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POP MUSIC REVIEW : L.A. Fiesta: An Eclectic Showcase of Latin Styles : Willie Colon highlights the fourth annual event. More than 100 acts touch on everything from salsa and mariachi to banda and pop rock.


Except for smaller attendance, the fourth annual L.A. Fiesta Broadway was like a replay of past editions--both the good (the variety of music and the smooth organization) and the bad (the use of backing tracks for many artists).

The event, which drew an estimated 250,000 Sunday to a 36-block area of downtown Los Angeles, is an eclectic showcase featuring more than 100 performers, including about a dozen of today's most popular Latin stars.

The acts--performing on two major stages and 14 smaller ones--touched on virtually every area of Latin music, from salsa and mariachi to banda and pop rock.

Puerto Rico's salsa legion (Willie Colon, Tony Vega, Eddie Santiago and Marc Anthony) were among the hottest and most acclaimed performers on the massive bill--and they all delivered impressive sets.

Colon, who along with Ruben Blades expanded the horizons of salsa in the '70s by adding social commentary to the sensual style, was the highlight of the long afternoon.

The closing attraction on one of the two main stages, Colon and his eight-piece band played a sizzling, nonstop 90-minute set that confirmed his place as one of the most important musicians ever in salsa. For the first third of his set, he packed some of his early music into a medley, then shifted attention to songs from his just-released "Made in Puerto Rico" album.

On another stage earlier in the day, Eddie Santiago, known as "The Erotic King" of salsa, made what may be one of his last performances in Los Angeles as a salsa performer. In an interview before going on stage, Santiago said he is "tired" of salsa and looking forward to recording an album of ballads "so that people will just sit down and listen."

Tony Vega, a veteran singer who was a member of several top-notch salsa bands in the last 15 years, concentrated on songs from his current hit album, "Aparentemente," in a lively 50-minute set.

The main problem with L.A. Fiesta Broadway is that some of the artists sing over tapes rather than being backed by a live band. This was the case with Marc Anthony, the talented New York-born Puerto Rican, whose first salsa album is in the Top 10 on national Latin music charts.

Anthony--an outstanding vocal interpreter who was effective despite the backing tracks and the fact that he was limited to two songs on one stage and five on another--complained about the absence of a real band.

"If you want to know me, you have to know me and my band," he said backstage after one of his sets. "Sometimes I feel like a product, and it's very sad because I'm for real."

Mario Proenza, executive producer of the estimated $1.5-million L.A. Fiesta Broadway, said that most of the major stars do perform live music but that it's too costly for the Fiesta committee to fly in every single band.

"We're offering most of our artists live, and I don't think the value of the celebration diminishes for the fact that some artists sing on tapes," said Proenza.

But, a spokesperson for Colon's management company disagreed.

"In certain small events, there's no choice (but to have backing tapes)," said Pietro Carlos. "But in an event like L.A. Fiesta Broadway, they have the sponsors they need in order to present music in a professional manner."

Organizers suggested that the decreased attendance (down from an estimated 500,000 last year) was due in part to a change of dates. The Fiesta was originally scheduled for April 25 but postponed because the Los Angeles Police Department was on alert that weekend as the city awaited the verdicts in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial.

The change meant that some major draws--including Mexico's Gloria Trevi, Puerto Rico's Ray Ruiz, Honduras' Banda Blanca and Mexico's Las Chicas del Can--had to cancel.

Thoughts for next year: Open the event to some major Rock en Espanol bands; require all acts to have backing bands, even if that means fewer acts, and give every artist at least 20 minutes as opposed to the current five minutes for some.

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