TIJUANA — It's billed as "an event so big it's taking two countries to make it happen."
Regardless of the hyperbole, the "MexFest" concert scheduled for Tuesday at the Caliente race track in Tijuana is unquestionably the biggest rock show to hit the local music scene in nearly four years.
Produced by progressive rock radio station XTRA-FM (91X) and the race track's owners, MexFest--which starts at 4 p.m. and is expected to last until midnight--will feature six top rock and new wave acts from all over the world.
Oingo Boingo, the headliners, surfaced in Los Angeles in 1979, at the height of that city's post-punk power-pop craze. Only recently, however, has their popularity soared, with a string of chart-topping singles like the playfully morbid "Dead Man's Party" and the honeyed "We Just Close Our Eyes."
Second-billed are the Bangles, an all-woman quartet that also hails from Los Angeles. Their sound is a blend of four-part vocal harmonies, breezy instrumentation, and finger-snapping melodies and rhythms. Recent hits include "Manic Monday," a mellifluous ballad, and the danceable "Walk Like an Egyptian."
Also performing will be the Fixx, an English band best known for such dramatic techno-pop hits as "Red Skies" and "Saved by Zero"; the recently reunited Squeeze, another English export, whose musically and lyrically stimulating rock hits include "Take Me, I'm Yours" and "Another Nail in My Heart," and Australian pop upstarts the Hoodoo Gurus ("I Want You Back").
Opening the show will be Chris Isaak, a singer, songwriter and guitarist from Stockton whose two albums of moody, probing rock songs have earned him critical acclaim.
"All six acts are extremely hot right now, and our research has indicated that our listeners are really into these festival-type concerts," said John T. Lynch, president of the Noble Broadcast Group, which owns both 91X and oldies station XTRA-AM (69 XTRA Gold).
"So by staging an event of this magnitude, the radio station becomes more than just a music machine," he said. "Our goal is to become totally involved with our listeners' lives and with their music, to reach out to them in any way we can."
Jorge Hanks, owner of the Caliente track, has in mind a different goal. He believes that MexFest, the first rock concert in the track's 71-year history, will help boost tourism in Tijuana.
"We're trying to attract people to Tijuana in any way we can," Hanks said. "We want to attract young people, teen-agers, middle-age people, senior citizens, everybody.
"And we think this is a great opportunity to show the people in San Diego who don't know Tijuana, how Tijuana is--how well we treat visitors to our country, how friendly and courteous we are, and how we can do a big concert without any trouble."
Just how big is "big?" As of Wednesday, nearly 15,000 MexFest tickets had been sold, at $22 apiece.
And Lynch is optimistic that, by show time, total ticket sales will stand at 50,000, the track's capacity.
"Normally, for events of this kind, 90% of the tickets are sold in the two days before the show, so we're doing quite well," Lynch said. "Ticket prices are in the same range as for regular concerts, but there's a much greater value: instead of just one headliner, you get six.
"Besides, it's no secret that, for tons of San Diego teen-agers, going to Tijuana at night has become the real hip thing to do."
To alleviate border traffic snarls, Lynch said, 91X is chartering more than 400 Gray Line buses to transport concertgoers between the Caliente race track and four San Diego locations: the downtown Santa Fe Depot, the San Diego Sports Arena, San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium and the El Cajon Transportation Center.
The buses will start leaving at 1:30 p.m., half an hour before the race track gates open, Lynch said.
At the same time, he added, the San Diego Trolley will step up service between downtown and the border, where more buses will be available to shuttle people to and from the track.
Meetings with Tijuana's mayor, police chief and director of tourism have resulted in assurances "of total, absolute cooperation," Lynch said.
"There will be tons of security to guarantee safe travel and make sure no one gets hassled at the concert," he said. "We don't want any parents to be afraid of sending their kids to Tijuana."
MexFest is the first big rock concert with multiple headliners to be held locally since the summer of 1983, when the grass at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium was declared off limits to the public.
With the stadium's concert capacity drastically reduced, promoters could no longer afford to bring several headlining acts together for a single show.
"And except for the stadium, there's really no other viable facility in San Diego for a concert of this magnitude," Lynch said. "So we looked south of the border--and found Caliente."