If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and there’s nothing about Viva! Pomona that needs to be fixed. Founder Rene Contreras celebrated the sixth birthday of his little festival that could in Pomona this past weekend with yet another stellar lineup of local and international independent artists that struck a perfect balance between Latino artists and everyone else.
The annual two-day festival brought a range of artists from different genres, with acoustic weirdos such as Juan Wauters and Tall Juan sharing floor space with their musical opposites like punk group The Coathangers and fuzzy surf-rock duo Surf Curse. It’s a formula that has worked since the festival’s inception, a depiction of the diverse tastes of Contreras and others like him.
The two worlds that the festival brings together have always coexisted well, although the disparity between the two seemed stronger this year than it has at past Viva! Pomonas. It was far from a Bloods and Crips or greasers and socials situation, but the line between the Latino segment of the festival and the rest stood out more than it had in other years.
One reason for the disparity was the star power behind some of the new names on the bill — specifically, Omar Banos, whose musical alter ego Cuco is more insanely popular than anyone who isn’t a teenage Latino from L.A. obsessed with emo and romantic ballads realizes.
The 19-year-old skinny dude from Hawthorne, who bore a slight resemblance to Fievel from An American Tail thanks to a long-sleeve shirt and a slightly oversized cap he wore backwards, showed up to his merch booth roughly four hours before his set. Minutes later, he agreed to pose for photos with a few fans. Those few fans grew into a line of dozens that snaked from the booth to the festival entrance for nearly two hours.
His headline set inside the Glass House was equal parts screaming female fans and dudes singing along to every word of his chillwave, vaporware beats, with songs that give nods to classic romantic tunes of yesteryear. It’s this perfect mix of the modern and the nostalgic that has grown his fan base at a mind-boggling pace.
“This is the new wave of Latin music,” Contreras told me during a brief respite from doing his best impression of a kinder, gentler Gordon Ramsey, running from stage to stage to check in on the artists, their managers, the sound crew and security.
A small mob of about 40 fans ran over to the artist entrance near the stage after Cuco's set to take a photo with their favorite and ask for an autograph. I couldn’t tell if the girl who tossed her bra onto the stage halfway through his first song was in that mob.
Other Latino artists who impressed on that first day were Sotomayor, Tall Juan and Juan Wauters. Brother-and-sister duo Raul and Paulina Sotomayor flipped the script on their laid-back tropical tunes and bumped up the BPM for a bona fide dance party.
Argentine Tall Juan, who is as tall as his name suggests, rocked a bright onesie possibly inspired by The Lion King and rocked a cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” with the swagger of Iggy Pop himself, while Wauters hypnotized the crowd inside the Glass House with nothing but his guitar, a single stage light and a fashion aesthetic that can only be described as “Latino auto mechanic from the 1980s,” complete with a curly mullet.
Day two was a whirlwind of fuzzy and jangly guitars thanks to a wealth of prog, punk, surf and psych-rock groups on every stage. Teen girl trio Pinky Pinky impressed with their armory of proto-prog tunes ripped straight from the 1970s. Levitation Room did the same, with the band playing some new material along with tracks from their psychedelic debut, Ethos, such as “Strangers of Our Time,” “Cosmic Flower” and “Plain to See.” Sad Girl returned for another round of tunes this year and to a much bigger and receptive crowd, which may have had something to do with frontman Misha Lindes looking like the lost son of James Dean.
Current Joys’ Nick Rattigan made a rare appearance with a full band, and on his birthday no less, that attracted the largest crowd the outdoor Viva Radical stage saw the entire weekend. Rattigan then took his band indoors to the Glass House, where they magically morphed into Surf Curse. The band agreed to play the festival two days before it was scheduled to begin. They brought out a cake for Rattigan, who dropped it in his comically failed attempt to toss it out to the crowd.
The Coathangers ended the night appropriately: with a loud punk assault on the senses. And Mexican Jewish rapper Speak also made an appearance toward the end of the night at the bar as a personal reward for finishing a number of beats and rhymes while on vacation at his parents' home.
Viva! Pomona 2017 was an equitable dive into the music tastes of Southern California’s indie-loving youth with an eye to the near future. It showed over the course of two days that the kids are all right and the future is bright.