By LAURA CARRELL
Courier staff writer
---- — FAIRFIELD — Three-time Grammy-winning band Los Lobos has strong ties to Iowa, and that connection will be solidified this weekend as the iconic group headlines FAIRfest while on its 40th anniversary tour.
Los Lobos will perform Friday night during the first day of the free three-day festival and will be among 40 bands spending the weekend in Fairfield.
“When you look at the Los Lobos summer schedule, to get a band of this caliber coming to a town of 9,500 in southeast Iowa, that’s a major coup for Fairfield,” said James Moore, station manager at KRUU 100.1 FM, the main FAIRfest sponsor. “A free, full weekend of killer music in a great little town, only the second year, but what a great tradition is building.”
Los Lobos came to instant fame with the remake of “La Bamba,” a Mexican folk song given a rock-and-roll twist when first recorded by Ritchie Valens in 1958. The song was also the name of the hit movie, which featured Los Lobos performing the soundtrack.
Steve Berlin, who plays saxophone, percussion, flute, midsax, harmonica and melodica, spoke on-air recently with Moore and noted that this was one of those momentous moments in the band's history.
"That Clear Lake thing is pretty amazing, I have to say. They've kept that ballroom exactly as it was the night that Ritchie played there last, so if you want to take a walk back in time, you have to go there," Berlin said. "We played at the 50th anniversary of it two or three years ago, and it was February — it was a freezing cold day. Richie's family was all there, including his sister, who we're very close to. I just kind of walked in the door and she was the first person I saw. She's crying, as you might expect — it was a very emotional day. I went over and gave her a hug, and she's leaning on me, and she says 'That's it right there ... That's the phone booth that he called Mama from.' They literally had the phone booth with the 10-cent dial phone still completely intact, and that was the last time they talked to him. That was pretty darn heavy."
Carmen Pratt, from the live Spanish show "La Onda Latina" on KTWA radio in Ottumwa, will be introducing Los Lobos and other groups in Spanish Friday beginning at 4:30 p.m.
"It is a great honor to be able to introduce Los Lobos, a band that not only are talented but also have struggled with our immersion of cultures," Pratt said. "They have the ability to connect two languages and get all diversity of people to dance and sing to their music. Charanga Tropical are amazing from all the instruments they use to all the cultures that are in the band. From the videos I have seen of them on YouTube, I am certainly excited to see them perform live."
The emphasis on preserving Spanish in America is an important issue for Pratt.
"I believe it is very important to hold on to your roots, no matter where you come from, and teach your children and grandchildren about them, but it is also important to assimilate to your surroundings and learn from the locals so we can all feel comfortable to share our heritage," she said.
FAIRfest is in its second year, and organizers say it is now promised to be an annual event the third weekend in June.
Complete indoor and outdoor lineups, beverage garden hours, lodging options and literary, art and sustainability events surrounding the festival can be found at fairfestiowa.com.
Preceding a performance by New Orleans style jazz band Rebirth, FAIRfest will be host to a Mardi Gras style parade in which public participation is invited. Come as you are or in Mardi Gras flair, with or without an instrument of your own choosing, or just be prepared to fall in behind Rebirth Brass Band as they form a parade line at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center, 200 N. Main St., at 8:30 p.m. at the end of world music performers Bambu, marking their 20th year. With their brass instruments in hand, Rebirth Brass Band will lead a public parade around the Fairfield square back to the 40-foot FAIRfest main stage at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center at 9 p.m. Next in line behind Rebirth in the Mardi Gras parade will be Fairfield's own burlesque group, Fiesty Club Burlesque Troupe in family friendly attire, Iowa's City Dana T. Brown horns and members the local Fairfield All-Star Big Band.