Monday, March 26, 2012

San Diego Reader: Blues to the Rescue

John Pack Skypes early this morning from Baja California. He lives there year round. "After this call, I have to go up and chaperone about six bands through Mexicali and make sure they have a good experience." Pack checks his time. As we speak, a convoy of blues acts from San Diego is headed east through the morning desert. Pack will intercept them at the Calexico border crossing.
"Some of them have never been down here before."
Saturday, March 24, the San Felipe Lions Club will host their annual International Blues and Arts Festival, a fundraiser featuring local blues artists Chet Cannon and his band The Committee, Billy Watson, Nathan James, the Bayou Brothers, Mercedes Moore, North County's Inspired and the Sleep, Tom Stewart and the Backwater Blues Band, and Coyote Mike and the Wetbacks from Ensenada.
Now in their sixth season, Pack says the Lions had to move the event to the beach front at the Hotel El Cortez in order to accommodate the 2,000-plus who will attend. "It's all sold out around here," Pack says, "the El Cortez and the other hotels." He says this is becoming one of the Lions Club's [San Felipe's] biggest events. He says blame it on the music: "There's a lot of incredible blues talent in San Diego."
The San Felipe Lions Club is the second largest such service club in Baja. They are a relatively new club. Their web site says they received their charter in 2007. Proceeds from their various fundraisers help foot the bill for medical supplies, eye care, orphanages, and the Flying Samaritans. Pack says their blues fest is on track to bring in at least $20,000 this year.
Pack says he gets the word out through his Baja Good Life Club. "We're [like] the AARP of Baja." The membership of the Good Life Club includes a large percentage of roaming snowbirds that drive cross-country to bask in the banana belt tropics of San Felipe during the spring and summer months on the Gulf of Mexico [California].
It's taken six years, Pack says, for the blues and arts fest to mature into a consistent money maker. "All the hotels know we're an attraction now. And we get a lot of support from the State of Baja and from the Secretary of Tourism. They have really stepped up," he says. No wonder. In recent years Baja has fallen off the tourism charts due to media coverage of the drug trade and of cartel violence. I ask about that. I tell him I stopped spending Christmas in Ensenada for that very reason.
"The only thing dangerous about coming to Baja," he says, "is you have to drive through Southern California to get here." 
6th Annual International Blues and Arts Festival, Saturday March 24, San Felipe, $25dos. Info

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