Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lila & Lateness

When they said the concert would start at 9 pm, I knew it wouldn’t start at 9 pm. Though Mexican Time still continues to mystify me (like it did here and here and here) I’m not naïve enough to think that an event would actually – gasp – begin at the advertised time.

So when we heard that Lila Downs – a Mexican singer who’s somewhat of a heroine ‘round these parts, born in a tiny town called Tlaxiaco to a Oaxacan mom and a gringo dad, verified as a star after her appearance in the movie Frida a couple of years ago and subsequent Oscar – would be playing a rare concert in her hometown at 9 pm on Friday, we jumped at the chance to go. I’d take off work at 6 pm giving us plenty of time to drive the two hours to Tlaxiaco and arrive for the show.

A week ahead of the event, the media hype began. Tlaxiaco, a town of about 17,000, wouldn’t have the infrastructure to support the onslaught of concert-goers that Lila would bring. Speculation ran wild, with estimates of 4,000 people expected to descend on the tiny town with only 1,000 hotel rooms.

You’d think the Beatles were coming to play live in the the Mixteca. We booked our tickets early and managed to reserve one of those precious hotel rooms.

We left Huajuapan at about 6:30 on Friday in anticipation of a great night. We’d arrive in Tlaxiaco by about 8:30, giving us time to check into our hotel, get to the concert, and maybe even grab a beer before the show. The concert wouldn’t start at 9 pm. We had plenty of time.

But we didn’t expect getting stuck in mud along the pothole-plagued mountain highway on the way to Tlaxiaco. Nor did we anticipate a parade to be blocking all of the streets when, mud-covered, we finally rolled into town – late – at 9:15 pm. We also didn’t budget for the 30 minutes it would take to reach our hotel, which wasn’t in Tlaxiaco at all, but well on the way to the next town over, across streets snarled with traffic and bits of broken parade float.

We arrived at the concert around 10 pm. Apparently Lila had gotten the message about the delay, too, because her fancy-pants truck pulled up the same time we did, allowing me to snap the fabulous “hey there, adoring fans, I’m arriving fashionably late just like you” picture above.

We were right on time. I’d finally outsmarted Mexican Time! We smugly got our tickets, found our seats, and exchanged pleasantries with the people sitting around us (who had arrived at 9 pm – suckers! – don’t you know about Mexican Time?). And we waited.

And waited and waited and waited.

We waited through as the roadies – in all of their black-hoodied coolness – untangled wires on stage. We waited through the sound check-check-check. We waited through the warming-up cacophony of the saxophone, the drums, the harp, the bass guitar and a banjo – all competing to be heard over the piped-in pop en español soundtrack designed to cover up all the noise.

10:30. 10:45. 11 o’clock. 11:15 pm.

We waited as throngs of later-than-us-but-actually-more-on-time people arrived and smugly took their seats.

Suckers! Don’t you know about Mexican Time?

At 11:30 pm, Lila finally took the stage. There is really no way to put the impact of her music into words. Suffice to say that her smoky, goosebumps-inducing voice, coupled with her kaleidoscopic Mixtec dress, made the wait completely worthwhile.

At 1 am, the concert concluded, and I, after happily violating the concert produers' no-photo policy by taking about 300 pictures, dutifully filed out of the hall with throngs of octogenarians and eight-year-olds alike, all of whom had braved the late hour to see their hometown hero. Where I come from, these folks would have been fast asleep at that time.

So, while I’m convinced that I’ll never understand Mexican Time, I’m also comforted by the fact that I’m not alone.

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