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A beginner's guide to Pachanga Fest, the Latino music blowout at Fiesta Gardens

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Pachanga Fest is May 10 - 11 at Fiesta Gardens. Photo by Rachel Ngun
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Alejandro Escavedo at Pachanga Fest 2012. Photo by Rachel Ngun
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David Garza at Pachanga Fest 2012. Photo by Rachel Ngun
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Festival-goers will pack Fiesta Gardens for latino music on Friday and Saturday. Photo by Rachel Ngun

Since 2008, the Pachanga Latino Music Festival has been a spring highlight of Austin's cultural calendar. The relaxed but steadily growing event has become a showcase for a vastly divergent array of Latino groups and artists that aren't usually found on other festival rosters despite tremendous regional and international popularity. 

To help newcomers make the most of the Pachanga experience, we offer seven tips on how to navigate the festival and fully enjoy the day.
 
1. Review the lineup ahead of time. With more than 25 artists on multiple stages, Spotify and YouTube are your friend. Doing a little research ahead of time can help you determine whether your 5 p.m. slot is better spent watching Los Master Plus cover Kings Of Leon or Sweet and Tender Hooligans cover The Smiths, for example.   
 
2. Plan for overcast but warm weather. The forecast for Saturday shows a high of 81, with temperatures hovering in the mid-70s through most of the day. The forecast also shows that the day will likely be overcast, but don't let that prevent you from bringing a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from a lovely farmer's tan on Sunday.
 
3. Go VIP if you can swing it. Pachanga's VIP area will host a rotating series of tastings from a number of critical darlings on Saturday — if you have the coin, you can eat awfully well, especially if you stop by the VIP area repeatedly. Participating restaurants include El Naranjo from 2-3 p.m. (tortas de pierna, empanadas de hongos, taquitos fritos); Tapas Bravas from 3:30-4:30 p.m. (Brussel's sprouts with garlic aioli, carrots with herbs, and pork meatballs in brandy sauce); Fresa's from 5-6 p.m. (chicken taquitos, street corn, and blanco salad); and Tamale House East from 6:30-7:30 p.m. (aji de gallina, Peruvian potato salad).
 
There will also be a queso tasting from Frank at 2:30 p.m., a coffee and pan dulce hour from H-E-B, paletas from Mom and Pops, and booze from Tito's and Rex Goliath Wines. We dare you to actually try all of this - though if you did, you might not have time to see a band.
 
4. Plan to dine at the park. Non-VIPs aren't out of luck when considering dining options. Following in the tradition of ACL and Fun Fun Fun Fest, festival organizers have curated a lineup of local food trucks to quell your lunch and dinner cravings. As you'd expect, the offerings are decidedly Latin-themed. Among your options: Chingo Bling Tamale King, Serranos Especial, Juanita's Mexican Food, La Fantabulous Taqueria, mmmpanadas, Tapas Bravas, Aguirre's Roasted Corn, Slab BBQ, Frank and Snowie Shaved Ice.
 
5. Don't miss Sweet and Tender Hooligans or Grupo Fantasma. There are a lot of top names on this bill, but we'd urge you not to miss these two acts. Sweet and Tender Hooligans are an unconventional choice — they're a Smiths and Morrissey cover band, for goodness sake. That said, they're an awfully good one, they've been named “Best Cover Band in Los Angeles” by L.A. Weekly, and regularly sell out clubs across the West Coast.
 
As for Grupo Fantasma, we know you know them, and have likely seen them before. What you may not have heard, though, are the new tracks cut with Los Lobos' Steve Berlin that are likely to feature heavily in their Pachanga set — especially given that Berlin will be stage side. If for some reason you've never caught Grupo, it's worth noting that they've managed to win a Grammy, back up Prince on multiple occasions, and play joint gigs with Wu-Tang Clan's GZA. Are you sold yet? They're a local treasure. 
 
6. Stop by the art installations from Cruz Ortiz and other artists. San Antonio artist Cruz Ortiz (who you may know from his awesome art at Malverde) has curated a lineup of art installations to give Pachanga some added visual punch. Attractions will include a 30-foot "Cumbia Tower," several murals, and both visuals and interactive pieces from four artists from Puro Chingon Collective, who will also do a special photo booth. Austin's Gerardo Arellano will curate an on-site mercado with music posters, western wear, and original local artwork.
 
7. Bring the kids on Saturday afternoon. One of the stealthy highlights of Pachanga is the "Niños Rock" stage that runs from noon to 4 p.m. near the main entrance. Festival organizer Rich Garza has two daughters who get a vote on the setup, so the children's area is designed from a kid's point of view. There are musical instrument demos, coloring pages and kiddo activities like face-painting and interactive crafts to let young festival-goers express themselves and have fun. One final note: Children 12 and under are admitted free (provided the parent has a ticket).

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The Pachanga Latino Music Festival will be held on Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11 at Fiesta Gardens in East Austin. One and two-day tickets are available now at the festival's official site. Tickets are $39-$75 for one day admission and $65-$143 for a weekend pass.

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