Having attended multiple events at the Queen Mary in years past, including a great staging of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2003, and multiple versions of the Ink And Iron Festival, I thought I knew what we would be in for at Tropicalia Music and Taco Festival. It’s a big, accommodating space, after all. But Tropicalia, a first-time festival from the Observatory Group, roughly tripled the attendance of all of those prior events. Although I’m not that comfortable at giant events these days, the opportunity to see Os Mutantes, a pet favorite of mine from Sao Paulo, Brazil who almost never play in the US these days, plus a diverse lineup of acts, and dozens of taco vendors, including some long-time favorites, was too much to pass up.
By making the most of its available space, it managed to be both massive and intimate. While the giant mainstage crowd hopping to Café Tacuba, Kali Uchis and Chicano Batman created the feeling of a big concert, access to the smaller stage acts was up-close and personal. Yes there were long lines at the better taco pads, but once you got there the food was worth waiting for, and reasonably priced for such an event. It helped that they had a lot of taco pads.
We made it through the doors just as the sun was setting. The fest was in full swing with rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson on the Modelo stage. Jackson appeared to be struggling with technical difficulties, but looked marvelous and clearly still has that unmistakable voice and a fire in her that makes her a timeless performer. She did a short set including “Funnel of Love.” Near the end, her grand-daughter was encouraging her to finish her set, but she made sure to play a truncated version of “Hard-Headed Woman,” which sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The Dia De Los Puercos stage and Mota stage were in full view of the Taco Pavilion across the road, and we spent much of the sets of Brenton Wood and the Delfonics sitting among the trees, chomping on birria de res burritos from Las Palmas and crispy shrimp tacos from Mariscos Jalisco. There were so many options, you really had to be selective about which line you were willing to wait in. Oddly, the line for beer was non-existent at 7pm, causing me to ask someone if it had been shut down early, and was handed a frosty one in reply.
It’s fun listening to an act like the Delfonics in the confines of such an event, a shared trip down memory lane with the guys who made at least two or three songs that make everyone go “Oh that song!” Their big ones were “La La Means I Love You” and “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind (This Time),” and both of those songs seemed to hit their target on multiple generations of taco consumers, who sang along nostalgically.
Os Mutantes haven’t played in Southern California since the tour for 2012’s Fool Metal Jack album, not that I’ve noticed anyway, and this appearance has original singer/ guitarist Sergio Dias fronting a group of new mutant faces, including lead vocalist Esmeria Bulgari. Their thirty minute set flew by in an instant, mostly made up of their “greatest hits” from their 60s and 70s albums like “A Minha Menina” “Bat Macumba” and “Ando Meio Desligado,” with the addition of a brand new Trump-referencing song called “Black and Gray” in which they beseech Melania to save us from her husband.
There was so much going on that we couldn’t do everything. We hated to pass up South LA’s Taco Mell, Pez Cantina, Chichen Itza, and Macheen Tacos, and miss bands like Chicano Batman, but this event was so successful, there’s always next year, right?