American Dream With a Latino Swing

Photo by Jack GouldThe first time I saw an English-language band at Anaheim Latin music club JC Fandango, the regulars ignored the band and its fans, waiting impatiently for the Spanish-language headliners. The second time, a couple of people rocked listlessly on the dance floor. By la terced vez, the mosh pit took up nearly the entire vast club as punkeros moshed alongside skinheads in a grand Skandangolandia of Spanish and English ska bands.

It was the realization of a dream for club owner Javier Castellanos, uniter of musical tastes and races. JC Fandango celebrates its 15th anniversary this month, quite a feat in an industry in which five years qualifies you for Historical Landmark status.

The club has always served a giant Latino community, which has been treated to the best tropical, rock en español and regional Mexican music acts in the world. But JC Fandango owes its longevity to the strength of its ownership and that ownership's radical goal: to draw an audience as diverse as Orange County.

Fandango's history is the history of a family. Zacatecan native and longtime Anaheim Mexican-food restaurateur José Castellanos (from which the "JC" was derived) launched the club in 1986, when Latino music was largely ignored despite a booming Latino population. Without competition, the club flourished. But rather than merely count his nightly receipts, Castellanos, his wife and his two sons pushed hard to make the club bigger, sold off the family restaurants, and devoted themselves almost full time to JC Fandango.

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The club might have died with Castellanos senior, who succumbed to cancer in 1992. But shortly before his death, Castellanos left the club's day-to-day operations in the hands of his then-23-year-old son, Javier.

"That was a fucking bitch," Javier says candidly. "Here I am, still mourning the death of my father, and I'm in charge of keeping up the club's legacy. A lot of our competitors thought we were going to eat shit and wouldn't survive."

JC Fandango had already established a reputation for quality, bringing in such megastars as Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and Oscar de Leon to play for entire weekends. But Javier wanted to expand the club's appeal beyond dress-to-impress Latinos to something more meaningful to him, something more reflective of the changing county. Castellanos' answer was the just-emerging rock en español scene, which would soon be discovered by young Latinos and non-Latinos alike.

"From the start, rock en español was rocking," Castellanos says. "It didn't take a lot of work on my part. People were hungry for something new and different, and soon, word spread around that we were having pretty cool concerts."

Fandango has featured the best and most important artists in Latin alternative music, including Caifanes, Café Tacuba, Aterciopelados and Manu Chao. Los Amigos Invisibles and El Otro Yo credit the club for their start in the States.

"People think we have a golden touch when it comes to Latin alternative," Castellanos says without a hint of self-importance. "But we don't; we just follow the basic principles that my father set, which is to foster a good, happening environment."

Despite that, Castellanos has a still higher goal. "There's still a lot of segregation in our crowds, unfortunately," says Castellanos—himself a huge fan of 'NSync, for chrissakes. "The salseros think the rockeros are low-lifes; the rockeros accuse the salseros of being vendidos. And both groups think that regional Mexican fans are chúntaros. That's not what my father would have liked, so I want to bring these groups together."

His great unifier? Gloria Matta Tuchman's dream: the English language. Castellanos has already featured local English-language bands as opening acts for his non-English-language headliners. He plans to recruit more acts that are popular with both Latinos and non-Latinos, such as Morrissey and Weezer.

"Lalo Alcaraz [the Chicano cartoonista at our sister paper in LA] once said that the next big thing in the Latino community is the KROQ Latino, the vast majority of which live in OC," Castellanos says as if he has consulted a top-secret demographic survey. "By booking alternative artists, we really won't be deviating from our fan base. At the same time, we'll attract people who normally wouldn't go to a Latin music venue or an English concert."

The coming week's wildly diverse shows are typical of Castellanos' musical acumen. The main feature for Thursday, Sept. 20, is Mexican rock en español stalwarts Liranroll, whose heavy rockero beats capture perfectly the urban anxiety of modern-day Mexico. Opening for them will be Huntington Park-based Chencha Berrinches. A ska band in only the loosest sense, Chencha incorporates everything from mariachi to reggae to heavy metal while keeping true to a musical and performance philosophy based on the legendarily goofy Mexican children's TV show El Chavo del Ocho (The Boy From No. 8). Friday's concert highlights Fandango's tropical roots with an appearance by Colombian salsa outfit Sonora Carruseles. With a worldwide following from Japan to Sweden, Carruseles' performance is guaranteed to bring out a meat market of beautiful and wish-they-were-beautiful people of all races. The rest of us lowlifes will show up next Thursday for the club's quarterly tradition: Skandangolandia VIII. Fandango's Skandangolandia series is what it sounds like it ought to be—a huge ska en español festival. Past Skandangolandia performers have represented all the ska schools and range from big names (Tijuana No!) to high school kids. This latest installment promises to be just as odd. German oi! boys Wisecräcker, political ska/punks Los Olvidados (who are usually onstage for Planned Parenthood rallies), and other bands ranging from local English and Spanish acts to groups from Argentina.

Though the nightclub business is proving as hard on Castellanos as it was on his father—he confesses to having no time for a nightlife of his own—Javier has no plans to cut back at the office. Much like the musicians he presents, Castellanos draws self-worth from the fans who line up faithfully every Friday through Sunday night.

"Ultimately, it's the fans who have made us successful," he says. "When you see them rocking to a merengue band or coming every weekend to dance for hours nonstop, it makes all the hard work worth it."

Liranroll perform with Chencha Berrinches and Chavos de Onda at JC Fandango, 1086 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 758-1057; Thursday, Sept. 20, 9 p.m. $25. 16+; Sonora Carruseles play Fri., 11 p.m. $25 in advance; $30 at door. 18+; Skandangolandia VIII, featuring Los Olvidados, Wisecräcker, Un Kuarito, Resistencia and Home Alone, Thursday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m. $10. 16+.

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