"Growing up in Hialeah was effing awesome," musician Ferny Coipel says. "You listened to Tres Patines, Cuban AM radio, in the morning at home while getting dressed. Then, ten minutes later, you arrived at school and had AC/DC kicking your ass in the parking lot. For most other people, that would be a culture shock. For Hialeahans, it's just growing up in Hialeah."
Coipel and Tony Landa, bandmates in the indie-pop act Humbert, love their hometown so much they launched Hialeah Fest in 1994 to showcase the City of Progress' sonic talents. Landa is a photographer and Dig Under Rock music blogger, while Coipel has offered generations of musicians a place to record and practice at his Hialeah Gardens studio, the Shack North.
In the early '90s, when they were young rockers, Hialeah was home to a smattering of bands making cool music in different genres. The only problem was that, individually, the acts couldn't draw big crowds to the beloved music mecca and Little Haiti hovel Churchill's Pub, where they generally played. With Hialeah Fest, they joined forces, built a lengthy lineup, and drew more eyes and ears to take in their sounds.
But after the 2013 Hialeah Fest, the event — along with everything in Landa's life — was put on hold when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. "I thought she would get better and things would return to normal, but that's not the way it worked out," he says. She passed away in 2016. If the 2013 show had been the final Hialeah Fest, Landa says, "I would have been cool with that." But fate had other plans.
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Former Churchill's owner Dave Daniels was the event's biggest cheerleader and kept it going for almost 20 years. Since Daniels sold the bar in 2014, it was up to another Miami legend to step up and bring back Hialeah Fest for the dive's 40th anniversary. The Godfather of Noise and Churchill's sometimes-booker, Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra, demanded the return of the fest. And no one says no to Rat's calls to action.
There's a lot to celebrate about Hialeah these days too. Since the last fest, Hialeah Councilman Paul Hernandez and PR maven Jenny Lee Molina have built up the Leah Arts District, which is bringing new commerce to the area. Coipel says they've included locals in the process of developing the area — locals who, he says, have a strong "spirit of survival and ingenuity. We solve problems with whatever we have available to us... People laugh at Hialeah because we do things our own way. I love that shit. We were a blue-collar community of rigging badasses... We have great artists, musicians, mechanics, food, santeros, botanicas, and everything else. When people around Dade County, Broward, and Palm Beach want to fix something or find something that is hard to get hold of, they turn to Hialeah. It's who we are." He notes, though, that the city could use some "help in the 'stop littering' department."
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The return of Hialeah Fest isn't just a friendship-filled reunion to honor four successful decades of an anything-goes venue. Using the Hialeah Kicks Ass merch page, the fest will also raise money to support the nonprofit Manos Internacional, which works to enrich the lives of children living in poverty in Mexico and China through music and arts education. The 20-year-old organization was created by Hialeah native John Alvarez, who played the original fest with the band Egg.
More than 20 bands will perform on Hialeah Fest's Jupiña, Materva, and Malta Hatuey stages, including Afrobeta, Beyond the Boundary, the Brand, Brute, Electric Piquete, Electric Supply Company, H-OM, Medina, Nekromaniak, and Nag Champayons. Humbert will perform with Beatriz Monteavaro from the psych-metal act Holly Hunt. There will be a surprise set too. "All we can say is that it revolves around a Hialeah legend who did real good with his special shoes," Coipel hints. "Additionally, all attendees are encouraged to bring pots and pans. Not a joke — it’s for real."
Says Landa: "We have musicians performing that have been playing at and coming to Churchill's since the '80s, and we have some musicians performing that weren't even born yet in the '80s." He says he's proud of what they've accomplished. "It makes us feel like we did something there for many years that meant something to someone."
Hialeah Fest. 8 p.m. Saturday, September 7, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; churchillspub.com. Admission costs $7.