Baja Beach Fest Wraps Up in Party Bubble Amid Locals Sheltering in Place

Lead Photo: People arrive to Baja Beach Fest music festival in Playas de Rosarito, Baja Caifornia, Mexico August 21, 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Guillermo Arias / AFP) (Photo by GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images)
People arrive to Baja Beach Fest music festival in Playas de Rosarito, Baja Caifornia, Mexico August 21, 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Guillermo Arias / AFP) (Photo by GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images)
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The reggaeton and Latine music three-day event Baja Beach Fest just concluded its first out of two weekends. Thousands of concertgoers filled the beaches of Rosarito, Baja California, and artists took the stage uninterrupted despite the shelter-in-place call by Mexican and U.S. authorities in Tijuana and other cities in the state on Friday (Aug. 12) night due to cartel-related violence in the area. While the festival went on without any incidents, it’s hard to ignore local media reports of what the region has been experiencing lately due to violence.

During the first day of the festival, at least 19 vehicles were reportedly set on fire across Baja California, including in Rosarito. The U.S. Consulate in Tijuana asked people to avoid these areas (Mexicali, Ensenada, Tecate, Rosarito, and Tijuana) and to stay home.

Without question, locals knew to follow a shelter-in-place call. “I know people who went out partying throughout the height of the pandemic who stayed home following Friday’s violent attacks,” Remezcla’s music editor Alexis Hodoyán-Gastélum, who grew up in Tijuana and attended Baja Beach Fest on Friday, said. “Baja California has lived through so many waves of narco-terrorism in the last three decades that we all have collective PTSD. Of course most locals would opt to stay in their homes and not risk it.”

Hodoyán-Gastélum even changed her plans for covering the festival. “I left the festival early, thinking there was no way Anuel AA would close out the event given the circumstances,” she said. “When I finally exited the festival grounds, I found a deserted city, one that just hours before had been bustling. There were no pedestrians, clubs and restaurants were closed, and only a few taxis roamed the main street.” She did not go back on Saturday or Sunday.  

Whether they were aware of the violence or not, artists were still making their way to the festival from Tijuana and San Diego, CA. 

“I am on my way to Mexico. Mexico is going to be set on fire today,” Friday’s headliner Anuel AA said on Instagram in Spanish. “You already know that the crime wave is going to go down in Mexico, [oiste] today there’s pa[rty], [viste] all the criminals are going to go see Anuel, [I’m] going to set Mexico on fire.” Regardless if Anuel was referring to the country’s state of violence at that moment, the social media post came at the wrong time.

On the other hand, Tokischa, who also performed on Friday, posted about her experience in a now-deleted tweet. She wrote: “As a person, I never imagined that I would be escorted by the police to be able to go from Tijuana to Rosarito and back, because there is a curfew by the Cartel. My respects to all who have been going through all this in Mexico.”

Leading up to Baja Beach Fest, a string of cartel-related incidents occurred in Rosarito. This is one of the main reasons why the city reinforced its security measures in preparation for the festival. According to a local report, “high impact” criminal-related events in Playas de Rosarito occurred during the last few weeks. The article points out that just last week, there was an armed attack on the Tijuana-Ensenada highway, where people must drive by if they’re visiting. 

Yet, on Saturday, the mayor of Rosarito asked for businesses to remain open despite people choosing to shelter in place. One of her highlighted reasons was the number of visitors Rosarito was hosting and the “great economic benefit” that came with it.

Although warnings were publicly made by officials, none of the artists canceled their appearances at the festival. In fact, the Baja Beach Fest’s second weekend is still scheduled to happen. With weekend two coming up, many are calling for more clear communication, but more importantly, a prioritization of the safety of its attendees.

“One of the most troubling aspects about being at the festival on Friday was the lack of cell phone service,” Hodoyán-Gastélum noted. “Festival-goers largely had no idea what was happening around the state. The festival should find a way to remedy this problem to ensure everyone’s safety.”