Baja Beach Fest returns to the Papas and Beer resort in Rosarito this weekend with a headliner list highlighting the fast growing Latin trap and reggaeton music scene with breakout stars Ozuna, Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin.
Launched by Chris Den Uijl and Aaron Ampudia in 2018, the three-day festival quickly sold out after its lineup was announced this uear, a testimate to the strength of what the pair call "musica urbana" or just "urbano" — Spanish for urban music. Last year's Baja Beach Fest drew 15,000 attendees to the small beach town less than an hours drive across the border from San Diego.
"We're trying to bring the music of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean to the beach," Den Uiji tells Billboard. "Baja Beach fest is a really immersive experience from the second fans arrive. We do a complete takeover of the entire town with different venues and after parties."
Besides celebrating Latin music and culture, Baja Beach Fest pays homage to Rosarito and is part of a larger economic turnaround for Baja California, which has seen tourism numbers shrink in recent years following the 2009 recession and what Ampudia describes as "sensationalized media frenzy about cartel violence" as several organized crime groups fought for territory along the U.S. border.
Ampudia says Rosarito was spared much of the violence, but took the brunt of the finnacial impact with tourism dropping 98 percent and Papas and Beer, which his parents launched in the 1983, close to going out of business. It was Latin music that he credits with savng the festival, creating a club night for Papas and Beer and renting buses to bring high school friends to the resort for free to show them that large parts of Baja were safe for tourists.
About 25 friends show up that first and eventually Ampudia was bringing 20 buses per week from San Diego for shows and club nights at the resort. In 2016, Ampudia met Den Uijl and the pair booked rapper Lil John for a spring break show at Papas and Beer, the first show at the resort to sell out in advance.
Den Uijl, whose stepmom is from Guadalajara, also grew up near the border and took frequent trips to Mexico. His firm Collectiv Presents produces between 35 to 50 live music events per year and has watched as the reggaeton and Latin trap fan base has quickly grown. This year's Baja Beach fest will host 25,000 fans per day and Den Uij and Ampudia have their eyes on expansion to other beach communities in Mexico. Besides plans to grow to three days in 2020, the pair have partnered with Mexican promoter Ocesa, which was bought by Live Nation last month, to book Flow Fest in Mexico City, one of the largest reggaeton and trap festivals in the world.
"We thrive on customer service and engaging with the fan base and we really let the fans help curate and drive a lot of our decisions when it comes to the type of concept we wanted to pursue. Everyone was telling us we had to do something around reggaeton," Den Uijl said. "We looked at the market and saw an incredible opportunity to do something completely different that hadn't been done before, and that's when we decided we're gonna launch a music festival."
Learn more at bajabeachfest.com.