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Latin stars heat up Presidente Music Festival

Anthony_Santos_2In a word ... Caliente!

By Robert Luckock

A stay in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic's bustling, chaotic capital, is always an assault on the senses, and probably fairly typical of Latin American cities.

I'd been here several times before, so to be bombarded with bachata on every street corner, getting dizzy from the ubiquitous moto concho endlessly buzzing to and fro, to the street vendors selling everything from nuts, cell phone covers to wiper blades in the midst of traffic jams, to enjoying Dominican staples of arroz con pollo washed down with a cool Presidente beer, was nothing new.

New to me was the Presidente Music Festival, a world class extravaganza showcasing the cream of Latin musical talent covering a wide spectrum of genres, including rap, hip hop, reggaeton, electronic, salsa, merengue, and bachata.

Held at Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez Stadium October 3-5, this was an event organised on a massive scale with some 20 artists performing, all dwarfed by an elaborate sound stage as big as a 10-storey building.

I had been invited to document the festival experience by Presidente's distributor in St. Maarten, Chris Moore. New to the event this year was the "selfie" photo competition heavily promoted by Presidente in its main markets. Participants could win air tickets and VIP passes to the festival, enjoying a 5-night all-expense-paid stay at Hilton Embassy Suites. St. Maarten produced 12 lucky winners.

It emerged there were 270 winners of the competition from St. Maarten, Aruba, Curaçao, USVI, Puerto Rico, USA, Chile, Panama, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, and new market Guatemala. All these winners arrived on Thursday and Friday.

"We are very excited about the way this competition has turned out," said Export Marketing Manager Ivan Valdez at the cocktail party. "The winners are very happy. It's the first time we did this promotion and it was very successful so I'm sure we will do it again. For St. Maarten, for example, this is a give-back to the consumers who have made Presidente the number one brand there."

Presidente laid on a schedule of sight-seeing activities each day, meeting the winning groups at the airport and transporting everyone by bus to the festival each night and back to the hotel at the end of the shows. Logistically this was a huge undertaking, but handled very efficiently by the agency Productiva and Presidente hostesses. Needless to say ice cold Presidente was served non-stop throughout the stay – on the buses, in the hotel, everywhere!

The groups had dinner in Applebee's Restaurant on the lower floors of the hotel tower Thursday night and Friday we were taken to El Conuco Restaurant for a typical Dominicano lunch with the added bonus of a salsa and merengue dance demonstration given by an expert young couple in cultural costume.

On Friday afternoon, with all the winners now arrived, Ivan Valdez welcomed all the winners before dividing everyone into numbered groups. Each of the groups had a designated representative to make sure everyone was where they had to be on time.

Then it was off to the first night of the music festival. While the winners were taken to the VIP section of the stadium, reporters and media people were taken to a press enclosure located at the left of the main stage. There must have been easily 100 print and broadcast media, and many photographers.

The basic rule was that photographers were allowed to take photos of the artists during the first two songs, then had to leave the pit at the front of the stage. A large room also had been set up for the press to conduct interviews with the artists. Free Presidente was on tap for the press and pizza delivered periodically.

Performers on the first night included Don Miguelo, Latin Grammy winners Calle 13, Duck Sauce (contemporary electronic), Mozart La Pera, Vakeró, and DJ icon Tiesto who was the headlining act with his brand of progressive house (trance) music.

On Saturday activities included a visit to the Zona Colonial and lunch at El Meson de Bari Restaurant. There was also time for a brief stop at the Agora shopping mall.

That night saw an even bigger bill of artists that included merengue diva Miriam Cruz, Hector "El Torito" Acosta, salsa artist Alex Matos, Yiyo Sarante (salsa), Sex Appeal, Chiquito Team Band, Prince Royce, the big boss of reggaeton Daddy Yankee, and headliner Bruno Mars appearing for the first time in the Dominican Republic.

There was much anticipation for the start of the Bruno Mars set and photographers were asked to stay well back from the stage, indicating there was going to be a spectacular entry by Mars. However, it didn't happen.

Nevertheless, his smooth R&B style, choreographed routines, nifty footwork reminiscent of Michael Jackson, and a slick backing band, ensured his performance was well-appreciated by the crowd. Aside from being an accomplished guitar player he also played drums. Mars' appearance fee was reportedly one million US dollars, 10 per cent of the entire Presidente budget for the festival.

On Sunday Presidente organised an all-day pool party on the hotel's fifth floor, complete with DJ and a buffet lunch. This was an opportunity to relax in the infinity pool overlooking the streets of the capital below, and drink more Presidente!

The final night of the festival saw performances by multiple award winners: rock band Maná, Wisin y Yandel, Gilberto "El Caballero de la salsa Santa Rosa," Victor Manuelle, and headliner Bachata King Anthony Santos.

Attendance at the concerts was estimated around 50,000 each night with the shows finishing at 2:30am.

There was no doubt the St. Maarten winners enjoyed every moment. Sarai Soto, a spokes-model for Grey Goose Vodka in Las Vegas, was on vacation in St. Maarten when she won a ticket from Topper's and found she was able to go to the festival and return to St. Maarten just in time to catch her flight home on Wednesday. "Winning this was a double bonus and quite unexpected," she said. "The festival was amazing and Presidente outdid themselves. The artists, the music, and the ambience, it was phenomenal; an amazing experience."

Another winner, Kyle Duncan, a manager at Greenhouse in Simpson Bay, also won his ticket from Topper's. "I had a blast," he enthused. "Presidente obviously spent a lot of money on this to give us a good time. I would definitely come back and even pay for it. Everything was well organised by Presidente and Productiva, the concerts, the tours, the hotel, it was all top notc

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