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Calle Ocho Live performances will take place in various remote locations rather than on stage in Little Havana.EXPAND
Calle Ocho Live performances will take place in various remote locations rather than on stage in Little Havana.
Photo by Karli Evans

Calle Ocho Festival Gets a Digital Makeover With a Virtual Celia Cruz Duet

There will be a Calle Ocho Festival this year, after all. It just won't be the same sweaty, croqueta- and rum-infused street fest Miami is used to.

Billed Calle Ocho Live, this year's edition will move the celebration from its usual Little Havana home spanning 20-plus blocks to a livestream you can enjoy on your preferred digital device on October 4.

The 43-year-old Little Havana festival had been scheduled for March 15 but was officially called off the week prior owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, making the fest one of the first major South Florida events to cancel in response to the virus.

Venezuelan-born and Miami-raised brothers Mau and Ricky Montaner, better known as the reggaeton duo Mau y Ricky, will serve as the kings of the reimagined fest, as initially planned. Now they'll be joined in the lineup by a pair of virtual duets featuring deceased artists — because technology. The queen of reggaeton, Ivy Queen, is scheduled to team up with the late queen of salsa, Celia Cruz. And bandleader Tito Puente Jr. is expected to play with his late father and mambo legend Tito Puente. So, you know, have a tissue ready, just in case.

Nonmusical celebs, including comedians, chefs, and social-media influencers, are also expected to take part in some capacity, but names have yet to be announced.

The show will run between three and four hours long and will stream on YouTube, Facebook Live, Twitter, Periscope, and Twitch. Segments will be a mixture of live and pre-recorded.

Calle Ocho is run by Carnaval Miami, part of the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana, and is a fundraiser for the Kiwanis of Little Havana Foundation, which assists underserved families in the local community. Organizers ask that viewers of the free livestream donate $8 (a nod to Calle Ocho, obviously) to the Kiwanis Foundation.

It wasn't that long ago that it appeared that Calle Ocho had been postponed until 2021. However, a wave of livestream events, including the farmworkers-focused Altísimo Live in May, inspired organizers to give it another go this year. In June, they teamed up with RetroPop Media, the Miami-based company behind the Altísimo Live and Hispanicize virtual events, and got the ball rolling on Calle Ocho Live.

"What we've come up with is a festival that captures the spirit of Calle Ocho and also helps the organizers move the show forward," says Manny Ruiz, Calle Ocho Live co-executive producer and RetroPop Media cofounder. "There will be more diversity. Many years ago, Calle Ocho was associated with Cuban and Caribbean salsa. This show will be more inclusive. We want to show what Calle Ocho will be. We want to position it like Coachella meets Latino [culture]."

There are certain aspects of the Calle Ocho experience that organizers won't be able to replicate via livestream, like the smell of greasy frituras in the air or the sea of flag-related apparel in the crowd. But Calle Ocho Live will try to re-create the atmosphere — which is said to draw around one million guests each year — as best it can. Organizers have discussed having food segments and an online dance competition.

Ruiz is hopeful the festival that gave us one of Selena's last performances and the Guinness world record for the longest conga line will produce more memorable moments this year, despite the unconventional circumstances. He has high hopes for the virtual duet between Ivy Queen, who he collaborated with on Altísimo Live, and Celia Cruz.

"There are going to be a lot of eyes on that," Ruiz says of the duet. "If we're going to relaunch, we want to make sure people see something that piques their interest at the highest level."

Calle Ocho Live. Sunday, October 4; calleocholive.com. Stream via YouTube, Facebook Live, Twitter, Periscope, and Twitch.

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