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Local Live Music Venue, Radio Stations Capitalizing on Regional Latino Surge

The State Theatre in Falls Church has increased the number of Latin bands on its schedule after several successful shows.Latin Bands Turning Up More & More Often At State Theatre, Bringing Big Crowds With Them

Falls Church resident Joey Carrasquillo, 31, has been playing percussion in bands all his life but success has come much more readily to him in the last four years in his newly formed band Las Nayas.

In December of 2004, they opened for the Puerto Rican band Yerba Buena at the State Theatre and have been invited back to open for other bands multiple times. Since then, they have played HFS Festival, opened for music legend Marc Anthony and were voted by Telemundo as the Latin American band of the year in 2006.

“Definitely playing at the State Theatre was a boost that came along,” said Carrasquillo. “We’ve definitely paved the way for other local groups to be able to play there.”

The recent change in the State Theatre’s performance slate — offering shows to more Latin bands — is what Carrasquillo credits for his band’s increased visibility, and Las Nayas are not the only group benefiting. In the last four years, the State Theatre has brought in over 30 Latin American bands, who in turn have often drawn sell-out crowds.

The increased slate of Latin American performers at the State Theatre appears to be another instance of the music industry to capitalize on the fertile, and growing, Latin American demographic in the Washington, D.C. region. As the number of Latin immigrants in the United States has trended upward, more and more entertainment enterprises are noticing an untapped market and seeking to make inroads. The surge in Latin acts at the State Theatre is just another instance of this in the region, where at least one famed radio station has already been reformatted to capitalize on the Capital region's rapidly growing Latin demographic.

State Theatre booking manager Joanna Kearns notes that the change was not initially a conscious decision — “We just like to book quality music,” she says — but it has been a beneficial one, with the Latin bands routinely performing well at the box office.

Matt Kattenburg, one of the Theatre's managers, characterized the process of bringing in Latin American bands as occurring in two distinct stages. The first began when Southern California's Ozomatli was the first Latin American act to be booked at the State Theatre back in 2000.

“There’s a distinction between Ozomatli which is from Southern California and sings in both English and Spanish, and actual bands from Latin America,” said Kattenburg. “A couple years ago, we started branching to true Latin American acts where their fan base is different.”

While high-profile Latin acts from the U.S., including the nationally renowned Los Lobos have enjoyed success at the State, it’s the foreign bands that continue to draw the most attention to the State Theatre.

“Los Lobos was our most high profile to the extent that American non-Latinos know about them,” Kearns said. “But some of the bands that non-Latino people don’t know about have done much better than Los Lobos.”

“Generally speaking, these bands [from outside the U.S.] do very well because they’re from out of the country and [their fans here] don’t get that many chances to see them,” adds Kattenburg.

Juan Carlos Mendizy, whose Argentinian group Los Enanitos Verdes has played the State Theatre twice in the past year, cited the the Beatles and other bands from England among their influences. Los Enanitos Verdes started playing together in 1979 and, according to Mendizy, their audiences were far smaller back in the band’s early days — they began touring the U.S. in 1995 — than they are now.

Mendizy's theory behind the band's success in the United States is a simple one: “I think the people were very nostalgic with a great need to hear music in their own language,” Mendizy said.

In addition to an increase in local live performances, many radio stations have recently been switching to Spanish music formats, including WHFS, somewhat of an institution to the D.C. region’s alternative rock fans.

WHFS has since resurfaced on 105.7, while its old frequency of 99.1 now has the call letters WLZL and operates under the name El Zol. The number of Spanish-language stations has grown 24% nationwide since the Spring of 2002 and is likely to grow more considering the U.S. Hispanic population has increased for eight straight years.

El Zol jumped from 14th to 6th in the average quarterly hour share between this past fall and winter and has remained in the top 10 the last two quarters.

“I listen to El Zol and my friends love it,” said Ballston resident Leo Velasquez. “Listening to music is one of their favorite activities and they listen to all kinds: barchata, meringue, salsa, cumbia and rock.”

El Zol and stations like it are also playing an important role in forming a sense of community for Hispanic people in the area, sometimes helping the community firsthand.

“Our corporate guidelines are community-oriented,” explains Patricia Omana, manager for area Spanish-language station WILC. “We do focus a lot during our morning show on giving information to the people here. Information from immigration, all the way to how they purchase a home, all the way to health, to various categories.”

WILC has partnered with a community college and several private-public partnerships in the area to do community service as well.

WILC can be found at 900 AM, El Zol can be found at 99.1 FM, and the State Theatre’s upcoming show schedule can be found on their website, www.thestatetheatre.com.