If you don’t live in Puerto Rico, you’ve probably never heard of Bronson Fest. That’s understandable, as this year was only the second annual edition of the independent music and arts event. But for the estimated 700 people who flocked to the southwest coast municipality of Cabo Rojo last Saturday, Bronson Fest was a shining landmark for the island’s underground DIY community.
The island isn’t without its share of fests branded for fans of independent or alternative culture, of course. Coors Light Indie Fest is easily the best known, drawing sizable crowds and getting plenty of recognition throughout the bulk of its six editions.
But Bronson Fest isn’t trying to be CLIF. Yes, there were a few sponsors, but even the bigger companies, like Suiza Dairy or Pan Pepin, are based in Puerto Rico. The only exception was Chivas, and the deal was brokered through a Puerto Rican distributor.
First, there’s the option to camp onsite. No other Puerto Rican fest offers that, and the row of closely packed tents seemed to indicate most attendees took advantage. (A bunch of them probably never went to sleep, though.) And while it’s definitely an anchor of its appeal, overnight hangs are not the only reason Bronson Fest doubled in attendance on its second run this year.
Describing it as a smaller-scale Bonnaroo isn’t quite fitting either. That’s because Bronson Fest is built completely by and for a specific — and growing — pocket of the local scene.
Bronson Fest is built completely by and for a specific — and growing — pocket of the local scene.
The niche in question is one occupied by a slew of psych, outsider folk, surf rock, punk, garage, experimental electronic, funk, and dub acts. The variety of styles is vast, but the commonalities are many. These groups share the same stages, lineups, fans, and DIY ethos. That combination is what ties them together; it’s what fuels Bronson Fest.
No out-of-town headliners were invited. The 24-band lineup was strictly local, and alternated between a taller, wider main stage, where bands like Las Abejas, Los Vigilantes, and International Dub Ambassadors played, and a floor-level side tent that showcased smaller acts, like Cours de Math and Baba Gris. Unlike many multiple-stage events, the latter spot got about as much attention as the former. Sets didn’t overlap, and people naturally transitioned back and forth.
Striking interactive installations by El CoCa, Moriviví, CODE.FORM_SPACE, and Kuniklo dotted the center of the grounds. The centerpiece: Poncili Creacion‘s mini-mountain of psychedelically painted sofas, which you could actually lounge on.
At the helm of Bronson Fest is Shanti Lalita, a local musician, promoter and manager of Los Bronson, the surf-rock-funk quartet for which the event is named. The band actually worked alongside Lalita for months ahead of the fest as well as the entire day of — and somehow also managed to play a fully energized set just after 2 a.m. Sunday.
Bronson Fest is a shining landmark for the island’s underground DIY community.
“As a musician also, I couldn’t have had the strength, I couldn’t have had the will, to work all day then do a kick-ass set the way that they did,” Lalita says. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Support from a slew of assistants, coordinators and volunteers was crucial. Lalita says she started planning early in January, and though she anticipated the need for a helpful crew, a stall on permits nearly derailed the whole thing. A friend with a bit more experience — and the necessary promoter’s license — saved the day, securing the necessary paperwork just in time.
The event itself wasn’t without hiccups, either. Schedule delays squeezed out DJs, and Fantasmes, slated to close out the main stage, got cut. Apparently, the stage rental expired at 3 a.m.
But an hour or two after things had gone mostly quiet, thumping bass and clouds of manufactured fog began billowing into the camping area. Fantasmes’ Darío Morales-Collazo had pulled together enough equipment to get his Trancesexual DJ set going. The party was back on.
What Lalita and company have organized is more than a fest — it’s a statement about the independent DIY community.
By pushing only hometown music and art in a single 24-hour fest, Bronson Fest effectively put the island’s intensely creative and hardworking independent DIY scene on its much-deserved pedestal. Next year, even more people will be there, partying in approval.
Check out the Bronson Fest playlist below.