Latin music is booming, but is a growing festival scene threatened by too much of a good thing?
Over the last five years, Latin music has seen explosive growth. The genre outpaced all others’ growth last year, increasing its market share to 5.39%, according to Luminate — up 111% from 2.56% of the market five years earlier in 2016. As the genre grows and becomes more mainstream, Latin artists are not only selling out stadium tours and getting booked on major festivals like Coachella — which doubled the number of Latin acts on its 2022 roster from 2020 — but also new Latin music-focused festivals en masse.
This year in Chicago, two brand-new, back-to-back reggaetón festivals were announced: the Baja Beach Fest and C3 Presents-produced Sueños (May 28-29), with headliners J Balvin, Ozuna and Wisin Y Yandel, and Más Flow (July 15-17), presented by Grass Root Events, with Ivy Queen and Don Omar among the performers. After Vibra Urbana launched in Miami in 2020, the festival returned from the pandemic with additional shows in Orlando, Fla. (June 11-12), and Las Vegas (April 30-May 1). In Los Angeles, the Goldenvoice-backed Viva! L.A. (June 25), which has since been canceled, moved from nearby Pomona this year and Live Nation’s Bésame Mucho will make its debut on Dec. 3 at Dodger Stadium.
“The Latin music scene, which was once more niche, is clearly becoming more mainstream, and the market is reacting and rightfully so,” says Josh Kurfirst, WME partner and global head of festivals. “We have seen a steady increase of Latin bookings at the major crossover contemporary festivals and Latin-focused festivals, which I believe is contributing to the blending of Latin music with the pop mainstream.”
But for some of these new festivals, the momentum has been short-lived. So far this year, two major Latin events, with big promoters attached to them and superstar headliners, have been canceled.
In March, Los Dells — which announced earlier this year a move from Wisconsin to California — postponed its two-day festival with headliners Christian Nodal and Anuel AA just days before it was set to take place at the N.O.S. Events Center in San Bernardino. (According to organizers, Los Dells is scheduled to return April 2023 to California, but they declined to comment further.) And earlier this month, the multigenre Viva! L.A. announced that “recent setbacks forced us to make the difficult decision to cancel the event” scheduled for June 25 with Daddy Yankee and J Balvin. Managers whose acts were scheduled to play Viva! L.A. tell Billboard they were notified of the cancellation just one day before Goldenvoice made the public announcement, but couldn’t get into specifics due to the legality of the issue.
Citing logistical “setbacks” or “circumstances beyond our control” as the reason their events aren’t happening this year, the explanations behind these cancellations are unclear and don’t detail what went wrong. (Sources tell Billboard that Viva! L.A. folded due to poor ticket sales. Goldenvoice declined to comment.) But looking at the situation more broadly, there are multiple factors that could have played into the decision to cancel.
For one, saturation in the festival scene — which is an issue facing all genres. But, in terms of Latin specifically, “This festival market is still evolving and, in many ways, catching up for lost time,” says Kurfirst. “[But] there is really a Darwinism approach to evaluating the festival market — only the strong will survive.”
Additionally, there’s an overwhelming number of Latin acts touring — in 2021, Latin music set a record for the genre, accounting for nine of the year’s top 40 tours, according to Billboard Boxscore, earning over $196 million across 159 shows. This only adds to the surplus of live events and concertgoers will ultimately choose the event that gives them more bang for their buck.
“People will vote [on which festival or concert they’ll go to] with their pocketbook,” says Gil Gastelum, manager for Carla Morrison. “There’s possibly a bit of fatigue because we’re in the middle of a huge inflation surge, which just makes everything much more expensive.”
Latin music-focused festivals in the United States aren’t new. They’ve been happening sporadically for years, but only a few have thrived. Calibash, the multi-artist festival produced by SBS Entertainment, was first held in 2007 in Los Angeles and is now the best-known Latin urban festival in the country.
There’s also Ruido Fest in Chicago, which launched in 2015 as the first and only Latin alternative music festival in the Midwest. It has since remained true to its essence except for a few regional Mexican and urban artists scattered on its lineup.
Some of the newcomers are showing great promise early on. Live Nation’s new Bésame Mucho festival sold out in just 12 minutes, according to sources, when the 2000s-inspired lineup was announced in February featuring oldies but goodies in pop, regional Mexican, merengue, cumbia and rock-en-español. “Festivals that find success in any genre generally have a unique spirit and theme that defines them,” says Jbeau Lewis, partner and music agent at UTA. “It’s no different in the Latin marketplace. Only time will tell which events will succeed in the long term, but nonetheless it’s important that these festivals do grow and do develop. Their success only pushes the genre forward.”
While there is a saturation of live events overall, primarily in Southern California, there is still room for growth if festival organizers consider untapped regions such as the Midwest markets outside Chicago and the Southwest, which can balance out the landscape. But funding by big promoters will be key to entering those markets, says Gastelum. “There’s a much more reliable way of booking festivals. Now, with the rise of Live Nation and Goldenvoice and other regional promoters, they’re hopefully better able to get into places where that wasn’t a thought.”
Says Chris Carrera, creative at Need Pastel, the content company behind Bésame Mucho’s branding and marketing: “[In the future] we will see more Latin festivals popping up, which just goes to show how underrepresented the demographic was. I don’t see why someone wouldn’t go to a drawing board and do something in markets that don’t necessarily have festivals. Latin music is in demand — and not just where there’s a big demo but all over the world.”
Additional reporting by Dave Brooks.