Nathan Alfaro loved being a face in the crowd. A typical weeknight always held the promise of something more for the tall, husky 23 year-old whenever live music was involved. Like most of us, it was his chance to slip out into the night to be with friends. He sought energy and escape in the form of screaming amplifiers and pounding drums. But knowing that Alfaro enjoyed such pleasures on the last night of his life is little solace to his family and friends who can only imagine how many awesome nights were ahead of him before his life was cut short.
Just after 10: 30 p.m. on March 3, Alfaro lay on the sidewalk in Downtown Santa Ana, bleeding and fighting for air after being stabbed in the chest area inside the Underground DTSA by another man during a fight in the club. An ambulance carried him to UCI Medical Center in Orange where the Golden West College student was pronounced dead. Everything happened so fast. Details of the incident are still being pieced together by people who were there. Alfaro’s longtime friend Danny Baiza was standing with Alfaro when the fight broke out and held him after he stumbled out of the club to the sidewalk and took his last breaths, both of their shirts and pants soaked with blood.
“I was just freaking out I couldn’t believe it was him,” Baiza says. “I went to him and he looked at me, he didn’t know what was going on and I was trying to keep him calm...Then the ambulance came and I just kept telling him 'you’re gonna be alright man, just relax they’re here to help you now,' that’s the last thing I told him.”
The next day, Santa Ana Police arrested suspect Juan Angel Rivera, 21, for Alfaro’s murder. Rivera is currently awaiting trial and if convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 26 years to life in state prison.
The news hit a lot of people close to home. Not just because Alfaro was an affable, well-liked guy taken by another a senseless act of violence. Not just because it happened in the kind of setting so many of us in the local scene take for granted every night of the week. But for those who knew him, Alfaro also embodied the spirit of local music. He was a fixture in the pit of OC’s top venues and a music junkie whose tireless love of his favorite artists infected everyone around him.
“He was a good kid,” says Lorena Ortega, Alfaro’s mentor and counselor who ran Golden West's Intercultural Program. “This is leaving a huge void in my heart. The hardest part is knowing that I have a daughter his age and she goes to shows like he goes to shows.”
If you didn’t know Alfaro, chances are you’ve stood next to him at a show, or know someone like him. That night was just another example of a genuine fan doing his usual thing. He was out supporting his friends in Ghali, the second band on a five-act bill headlined by LA psych punk band Feels.
"We consider him a member, he was with us all the time, just part of the group,” bassist Nick Espinoza says. “He’d be part of our road crew, take pictures and videos, he was a big part of us.”
Whether he was helping as a roadie for a band, jamming with friends, or just lying on his bed absorbing records, Alfaro’s connection to music was the one thing that stuck out about him other than his large build and mop of longish black hair. Not only did he devour music, he also respected it, and in the wake of his father’s suicide last November, friends and family say he depended on it.
“He’s had a rough upbringing, his father passed away last year and he didn’t let it break him,” Espinoza says. "He was trying to overcome a difficult bump in his life and he was trying to do the best he could with whatever he had.”
Months before his own death, Alfaro found his father’s body after he committed suicide in their Westminster apartment. Alfaro's parents had divorced when he was 14 and his mother took his two younger sisters to live with her in Arizona and later Fresno. He and his father bounced around OC and were close with their extended family living nearby. The last few months he spent living with an uncle in Anaheim were a struggle for Alfaro, who spent his days studying psychology and working at Golden West’s cafeteria.
To cope with the loss of his father, Alfaro threw himself into the arts. In recent months he’d summoned the courage to try stand-up comedy during open mic nights, even improv acting classes. But his most enduring cure for depression was seeing live music. He went to shows religiously and was a huge fan of Burger Records and bands like The Garden as well as The Growlers and Mac Demarco. His uncle Joshua Alfaro describes him as an omnivore of styles from current bands like The Drums (who he saw at the Observatory last week) to traditional Latin music and underappreciated ‘60s psychedelic bands.
"He would always introduce us to these new bands,” Joshua says. “He would always text me ‘hey check out this new band, check out this new song’...Music was in his blood. He was a fan, a supporter. Never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was a modern hippie.”
Most important to him was the ability to play his own music, which he did as a member of The West Boys, a band he started with Ghali’s guitarist David Espinoza. What started as an excuse to smoke weed and strum guitars with his longtime friend eventually morphed into a real band. Their sound, with Alfaro on bass and vocals and Espinoza on guitar, conjured the twangy garage rock explosions synonymous with the Burger bands he adored, combined with a helping of thrashy, gutter punk panache. They released an EP titled On a Mission, released last April.
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Though they hadn’t gotten too big over the last few years, Alfaro managed to convince Burger to let his band open for The Sloths during a Burger Hump Nite at Continental Room last May. It was a show not unlike the one he’d attended on the last night of his life. In that moment, he made sure to savor every ounce of the experience. It’s a shame to think that with a bit more time, he might’ve found his name in the column of our Locals Only section instead of an obituary. But considering his passion for making noise, we figure exposing you to his music now is a posthumous win for a guy who lived to share music with others. Today, we listen and remember him.
“My brother lived life to the fullest and he made the best of everything, Alfaro’s sister Mariana says. “He worked really hard, he had a hobby, he had talent...he had dreams of touring, he wanted to be famous and for people to hear his music and now he’s getting that. He’s getting his dream.”
There will be a one-hour memorial service for Nathan Alfaro on Friday, Mar. 18 at 2:30 p.m. at Westminster Memorial Park Mortuary. The family also set up a Go Fund Me page to help support Alfaro's funeral expenses. To donate, click here.