In an age where giant music festivals in isolated deserts and forests cater to trust-fund royalty kids, famous ravers and those with enough money to afford to go on weeklong benders, it’s a gem to find a free music festival.
ASUNM’s “Fiestas” has been going on for the past 50 years, or so they say, but really it seems that it made its real debut in 2013. That year, artists like Zion-I and Tritonal played to a crowd of elated students fueled by vices and pure happiness that big name artists had come to their relatively obscure hometown.
Some, like event-goer Chris Moore, wondered “Why wasn’t there cool stuff like this when I was going to school?” Maybe the answer lies in the rise of giant music festivals, with their multiple stages and jam-packed crowds.
We all know Coachella, Lollapalooza and Burning Man’s reputation for massive crowds, flower crowns, wide fields and almost-perpetual performances over their varying schedules. Fiestas 2017 exemplified these traits in a snow globe.
Compared to UNM’s Johnson Field on a regular day, for a brief period of time on April 8, Johnson Field crossed the line between realities to reveal a side of UNM that is rarely seen but greatly enjoyed.
For me, the “snow globe” experience began when I saw the line extending nearly three quarters of the length of the field. Having attending Fiestas in the past, this addition was new to me. I was used to the festival being nearly 100 percent accessible with no line and minimal fences.
Apparently security has been beefed up in the past two years, as more notable acts have been performing at Fiestas, like Brother Ali, Del the Funky Homosapien and Carnage.
Devon Harper, a Fiestas attendee, said that the festival would have been more enjoyable if there were multiple points of access for admission instead of a single line.
“I think that the line was a little bit ridiculous," Harper said. "Honestly, coming in, I think if they had multiple access points it would probably get a little better. The music is good. I think that if they had a little bit more beverages it would probably be a better event, just so people could go off and get drinks.”
This was true, as later during the evening, after the stands had cleared out, the event went bone dry and other UNM organizations had to provide water when ASUNM SSE ran out. But what was to be expected on a hot day with hundreds of people dancing their hearts out?
As for the music, it was played at a very tasteful volume. It wasn’t the overpowering bass thumps that characterize some concerts, but a good mix that was clear but not deafening. Everyone could hear the bands, but could still have a conversation with ease.
The choice of acts made attendees stick around for the long haul, as ASUNM booked acts like Seattle-based Naked Giants and Albuquerque locals like Burque Sol. But what drew the majority of attention were rising stars Gramatik and Skizzy Mars, who headlined the festival and had the crowd hypnotized.
“It’s been going really nice, it’s my first Fiestas and I’ve really enjoyed it. I woke up at like 7 a.m. to be here, so I’m a little tired, but it’s been great,” said Landon Taylor, an ASUNM SSE volunteer. “We ran out of water...We could’ve used more...but honestly I’m impressed with everything here.”
The event attracted more than just EDM fans in tank-tops and short-shorts. It turned out to be a family event with many children in riding strollers and older attendees sitting on the grass to enjoy the music of the younger generation.
For over eight hours this Mecca of music lovers met, danced, talked, walked, hydrated and gyrated all day, until the performances of Skizzy Mars and Gramatik topped off the evening and left the audience in a haze of endorphins, exhaustion and pure joy.
For a brief moment in time, Johnson Field became the epicenter for a generation-spanning celebration that captured the essence of music festivals within the span of a few hours. Fiestas will return in a year’s time, and then once more this gem of an event will grace Johnson Field with its presence — but hopefully with more water and shorter lines.
Fin Martinez is the culture editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @FinMartinez.