A few days before the anniversary of his death, you can’t walk too many steps without seeing Nathan Alfaro’s crooked smile on every light post and street corner in downtown Santa Ana. In clothing stores and record shops, places where he would’ve visited on an average weekend out with friends, stacks of fliers around town are plastered with a photo of him rocking out on his bass, his face lit up behind a large pair of glasses and a mop of black hair on his head. It’s the image that his sisters Mariana and Mariah Ortiz have held close since he was stabbed last year while attending a local show with his friends. It’s only fitting that when it came time to plan the first annual Nathan Alfaro memorial show at the Yost this Sunday that this was the photo they’d use to remind people that his memory is far from gone.
This weekend, family, friends and bands who knew Alfaro best are throwing a show they hope to turn into an annual tradition. In the wake of his death, in which a murder trial is still getting underway, A handful of memorial shows were thrown in his honor. The biggest one took place at the Yost featuring The Garden, The Sloths, Cat Signs, The Drums and many other bands. Despite the great turnout and support for the show, some acts on the bill were unable to perform due to logistical and scheduling issues. This year, the goal of finishing last year’s show turned into an opportunity for Alfaro’s sisters to learn something about throwing a show of their own. In recent months, both have moved back down to OC where they originally grew up before moving with their family to Fresno.
“It was kind of like reopening [our old life] because we were born down here and we lived down here for our childhood, but it’s like reopening those memories and it was harder because he wasn’t here,” says Mariah. At age 19, she’s taken on a lot of the responsibility to throw a show for her brother, including booking bands, working with the venue and seeking advice and help from Alfaro’s friends on how to throw a decent show.
“I remember when I first started working on this, I was so overwhelmed and I had a lot to learn,” Mariah says. “I had to Google the term ‘backline’ because I didn’t know what the Yost was talking about when they asked me about it. Thankfully I got a lot of help and was able to figure a lot of things out as we went along.”
She enlisted the help of her sister older sister Mariana and Nick Espinoza, bassist and lead vocalist for Ghali, one of the bands that was playing the night Alfaro was killed. Aside from being one of his long time friends, Alfaro also occasionally roadied for the band. When it came time to plan this weekend’s memorial show, Espinoza knew he could be of service to Alfaro’s sisters.
“It was a really hard time after all this happened,” he says. “When I heard Mariana and Mariah wanted to do this show I needed to help them out—show them how to establish contracts with bands, make sure they’re on time, how to make sure to have proper security.”
For their part the owners of the Yost offered up the use of their venue free of charge. The family also decided to make the event a free show. The fierce lineup including Death Hymn Number 9, Santoros, Ghali, The Jailbirds and The Hurricanes (who are playing their final show) sounds like yet another dream lineup that Alfaro would’ve attended himself. Described by everyone who knew him as an avid lover and follower of local music, to have OC bands big and small come out to play a show in his honor and to repost photos of him on their social media is something his sisters say would’ve absolutely floored him.
“The Drums posted about him and so did Fidlar, my brother would’ve literally screamed like a little girl,” Mariah says.
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After letting out a good laugh, Mariana is quick to correct that statement to the press for the sake of their brother's reputation. “Nah, he wouldn’t have screamed, but he would been like ‘Dude, that’s badass!’ she says with a smile. “It’s so great that like everything he ever wanted is happening, his dreams are still coming true.”
Though Alfaro’s sisters will never get over the loss of their brother, they say it’s the shows and the bands that really help them get by without him. For that reason alone, the idea of planning something like this once a year is definitely essential for them, regardless of where it is and who shows up.
“I think of it as every year we’ll learn along the way,” Mariah says. “If something gets messed up this time then we’ll work on it for next time. It doesn’t have to be at the Yost every year, it doesn’t always have to be huge, it could be in our bedroom with 10 people, as long as we’re celebrating my brother’s life.”
The 1st Annual Nathan Alfaro show is this Sunday March 5 at the Yost Theater featuring Death Hymn Number 9, Santoros, Ghali, The Jailbirds and The Hurricanes. Free, all ages. For full details, visit the concert's event page.