Rockin' for Dollars

Despite the seemingly endless waves of exiled South American rock fanatics washing into Miami in recent years, most Latin rock festivals in town have been flops. Even the 1999 and 2000 Florida stops of the fully beer-sponsorship-funded Watcha tour came up empty despite boasting such big Latin alternative names as Café Tacuba, Molotov, Aterciopelados, and then-rising star Juanes. What gives?

Promoter Enrique Kogan has been the most successful purveyor of the rock fest under the guise of the annual Argentine Festival, which has doubled in size from its first to its fourth edition. The same promoter is now pushing his nationalist luck by organizing another event, the Rock en Miami Festival, that offers a wider palette of Latin rock colors this Sunday at Bayfront Park. Kogan admits he has a funny feeling about the risk. "There's only space for one big Latin rock fest a year in Miami," says Kogan with half a smile, "but I'm the kind of person that makes the same mistake three times, and tries again."

His third mistake was the third Argentine Festival in April 2001, when rain nearly ruined the show featuring legendary blues guitarist Pappo, cumbia-punk-rock band Los Autenticos Decadentes, and rock act Bersuit. Kogan made his fourth the following November, when he decided to set something of a rain date with a show headlined by pop band La Mosca and dedicated to (but not attended by) fútbol star Diego Maradona. The fall festival drew only 1100 people and that night, while figuring out how to cover the expenses, the promoter swore to himself he would never again attempt to organize two big events in the same season.

But then in April 2002, the Argentine fest headlined by pop rock legend Charly Garcia and rock band Los Piojos drew 12,000 people, and Kogan finally had some change in his pocket. He boasts about being picked by this weekly as the Best Festival of Miami, and with a grin tells how he ended up breaking his vow and organizing a second fest this year.

"The people from Budweiser came to me after the Argentine fest and offered me some money, not much, to organize another event this year, with the promise of bigger budgets for 2003, depending on how well this one does," says Kogan. He adds that in the 22 years he has lived in Miami he has learned this American way: not to expect immediate revenue, but to cash in later in the game.

Not surprisingly, the list of sponsors for this Latin rock festival is way longer than the list of performers: Among the latter are Argentineans Los Piojos, La Mosca, Sindicato del Hip Hop, and cumbia outfit Rafaga; Mexican rock legend El Tri; Panamanians Rabanes and Los 33; Peruvian pop star Pedro Suarez Vertiz; Chilean brooders Lucybell and hip-hoppers Los Tetas; Uruguayan rock act Hereford and its compatriot Jorge Nasser, ex-leader of rock band Niquel.

In a telling admission, Kogan points out the bands are not exactly playing for free, but that the take for each is under $5000, which limits the number of bands that actually get paid to play as well as his ability to book bigger names. As for Latin American musicians who might feel frustrated at not getting better compensation, Kogan's response is, tough luck. After all, he's offering a showcase for rock-loving fans in the United States -- and paying airfare so that bands can continue touring after the festival if they like.

"There's no budget to pay the bands. There's no money for rock in Miami. Maybe one day it will be, but certainly not now," he claims. Instead he enumerates the basic expenses of doing a rock show at Bayfront Park, with "the city taking $37,000 for the rent, plus the hourly cleaning and security expenses, plus the police, plus the airplane tickets for the bands, plus the hotel rooms, sound, and lights."

The money coming from the sponsorship, he says, is also limited because of the different treatment given to the mainstream Anglo market and the Hispanic market. "Bacardi put $50,000 in the last Zeta Fest that only drew 4000 people," alleges Kogan. "I can call that company twenty times and they will give me the same answer: 'We don't have money!'"

But lack of support is nothing new to Kogan, who says his fellow Argentines have not been much more helpful. "In the last Argentinean Festival I didn't have one single Argentine sponsor. Tell me about camaraderie in the exile!" He laughs at the idea of Argentines putting down money to support a gathering that could end up being, as it was last time, a commercial success. "It's not about trust, it's about not liking to put down money in someone else's business," he theorizes.

Among a million anecdotes -- he never tires of impersonating managers trying to negotiate a better deal for the bands, but getting the same flat answer -- Kogan seems obsessed with what he calls his "detractors": people, Argentine and otherwise, whom he says are always diminishing his efforts. In particular Kogan is bothered by Colombian Kike Posada, a Latin rock journalist with a long career in town as supporter and eventual promoter of the genre from his radio and magazine outlet Boom! Posada has worked for Kogan twice in the past but withdrew his support for the upcoming festival.

Aware of Kogan's complaints that he is deliberately ignoring the November festival, Posada said he decided not to promote it on the radio or in the calendar of activities where he keeps track of Latin artists playing in the United States, because of "an editorial and a personal decision for which I'm responsible."

Speaking from the studio at Cadena Azul, WHRC-AM (1550), where he talks to an audience of young Latin rock fans (6:00-8:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays), Posada says that all he did to anger Kogan in the early stages of planning the festival was to try and confirm which artists were really booked; he was attempting to correct a puffed-up press release promising a number of big -- but unconfirmed -- acts. Posada says that he is against "the practice of throwing around big names to impress and try to catch sponsors."

Kogan claims that Posada accused him of not giving space to local rock acts in the fest, and says he had added a second stage for that reason.

Posada fires back that he never had any beef about the placing of local bands in the festival. Instead he alleges that after he ended his association with the festival, he began to receive "anonymous phone threats in a distinct Argentinean accent." Does he think Kogan was threatening him? Posada admits that it was not Kogan's voice.

"But, hey, I'm not talking about a Mexican accent, or any other accent, but some Argentine," insists Posada. Regardless of whether Kogan has any responsibility for the phone calls, Posada maintains, "He can't ask me for promotion after disrespecting my person and my family."

Infighting among local promoters adds to the already-high price of doing a Latin rock festival in Miami, doesn't it?

Kogan doesn't really have time to worry about that. He is busy as hell answering a cell phone that is ringing nonstop.

He does want to dissipate one last rumor, though. That is, the growing perception that he is the only one making a profit off of these big festivals.

"Absolutely not," he says, "on the contrary, I got totally broke. People are saying, 'He sold 15,000 tickets at fifteen dollars each. He's a phenomenon!' But the truth is that half of the people [who attend] don't pay for the ticket, and the expenses are astronomical. I've already lost an apartment that I worked really hard to buy; I still owe some fest taxes from two years ago. Nobody says that I donated food to the Lions Club to help blind people, $12,000 in food! Nobody says that, it's easier to say this sonofabitch got rich!"

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Javier Andrade