As the stage lights begin to dim and an ear-drumming cheer breaks from the audience, the quintessential mark of any concert, it’s hard not to notice the saltwater air that breezes through the crowd reminding everyone that they’re just meters away from the beach. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana has become the venue of world-famous musical performances — and on this night, they have legendary Dominican artist Juan Luis Guerra performing one of his residency shows.
A year ago, HBO aired the concert special Juan Luis Guerra: Entra Mar y Palmeras. I remember feeling lucky enough to watch the iconic performer in such a picturesque setting – all through my television screen. I was mesmerized by the palm trees and sand that set the stage for the legendary songs that soundtracked many childhood memories. I would’ve never imagined having this experience come to life in this beach-side venue on the eastern coast of La Quisqueya.
The recorded sounds of waves crashing to shore erupt the venue speakers, and Guerra comes to center stage. For his opening song, he performs the 1990-hit track “Rosalia,” off his award-winning album Bachata Rosa. What would follow is an emblematic setlist that would strike the cords of any longtime fan: “Nadie Como Tú,” “El Niágara En Bicicleta,” “Muchachita Linda,” “Bachata En Fukuoka,” “Frio Frio,” among many more. It was fascinating to witness the true nature of Guerra’s multi-octave voice and the legendary trumpet, drum, and guitar sounds that are the earmarks of his classics.
While many could argue that his renowned vocals and name alone would ensure a memorable show, the sensory-filled production added special touches throughout the performances. From rainbow confetti during “La Travesia” to crowd-filling bubbles for “Burbujas de Amor,” Guerra and his team brought lyrics to life in unexpected and innovative ways.
However, it wouldn’t be fair to only credit Guerra, as it was also the large crowd that brought the essence of the island’s culture and camaraderie to the outdoor theater. The way they’d seamlessly switch from singing along with strangers to dancing merengue with the small space available in front of their seats, there was a collective energy that would be hard to find elsewhere — one that even venue staff couldn’t ignore and joined in on.
That “de lo mio” energy — which was also seen in the homage-paying sneakers worn by Guerra and backup singers — was also felt when Guerra spotlighted his band members one by one, and each of them received a standing ovation from the audience. One member, in particular, received a standout cheer: Janina Rosado, the piano player that stole the show, flawlessly delivering all the notes in the keyboard-heavy tracks.
With this talented band and the crowd’s energy, Guerra had the perfect environment to shine his talent. The range of his voice never wavered as he jumped from bachata to salsa, even in the beach-side humidity. He interacted with the crowd in ways that surprised many fans, who have known him to be a straight-shooter performer. “He usually never talks, just goes from song to song,” I overheard a concert-goer say. But it’s hard to imagine not taking in this particular crowd’s energy and making it your own — especially when people of different ages and backgrounds have traveled from near and far.
Ultimately, this night only cemented what I’ve known for a long time: While there are many artists who have and will come out of the Dominican Republic, Juan Luis Guerra is in a league of his own. He’s an incomparable artist that has accomplished what many hope to: a natural ability to bring people together while transcending generations and cultures… still, staying true to his roots. After a pandemic that brought upon uncertainty and affected a tourism-reliant island like the Dominican Republic, it was amazing to see the energy brought to The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana by Guerra, his band, and the Dominicans that truly make the music what it is.
Juan Luis Guerra is set to perform again on Saturday, April 2, 2022, at The Hard Rock Golf Club at Cana Bay. Buy tickets here. Stay tuned for other performances at The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana by visiting their events page here.