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How Tecate Pa’l Norte Festival Became Monterrey, Mexico’s ‘Touring & Economic Engine’

How Tecate Pa’l Norte Festival Became Monterrey, Mexico’s ‘Touring & Economic Engine’

When brothers Oscar and Jesús Flores launched the first-ever of Pa’l Norte in 2012 in Monterrey, Nuevo León — under Apodaca Group, their father Oscar Flores Elizondo‘s entertainment and promotion company — they figured it would be a one-time thing.

“We thought it would happen once, and then we’d just move on with our other projects,” Oscar says. He, along with Jesús and their sister Blanca, comprise the leadership of Apodaca alongside their dad, who founded the company in 1978 as Representaciones Artísticas Apodaca. At the time, the brothers were young executives and, as much as they liked their dad’s business, they wanted to put their own stamp on it. “My brother and I had never produced a festival when we decided to launch Pa’l Norte; fun fact, we had never even attended a festival in our lives,” Oscar says with a chuckle.

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But even if it was a one-hit wonder, they wanted to give it a shot in hopes of diversifying the company’s roster of live music events. Apodaca was, and still is, a leader in the regional Mexican scene producing several shows and concerts for that genre in Monterrey, where the company is based. So, the brothers — taking the years of experience they already had working under their father — decided the company’s first festival would be a rock-only lineup. The first edition, Pa’l Norte Rock Festival, a one-day event, featured artists like Calle 13, Carla Morrison, Kinky and Zoé.

Even with hiccups along the way, including being understaffed and a hailstorm the day before which they thought would cancel the event, they pulled through. And, unlike today, the event didn’t have a lot of support from sponsors, even with the Apodaca name attached to the festival. It was also at a time when the city, located in a state that borders Texas, was recovering from a brutal wave of murders linked to organized crime. Which is not to say Monterrey is a crime-less city today — but although organized crime is still a major concern in the city, it has not affected the festival in its 12 years. Its security plan includes city and state police officers (Fuerza Civil) inside and outside the festival, plus private security.  

When Pa’l Norte first launched, Monterrey — an important commercial entry port between the Northeastern region of Mexico and the United States — was also on its way to becoming a modern economic region exploding with tech innovation. “It was like the perfect musical symphony,” says Francisco Orozco, professor at the school of business at the prestigious Tecnológico de Monterrey. “There was a political change in the city that opened doors for these types of events to happen and people gained the confidence and courage to leave their homes again. We proved we weren’t just bullets.”

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Three years into the festival, Oscar and his brother dropped the rock-only label because “we wanted to grow and bring more commercial artists,” says Oscar (the festival also adopted the slogan “Siempre Poderoso y Ascendente,” or, “Always Powerful and Ascendant”). They also scored a partnership with concert promoter OCESA, which Live Nation acquired in 2021 for $416 million, doubling down on their efforts to expand their reach. “OCESA has been a great ally that has supported us a lot,” Oscar says. “We are partners in many festivals, but this partnership was key for Pa’l Norte because together with them, we were able to grow in many areas such as sponsorships, international artists.”

The now re-branded Tecate Pa’l Norte — after landing a major sponsorship deal with the beer giant — has gone through massive changes, which has led to its global appeal. “Apodaca has been very meticulous with their alliances, from the beer industry to teaming up with the ministry of tourism to have hotels and transportation available when the festival takes place, [and] also partnering with airline Viva Aerobus for sponsorship,” Orozco says. “It’s a business model that works. They know the importance of allies and that’s why the festival has grown the way it has.”

Today, it’s the “most important musical event in Northern Mexico,” according to Nuevo León’s Ministry of Tourism. “Every year we are talking about more than 75% hotel occupancy derived from Pa’l Norte, but this year will be much more special because it coincides with Easter,” the government agency told Billboard in a statement. “Throughout these 12 years, it has positioned itself not only to impact the creative industries in Nuevo León, but also as one of our most important economic and tourism engines. This year we estimate a revenue of close to 750 million pesos (approximately $46 million U.S.).”

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Pa’l Norte’s three-day event now has nine stages that gathers 100,000 people per day at the emblematic Parque Fundidora (before, the capacity was 37,000 when it started at Parque Diego Rivera). Its lineup has evolved from genre-specific to super-eclectic with past headliners including Billie Eilish, Foo Fighters, Caifanes, Maná, Tame Impala, The Killers, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and 50 Cent. This year’s edition was headlined by Peso Pluma, Blink-182, Imagine Dragons, Maná and Fuerza Regida.

“At the end of the day, promoters are looking to have the most popular acts on their lineup,” says Alan David Robles-Soto, director of the music production program at Tecnólogico de Monterrey. He’s also a guitarist who’s performed alongside Mexican bands like Jumbo and División Minúscula. “It’s the same case with Coachella: it used to be a rock festival and then it wasn’t. It’s in the promoter’s best interest, they want to push sales and the ones who are going to sell are bands like Blink-182.”

Pa’l Norte is perhaps Mexico’s biggest, and most diverse, music festival, though other major events like Vive Latino and EDC Mexico (both produced by OCESA in Mexico City) also move significant tickets: The former had a total of 160,000 attendees this year, while EDC Mexico had 200,000 people in attendance for its 2023 edition. Meanwhile, the Machaca festival, also in Monterrey, gathered 65,000 last year, according to local reports, and the Baja Beach Fest in Baja California (which went from six days to three) draws in a daily capacity of 35,000.

“The importance that Mexico has in Latin America in terms of income in the sub-sector of live music is noteworthy,” Orozco says. “Artists are not only performing in Mexico City or Monterrey but also in other states where we did not imagine artists would go. They understood that people are willing to spend a lot of money for these experiences. Geographically and logistically, the country, which borders the U.S., is in a very important spot for them as well.”

Producing more than 600 shows a year, including 15 festivals across the country, Apodaca now has several divisions under its umbrella, including booking, distribution and management. With Pa’l Norte, the goal is only to become more global and, in the future, Oscar hopes to add a streaming option to expand its reach and potentially turn it into a two-weekend event, à la Coachella. For now, he’s pleased with the festival’s growth over the past 12 years and the impact it’s had on the Mexican state.

“As citizens of Nuevo León, we are very proud that Pa’l Norte is a source of work for restaurants, hotels, taxi drivers during that week,” says Oscar. “At the festival, we have more than 10,500 people working per day; generating that number of jobs fills us with pride. We want to keep impacting. The slogan says it all [always powerful and ascending].”

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