When Dominican singer Sharlene took the stage at Los Dells on Saturday (Sept. 1), she exclaimed, “Hi Wisconsin! I never thought I’d be here!”
This is a thought that might have crossed more than one of the artists’ minds as they performed at Los Dells 2018, a Latin music festival in the unexpected location of Woodside Ranch in Mauston, Wisconsin, smack in the middle of the heartland.
Nevertheless, day one (Sept. 1) of Los Dells took off under sunny skies with 18 different acts on four stages. A young, primarily Latin crowd that included families and campers swayed, danced, jumped and boogied to grooves that included Sharlene’s urban dembow-bachata beats, California’s ’70s-tinged soulful ballads courtesy of Cuco, La Original Banda Limón’s horn-heavy frenzied dance floor burners, veteran icon El Tri‘s guitar-laden rock and Flo Rida’s smooth urban grooves, not to mention straight up mariachi, NYC-style with Flor de Toloache.
The wildly eclectic performances took place in a beautiful setting surrounded by expansive Wisconsin skies and forests. In its second edition, festival founder Damon Zumwalt’s dream to better serve the musical needs of the Latin community is being fulfilled.
At Los Dells, the grooves were as fluid and eclectic as the shifting demographics of the U.S. today, and to match the lingua franca of the Latinx millennial, came at the audience in Spanish, English and Spanglish.
Here are 5 key takeaways from day one.
1. Neo-soul rules the day with the millennial YouTube-born heartthrobs: Both Trinidad Cardona, a young Afro Mexican singer from Phoenix as well as Cuco, have a huge young female audience, who easily swoon to the sweet crooning and the easy, soulful charm that made each of them stars through viral videos.
2. Rock ‘n’ Roll en español holds still holds it own, after all these years. El Tri punctuated his set with screams of “Long live rock and roll!” and even paused to honor the dearly beloved who “were in heaven,” by requesting a respectful minute of shouting, ”Que viva el rocanrol! — Love live rock ‘n’ roll!” The audience gleefully complied.
3. It was as much of an uplifting cultural experience as it was a musical experience. Most, if not all, of the artists took time from their moments on the stage to give pep talks to the Latinos present. Puerto Rico’s Wisin y Yandel asked the audience members to sing so loud it could be heard in their homelands, and cried out, “If you feel proud of your flag, raise it up, raise it up!” Pop diva Paty Cantú shouted out to Mexico and Mexicans in particular, exclaiming that no matter where we go, we are f—ing great and we bring f—ing great things!”
4. The flag is the festival gear of the day. It’s a thing in Wisconsin to wrap the flag of your heritage around your shoulders and drape it like a cape to waive from your shoulders as you traipse about, Michelada in hand. (For the uninitiated, Michelada is beer with lime and hot pepper — it’s delicious).
5. Los Dells featured an English-language headliner in Flo Rida, and it went over extremely well. The boundaries between Spanish language and English language music have long been closing, and it was a pleasant surprise to see that pretty much the same crowd of fest-goers — families included — reveled to the urban beats with the same enthusiasm as they had kicked up the dust for La Original Banda el Limón a few hours earlier.
Los Dells has successfully found the common ground between perreo and banda — no mean feat. People came together in the spirit of expressing love of homeland and celebration, raising hands high as Flo Rida called out, “All my party people, put your hands up! Fiesta, fiesta!”
And finally, a culinary tip: Forget those famous Wisconsin cheese curds. At Los Dells, the food — coming from restaurants from the urban areas surrounding Los Dells (Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis and Chicago) — is super tasty. Here, in the land of cornfields where Woodside Ranch lays, the Mexican-style corn (with mayo, cheese, limón y chile) is the quite simply, the bomb.
And of course, there are paletas.
We’re ready for day two!