Pomona’s mini mu­sic fes­ti­val thinks big

The sixth an­nual event is up against larger ri­vals but keeps its fo­cus on cre­ativ­ity.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Ran­dall Roberts ran­dall.roberts @la­times.com

When the sixth Viva! Pomona fes­ti­val launches on Satur­day in the city’s down­town, the tiny but mighty in­die event will be com­pet­ing with mas­sive youth fes­ti­vals in­clud­ing EDM- and rapheavy Hard Sum­mer and punk main­stay Warped Tour — and will do so two week­ends af­ter the tastemak­ing FYF Fes­ti­val con­sumed Ex­po­si­tion Park.

That’s the re­al­ity for the fes­ti­val’s founder, Rene Con­tr­eras, who has par­layed the seed of an idea — a DIY ver­sion of the Coachella Val­ley Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val — into a mi­cro-fes­ti­val that cel­e­brates bor­der-blind un­der­ground sounds with an un­der-card fo­cused on the scene in and around the In­land Em­pire.

“It’s tough,” says Con­tr­eras from his home of­fice in Pomona of the big-bud­get com­pe­ti­tion. You’re try­ing to swim in it, and there’s a lot of older, much big­ger peo­ple swim­ming in it.”

Among the acts play­ing Viva! Pomona across the two days are Wash­ing­ton in­die pop band Chastity Belt, New York singer-song­writer and the Beets founder Juan Wauters; the long-run­ning L.A.-born, cumbia- and val­lenato-in­spired band Very Be Care­ful; the Mex­i­can global bass duo So­tomayor; Ar­gen­tinian rocker Tall Juan; and Hawthorne-born teen pro­ducer and se­ducer Cuco.

The suc­cess of past in­stall­ments helped Con­tr­eras, 26, land a gig with Coachella pro­moter Gold­en­voice, where this year he over­saw the book­ing for Coachella’s new Sonora stage. That, in turn, has added pro­fes­sional le­git­i­macy to what re­mains a low-bud­get Viva! Pomona op­er­a­tion.

Says Con­tr­eras of Viva’s pro­duc­tion: “It’s the same mov­ing parts as a fes­ti­val — be­cause it is a fes­ti­val — but with much less money and much less re­sources. We make art out of card­board. We try and dec­o­rate the at­mos­phere.”

The fes­ti­val has grown enough that it now shuts down part of down­town Pomona in ser­vice of two out­door stages. Mu­sic venue the Glass House serves as the fes­ti­val’s an­chor stage.

It didn’t hurt that Con­tr­eras grew up a short skate­board ride away from down­town Pomona. As a teen, he vol­un­teered at the Glass House, and con­nec­tions with the neigh­bor­hood’s small-busi­ness own­ers helped him es­tab­lish trust when he was pitch­ing his first events.

Like the Sonora stage ros­ter, Viva! Pomona’s lineup is dense with acts that strad­dle bor­ders, lan­guages and gen­der la­bels — cre­ative, of­ten bilin­gual artists who con­nect with a le­gion of kin­dred devo­tees.

Many re­side out­side of Los An­ge­les proper, with Con­tr­eras roam­ing the backyard party scenes and rene­gade venues in search of young tal­ent. He scrolls through In­sta­gram and Face­book feeds to find, he says, “what lo­cal bands are com­ing up in On­tario, Pomona, Chino, Chino Hills, El Monte, San Gabriel Val­ley — and also East L.A.”

Case in point, he says, is Cuco, whose rise over the past eight months has prompted a rush of at­ten­tion.

“He’s head­lin­ing the show, and I’m re­ally, re­ally ex­cited,” Con­tr­eras says. “He just sur­faced in, what, Jan­uary of this year? And ever since then he’s just been ex­plod­ing.”

Con­tr­eras adds that the artist, who was born Omar Banos, “reps Hawthorne with sort of the same men­tal­ity that the fes­ti­val and I have. He’s a bilin­gual artist who is rep­re­sent­ing his home area but is still part of the L.A. com­mu­nity. And he’s cov­er­ing songs that my grandma used to listen to.”

The com­bi­na­tion of in­ter­na­tional, tour­ing and lo­cal bands, Con­tr­eras adds, “cre­ates this re­ally unique at­mos­phere.”

He adds, “There’s cre­ative things glow­ing ev­ery­where, and a lot of times it’s hard to pur­sue cre­ative­ness, es­pe­cially if you’re liv­ing some­where like Mex­ico — or even Pomona.”

Jerry Ran­gel

“WE MAKE art out of card­board,” says Rene Con­tr­eras, founder of the DIY in­die event Viva! Pomona.

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