¡Viva Monterrey! Exploring Mexico's Pa'l Norte Music Fest

The 2014 Pa'l Norte Music Festival took place in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico over Halloween weekend, with headliners such as Los Tigres Del Norte, Snoop Dogg, Juanes, Foster the People, Molotov and more. Rocks Off's Marco Torres was on hand to capture the highlights.

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Photos by Marco Torres
¡Vamos Pa'l Norte!

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Natasha and Omar of Vinil Magazine take a selfie with me in the Pa'l Norte media area.

One of the joys of working as a music journalist is befriending people from all over the globe while working music festivals. A few years ago, I met Omar "Mexico" Pasillas (above, center) in Austin during PachangaFest. He is the editor of Vinil Magazine and host of VinilTV, a public access television show in Monterrey.

During ACL 2014, he suggested that I visit his hometown to cover the Pa'l Norte Music Festival, which in its third year of existence is quickly becoming one of the best music festivals in Latin America. Their success can be attributed to the Apodaca Music Group, a booking and management firm whose more than 30 years of history in the Mexican and international music scene serves as a firm base for the festival.

So I packed my camera bag and traveled south for the weekend. This is what I saw:

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Pitbull & Enrique Iglesias at Toyota Center, 10/19/2014

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Photos by Marco Torres
Pitbull & Enrique Iglesias
Toyota Center
October 19, 2014

At the beginning of his set last night at Toyota Center, Pitbull retold his life story on the immense video wall that towered over the stage. The words on the screen talked about his mother and her revolutionary tendencies, his crunk and reggaeton start in the music biz, and his current standing as "a walking television network." In short, he bills his life as the embodiment of the American Dream, one that he makes sure to celebrate at every opportunity.

With the combination of dazzling lights, exotic dancers and a wide smile, Pitbull hit the stage already cranked all the way up to the roof. With his black suit and oversized shades, he charmed the bra and panties off the ladies in the crowd, shouting "dalé" and gyrating his hips up and down and all over the somewhat phallic-shaped stage.

"Houston has always showed me love and support throughout my entire career" he thanked the crowd. "Or as y'all say around here...Awwwready!"


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Santana at Bayou Music Center, 10/1/2014

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photos by Marco Torres
¡Con el corazon, se hace todos los milagros! (With heart, one can make miracles)
-- Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana
"Corazón" tour
Bayou Music Center
October 1, 2014

As I was watching the documentary B.B. King: The Life of Riley last week, I saw a familiar face on screen. It was rock legend and guitar hero Carlos Santana, speaking about the attributes that fueled B.B. King's music.

"You need to be sincere, honest, true, for real, and genuine. If you've got those five things, then you can play the blues" he declared. Those characteristics are definitely true about Mr. King, but they can certainly also be said about Mr. Santana.

The imprint that Santana has left on American music is undeniable. This man was part of the psychedelic-rock era in 1960s San Francisco, famously played at Woodstock, is the winner of ten Grammy awards, and was a 2013 Kennedy Center Honoree. He is without a doubt one of music's most recognizable and respected talents.


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Marc Anthony at Toyota Center, 9/27/2014

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photos by Marco Torres
Marc Anthony
Cambio De Piel Tour
Toyota Center
September 27, 2014

Triumphant. That was the adjective that came to mind while roaming the photo pit Saturday night, trying my best to keep up with international Latin-pop/salsa superstar Marc Anthony as he danced, sang and smiled in front of his adoring fans at the Toyota Center. To triumph is to achieve a great victory, to be successful, to win, and if anyone has done just that in the entertainment business, it is this man.

His career has spanned more than 25 years. And on Saturday night, he offered songs from each of those years, from early salsa hits "Y Hubo Alguien" and "Hasta Ayer" to tracks from his latest release, 3.0, like "Vivir Mi Vida" and "Cambio De Piel," from which this tour takes its name. Living life as a new man, yet keeping the passion and emotion that he delivers so beautifully onstage, is what his fans have come to adore.

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Pachanga Tour w/ Los Rakas & Bomba Estereo at Warehouse Live, 9/12/2014

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Photos by Marco Torres
Pachanga Tour
Feat. Bomba Estéreo, Los Rakas, Bombón Houston
Warehouse Live
September 12, 2014

"Maaannn.... We've got a million stories!" proclaimed Raka Rich as we chilled in the Los Rakas green room at Warehouse Live last Friday night. Stories about meeting fellow Panameño musician El General at the "white people gym" back in Panama, how Scarface and Devin the Dude are their favorite Houston-based rappers, and how a bird mysteriously fell from the sky during the video shoot for their just released remix of Wiz Khalifa's "We Dem Boyz."

