Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a holiday that originated in Mexico and is now celebrated all around the world—especially in many Southwestern U.S. cities. The focus on coming together to pay tribute to the dead and remember loved ones has made the holiday appealing to many artists and musicians—and on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 1 and 2, a large celebration is coming to the valley, in the form of the Dia de los Muertos festival, to be held at in Rancho Las Flores Park in Coachella.
The festival will feature live music, art installations, food vendors and traditional Day of the Dead celebrations. Rodri Entertainment Group CEO Rodri Rodriguez told the story of how this festival came together.
“About 17 years ago, I did a Day of the Dead event at the Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve always had a connection with Dia de los Muertos. I’m Latina, but I’m Cuban, and I grew up in Los Angeles.
“There’s a relationship with life and death. I lost my mom 12 years ago; my dad died two years ago, and my brother died a few months ago. I had been looking for a place, and I saw a place in L.A.—and the vibe wasn’t there. David Garcia, (the city manager of) the city of Coachella, called me and wanted to talk to me about doing something. I came in and pitched it to them.”
It turned out the city and Rodriguez’s idea for a celebration made for a nice fit.
“I did some research on Coachella and the Cahuilla Indians, who have been here for 3,000 years. (The area is) desert, mystical, and it just seemed perfect. Sure enough, I came out here and visited the property. They showed me different lots I could have, and I liked Rancho Las Flores. I like to say that I’m in bed with the city, but that I own the bed and the sheets, and I like 1,000-thread sheets.”
As the founder of the highly successful Mariachi USA at the Hollywood Bowl for the past 25 years, Rodriguez knows her way around festival-planning. But what makes this Dia de los Muertos festival unique?
“It’s spiritually grounded,” Rodriguez said. “We came up with having entertainment and great food, and the visual arts aspect of it had to be tremendous. When we started to select talent, I wanted to make sure it was very traditional music for this first year. We have Norteño music, banda music and mariachi, of course. We have 40 visual artists who are working on exhibits that are unique and original to our event.”
When guests enter the festival grounds, they will be greeted by a group of 8-feet-high La Calavera Catrina figures. These satirical symbols of skeletal women in fancy clothing have become symbols of death in Mexico. There will also be an altar.
“We are creating the world’s largest Day of the Dead skeleton, which will be 40 feet long and 16 feet wide, and it’s going to be in a coffin,” Rodriguez said.
Guests will have the option to have their faces painted (for no extra charge). An altar will pay tribute to those who have passed away due to HIV/AIDS, and live art exhibit will be created in 3-D blacklight paint. There will be a house of offerings, and an altar paying tribute to entertainers who have passed away.
Rodriguez feels the artwork may be the most special element of the event.
“If you could see the art right now, you’d realize that you can’t miss this,” Rodriguez said. “We have 40 artists who have been working over the past four weeks. They’re so devoted and so motivated. They have a connection to the Latino world. It’s a reflection of community.”
Rodriguez joked about what it takes to put on such a large festival.
“(You need) to be very healthy, physically and spiritually, because it will really kick your ass,” Rodriguez said. “… It’s a great space, but you have to bring in everything such as the generators, the portable toilets, the stage. Almost everything has to come from Los Angeles; it’s very much similar to what Coachella (the music festival) does. It’s not that it’s never been done before, but it’s just a challenge.”
Rodriguez hopes the event can become another annual festival in the Coachella Valley.
“We have a lot of people from places around the world and the country coming out,” she said. “We have fans in Dubai who are flying in and are staying for about four days. We’ve got the Texas contingency, and Latinos from Arizona bringing in a piece of art representing their state. That’s what we want to see going forward: Different states sending an art component representing the Latino communities.”
The Dia de Los Muertos Festival USA takes place on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 1 and 2, at Rancho Las Flores Park, 48350 Van Buren St., in Coachella. Tickets start at $20 for a one-day pass, or $36 for a two-day pass; VIP packages are also available. For tickets or more information, visit www.diadelosmuertosusa.com.
Below: Axayacatl Arturo Nevarez, aka the Black Light King, is one of the artists participating in the Dia de los Muertos festival.