Cinco de Mayo is more of an American holiday than a Mexican one at this point, and what’s more American than the excess of 23 bands in a single day? Free music and holiday-cheap food and drink start at noon (on May 5, just in case) at Tlaloc El Mexicano, 1225 N. Chase St.
Former Athenian Edgar Lopez, who performs as Ginko, created the festival when he was a manager at Tlaloc a few years ago and has staged it annually since. This is the fourth iteration. The first one featured about 10 bands, and it’s grown every year since. Thursday’s bill is teeming with a diverse lineup of almost two dozen acts, featuring everything from weirdo psychedelia to minimalist hip hop to a salsa Misfits cover band, roughly equal parts locals and out-of-towners.
“In the past, it’s been all the freak artists of Athens,” Lopez says. “This year, it’s going to be a little different.”
Local acts include Shade, Half Acid, Yung Yang, Los Meesfits, Potted Plant, Wet Garden, Realistic Pillow, Richard Gumby, Garbage Barbie, Grupo Andino, Strictly Rickli and Smokedog. Another 10 acts from Atlanta—Twins, Dandy Warhol, Big Ded, Fit of Body, Nu Depth, Wild of Night, Dux, SoBrite, Kurt Castle and Weed Poop—and Bbymutha from Chattanooga will also perform.
The festival starts at noon—earlier than ever—to squeeze everyone in, and Lopez is hopeful the bands will all run smoothly on alternating stages, with one band setting up while another plays. But it’s an ambitious schedule, and during the logistical part of our conversation, a lot of Lopez’s answers ended in question marks.
South of the border, the Cinco de Mayo holiday celebrates an unlikely Mexican military victory over the imposing French army at the 1862 Battle of Puebla. It’s not a particularly big deal in Mexico, observed sporadically and only just barely outside of the actual town of Puebla, but the holiday has been celebrated in the United States ever since the battle’s first anniversary, especially among the Mexican-American community, increasing in popularity steadily since the middle of the 20th Century.
But in the United States over the last few decades—especially so in the sorts of college towns where you can find T-shirts boasting of a “drinking town with a _____ problem”—Cinco de Mayo has become yet another culture to bastardize, appropriate and assimilate into a capitalist apparatus designed to sell cheap liquor, vessels for queso fresco and (probably, at some point) Ford Fiestas. It’s a St. Patrick’s Day that adds some white and red to all that green. The Donald isn’t the only American who’s ignorant about Mexico: Ask a bar full of people what the holiday commemorates, and you’ll get a slurred chorus of “Mexican Independence Day.”
The drunken debauchery thing is far from the vibe Lopez is going for—“I kind of want to keep it a weirdo space,” he says—but he admits the music festival doesn’t have the strongest connection to the holiday, either. At the very least, though, Tlaloc’s backyard seems to be an appropriate setting.
“The entire vibe reminds me of being in a monte,” Lopez says, “which is like a place somewhere in the hills in the countryside of Mexico. In the past, it’s been really dry, and you can see the cracks in the Georgia red clay. It just seems like you’re not in Athens.”
It may not look exactly like Puebla, but if it means free music all day and tacos for a buck-fifty apiece, it doesn’t matter what date it is. May the fifth be with you.
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