Within the last few years, Rich and his cousin Raka Dun have elevated themselves to the top of the Latin charts with their energetic and light-hearted mix of hip-hop, reggaeton and other Latino-Caribbean sounds. Their name is derived from the Panamanian slang "Rakataka," which means "hood rat" or "ghetto." By reclaiming the term and wearing it proudly, they provide hope to everyone who hears their hip-shaking and motivational tracks.

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Quantic Sways MFAH Crowd With Tropical Swing

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Photo by Marco Torres
Quantic Music
Mixed Media Series
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
August 22, 2014

About halfway through Quantic's set this past Friday evening amid the art of the MFAH's Cullen Sculpture Garden, DJ Sun shuffled excitiedly towards the area immediately behind the stage, dancing, hands raised up to Heaven and grinning wildly. "That's from my country!" he shouted at British-born DJ and producer Will Holland, better known as Quantic.

It was a special moment between the two vinyl enthusiasts, both of whom prefer to spin 45-rpm records without the crutch of a laptop. The song in question was "Opete Kwasi" by Suriname artist Sopiang Kawina. And not only did Sun dig it, but the crowd accepted it and every other selection that night with the upmost respect and energy as they experienced one of the most noteworthy DJ sets the city has experienced this year.

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Mario Rodriguez of Bang Bangz Talks Touring Mexico and Wonky Power

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photo by Michael Gault

The soul of a good musician is usually restless and ambitious, always ready to expand their sound and talent towards as many ears and hearts as possible. Houston is blessed with many such individuals, including Mario Rodriguez, the curly-haired, bespectacled, wonky frontman of the electro-pop group Bang Bangz. We caught up with Mario as he and the band prepare to embark on a week-long tour of several venues in and around Mexico City.

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Marco Antonio Solis at Toyota Center, 8/10/2014

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photos by Marco Torres
Marco Antonio Solis
Toyota Center
August 10, 2014

Hailing from the beautiful Mexican state of Michoácan, Marco Antonio Solis is the epitome of a Latino superstar. He is suave, romantic, talented and charming, equally comfortable singing a ranchera as he is a love ballad, dancing to a cumbia or swaying along with bachata. He creates his compositions, writes his own songs, and plays his guitar and timbales masterfully. Solis is a natural performer, and exhibits attributes that he was seemingly born with, not learned or faked. In short, he is what Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias wish they could be.

On a sweltering summer night in the City of Houston, Solis began his show about ten minutes past 8 p.m. Sunday, allowing his large band and orchestra to introduce him with a medley of his past and current hits. A white backdrop showcased video of past performances and music videos, leading into the first song, "No Puedo Olvidarla (I Can't Forget Her)." The crowd cheered loudly and illuminated the arena with a sea of cell-phone cameras.


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The Rocks Off 200: DJ Navo, Bombón's Boundless Body-Mover

Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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Photos by Marco Torres
Who? Alex Nava is the fair-eyed, jovial member of the Bombón Houston crew, born and raised here in Houston. His father moved here from Maracaibo, Venezuela in the '70s and his mother came to Houston from Halmstad, Sweden in the '80s.

"Musically, my mom had an ear for everything from salsa and hip-hop to R&B and soul," says Nava. "My dad would usually listen to popular salsa and Spanish singer-songwriter music. My older brother by six years [Justin Nava of thelastplaceyoulook] was involved in the Houston music scene at a young age and still is today. I grew up going to his bands' practice sessions to just hang out and listen."

It wasn't until Alex heard Squincy Jones' "Nintendub" album that he learned about Houston's DJ scene, which led to him attending the infamous Speakerboxx parties at the Mink/Backroom back in 2009. That's when he decided he wanted to DJ and produce music for the dance floor. He became DJ Navo.


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The Rocks Off 200: Chingo Bling, H-Town's Own Versace Mariachi

Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.

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photos by Marco Torres
Who? His birth name is Pedro Herrera, but to the world at large he is known as Chingo Bling --and also the Versace Mariachi, the Ghetto Vaquero and a long list of other self-assigned nicknames. The Houston-based artist/entrepreneur has been performing since the early 2000s. Herrera also acts and does some comedy, which he says goes hand in hand with his character.


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