble opinion, where a festival that is supposed to be an incentive for the local scene is not doing its due diligence partially because of the audience.

In the third week of February, the organization opened the inscriptions for local bands to audition to participate in the festival, which goes on until March 18th. That is where the hunger game reference comes into place. Last year, a massive quantity of bands from the area presented their acts to be considered. From that lot, near a hundred actually auditioned and only twenty-five bands were selected to play. The process has been seen with certain doubts, as in previous years the judgement of those who choose was not considered appropriate. The entire process takes up to three months, in which rumors will rise, controversies will be made, and final results that will not satisfied all.

This year Festival Rock al Parque will take place in the usual venue, Parque Simón Bolívar, between July 1st and 3rd. Full speed ahead. During these upcoming months lineups will be given, international acts will be announced, and the cycle begins all over again. The only thing that remains to be said is, let the games begin.

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