In September of 1971 300,000 people culminated in a small town in southern Mexico in anticipation of what would come to be known as Mexican Woodstock or Festival de Rock y Ruedas Avandaro. What had started off as a one-day motorcycle show with a 2 band set list, eventually spiraled into a 2 day, 18 act concert with motorcycles left by the wayside. This festival was unlike anything the citizens of Mexico had seen before and ultimately changed the musical landscape across the country.
Towards the end of the 60s, Mexico faced political and civil unrest. The turbulence culminated in the Massacre of Tlaltelolco in 1968 and the Corpus Christi Massacre in 1971, where the government brutally killed over 400 civilian protesters and wounded over 1,300 others. In the wake of these events, a new movement was created called La Onda Chicano.
La Onda was a “multidisciplinary artistic movement created in Mexico by artists and intellectuals as part of the worldwide waves of the counterculture of the 1960s and the avant-garde.” The goal of this movement was to address social issues at the time, given the tight ruling and oppression from the current administration – the PRI party.
One of the strong oppositional tools La Onda used was music. With the insurgence of British and American influences, the rock scene slowly began to emerge in pockets throughout Mexico. Bands such as El Ritual, Los Dug Dugs, and El Tri helped spread the messages of La Onda into the minds of the dissatisfied youth, thereby spreading the countercultural movement.
This social revolt reached a crescendo at the event which formally came to be known as Avandaro – a two day long rock festival held in southern Mexico. While many dispute the actual number, organizers and social investigators alike claim that over 300,000 people were in attendance. In this way, the festival escaped its original purpose as a way for local motorcyclists to show off their bikes, and became a full-fledged Mexican Woodstock.
Filled with open drug use, nudity, arts, and the distribution of radical new social ideology, the oppressive government feared for their control over Mexican society and after the first few hours of the festival, ordered for the termination of any live feeds of the concert. Moreover, the government banned concerts, radio broadcasts and recording of rock music, and went so far as to order the media to disparage the culture surrounding rock and roll as “incorrect, grotesque, and immoral”.
This tactic of suppression was met with much success, as the sounds of rock music quickly faded under the much less inflammatory tones of rancheras, polka, and other traditional Mexican music. Nonetheless, rock continued on, albeit underground in locations dubbed “hoyos funky” or Funky Holes.
Abandoned factories, farmlands, and even some homes were used to subvert the governments censorship and host rock concerts. These shows featured prominent acts from the time including Toncho Pilatos, La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata, and Javier Batiz and could host up to 20,000 people. Like Avandaro, these venues typically served alcoholic beverages, were open to drug use and informally charged entry.
While some bands continued to play their sound in these Hoyos Funky, the damage had been dealt and many acts at the time moved on to play more commercial and less repressed music or quit outright. The few surviving rock recordings of the counterculture movement in Mexico have gone on to critical acclaim, with many of these records being sought after by collectors.
It is certain that the governments oppression at this pivotal time in Mexican history lead to many other social injustices down the road, but thankfully, variation in Mexican music has been making a recovery and is in full bloom today.
Thank you for reading.
A compilation of some of the artists mentioned in this article can be found here:
For more information about Avandaro, La Onda Chicano, and other historical Mexican events, visit these resources:
Credit for the photos used here-in: