POCKiT Live in Mexico (VERSA TOUR RUN)
Updated: Aug 1
Photo credits by Abraham Linares
The conversation about performing our music in Mexico started at the beginning of this year.
“Would you guys be down to travel to Tacoland this summer? I think I could book a set of dates in CDMX and perhaps in another city close by like Cholula.” I told Chip and Josh during one of our weekly meetings at our studio in Oakland Park, FL.
Chip replied, “Cholula? Like the salsa? I’m down!"
However, this trip presented a big challenge for two reasons: (1) this tour will require lots of logistics, and (2) COVID restrictions were still a “thing” down in Mexico.
I had kept solid friendships with many of my musician friends in Mexico City. I lived in the CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico, or Mexico City) from 2005 to 2007 and I was very fortunate to play and record with some of the best players in town. I felt confident about securing tour dates for POCKiT and this trip was something I’d wanted to put together for quite some time. We were all so thrilled about the opportunity of traveling to Mexico, and Chip, Josh, and I knew these shows outside the country would help expose the band to a brand new audience. Our goal was simple: to make an impression with the sound we developed throughout the pandemic. The tour to Mexico became our focus as a group, and we also wanted to use the trip to promote our latest single, “VERSA”. After all, we’re a live band, so there was no better way to connect with a brand-new audience than with live shows. What’s better than planning a tour outside the country and touching others’ hearts, right?
We arrived on Wednesday, June 29th (one day before our first show) to make sure we had enough time to settle and gather all the necessary equipment (keyboard, cymbals, bass amp) we’d need for the next three days. We hired “Don Cuco” to drive us to some iconic places around the city (Torre Latino Americana & El Zocalo) and to help us pick up all the necessary gear. He is a long-time friend of my dad and the idea of having him for the tour was a no-brainer. I also asked my older brother, Abraham “Lobo” Linares to film the band and take pictures during our stay in “Tacoland”. He happened to be working in CDMX that week (he lives in Guadalajara, which is around a 5-hour drive from CDMX), so it worked out great. He was a crucial part of documenting this trip and we’re so grateful that we could hang out with him for the 5 days of our stay. Below are some shots from our first day.
Our first confirmed date was on Thursday, June 30th at Departamento
Studio Bar in CDMX. Early that morning, we had to pick up the keyboard Chip was going to use all week (Big S/O to Jean-Paul for letting us borrow the keyboards) at a location that would have been at least 45 minutes away if we drove ourselves through the usual crazy CDMX traffic. Luckily Don Cuco, the master behind the wheel, was able to drive us to the location on time. Then, we were scheduled to practice before the gig at a nearby rehearsing spot (Salas Buena Onda) to go over the setlist together and make any last-minute changes. We were very lucky to invite the legendary guitarist, Jean-Paul Bideau as our special guest for that night, so we wanted to have a solid set together during our rehearsal. Jean-Paul has performed with some of the top pop artists in Latin America (Alejandro Sanz, Rio Roma, Emmanuel, Belinda, and many more), as well as his own original fusion/jazz quintet, and has been the musical director for several other bands I was part of when I was living in Mexico. To have such an accomplished musician learn our tunes was such an honor for the group. Once we arrived at the venue, the staff was super cooperative during the soundcheck and provided us with all the gear that was available for the band (Drumset, Rhodes, Bass amp, Mics, etc.), which helped us to finish soundcheck sooner than expected. The venue was in a neighborhood called “La Roma”, which is known for its particular vibe and history. It had four different levels and each one of them had its own atmosphere (live acts) which made it an exceptional place.
Chip and I were really going back and forth on the different song options for our setlist, and it was starting to get tense. Again, this was our first performance outside our comfort zone of South Florida, so we were not sure what tune to play as our opener track. Finally, we agreed on the two opening tracks and the groove started to flow. Then, we brought Jean-Paul to play along with us on our first original tune (How do you say) and his unique musicality transported us to another level of sound that we will never forget. The show was full of energy, and the fusion of sounds between all of us exceeded our expectations. It will always be one of our best performances as a band. Make sure to follow Jean-Paul on Instagram. He’s a one-of-a-kind player and an amazing human.
Our second scheduled concert was at a place called Jazzatlan in Cholula, Puebla. We had to travel early in the morning to make sure we arrived with plenty of time for the activities we had planned before the show. Cholula, Puebla was about 2 hours away from CDMX, and we arranged for Don Cuco to pick us up from the Airbnb we rented near “La Roma” so we could hit the road to our destination on time. During the trip, we were able to soak in the countryside scenery outside the city and even meet some furry friends along the way. For many of us, this drive was a brand-new experience, so naturally, we had no idea what foods or snacks we should probably avoid eating in Mexico, especially on the highway. But we’ll get to that later. We were very fortunate to connect with Jerry Montana through a friend (Samuel Piña) whom I had worked with before. Jerry is an incredible guitarist and CEO of MAP Colegio de Musica which teaches college students of all ages music and audio technology. The building, which houses around 300 students, was impressive as soon as we arrived. Jerry and I were in contact months ago to coordinate the visit and to collaborate on a clinic for Singular Sound products along with some of the students for their summer program. He would also be our special guest on guitar for this show, so there was the possibility to record a POCKiT’s live session together at the school, but we did not know how much time we’d have to prepare for our performance at Jazzatlan.
Jerry was very generous to let us record the video session idea (coming soon!) at MAP’s in-house recording studio. The plan was a bit ambitious, but we were able to pull it off thanks to the support of the amazing humans who helped us during the recording session. Big S/O to Jimena Oropeza, Jeannel Romero, Samuel Pina, Victor Loyo and all the students that came to see us record at the studio. After a couple of hours, we recorded and filmed two songs but we needed to take a break before the product presentation with the students. Jerry suggested we go eat “Tacos Arabes” across the street. They were some of the best tacos we’d had in years! This style of tacos (Mexican/Middle Eastern tacos) were introduced in Puebla by a Lebanese family in the 1930s, according to the “taquero” that was at the place. Man, they were so DELICIOUS!
It was time to get ready for our show, but we noticed Josh was not feeling well. Remember the snacks we ate on the road while driving to Cholula? Well, they did not settle well with him at all. He had a 100+ degree fever and fatigue, so we had to find him some medication before the show so he could make it through the night. We even considered taking him to the doctor in case he didn’t recover. Chip, Jerry, and I did a soundcheck first to leave him last and wait for the medication to kick in. One of the waiters was thoughtful enough to make him a drink with tons of ginger and other mixes of fluids to help him feel better. It was a full house, and the atmosphere was just right. All we needed was for Josh to recover to start the show. A few minutes passed and it WORKED! He was starting to feel way better, so we started the first set at Jazzatlan. The place was in downtown Cholula and had a beautiful view of the city including one of the many churches of the town -- Cholula has over 365 churches! -- which made it a unique experience for all of us. The audio sounded killer, and even though we didn’t have much time to practice the set with Jerry, he did an amazing job learning all our tunes on the setlist. He’s an amazing player and he carried his great sound throughout the songs. Right at the end of our second set, we had the pleasure to invite Jimena Oropeza to the stage. She’s an exceptional vocalist with a strong influence on Funk, R&B, and Soul. We performed “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin and man, it sounded so good! Our stay in Cholula, Puebla was a total success, and the struggles we had to deal with (Josh being sick AF) while trying to put together the best show possible will make for great memories. Make sure to follow Jerry’s and Jimena's original project (Fat Mojo) on Instagram. Their impact on the music community with the work they have done together at MAP college of music in Puebla is so inspiring.
The next morning, we needed to be back at CDMX to get ready for our last show at Casa Franca. Fortunately, Josh recovered from the busy day of activities we completed the day before. The drive was longer than expected due to the traffic and some accidents that occurred on the road, but we were able to get to the Airbnb as planned. We had lunch with one of my dad's long-time “Compadres” and MY PARENTS!!! They flew from Guadalajara to see us perform at the last show of our tour. This was a very special moment -- for me particularly -- to be able to share with the boys and the family.
However, during dinner, we found out that the venue did not provide a bass amp and keyboard stands, which meant we had to get them in order to have them ready for the show. Again, I was fortunate to know many friends in town, so I made a few phone calls to my contacts and found some friends who could let us borrow their equipment for the night (Big S/O to Raul Garduño and Max Muñoz for helping us get this gear at the last minute. You guys are truly amazing!). The show at Casa Franca was scheduled to start at 10 pm, but we had to run a quick soundcheck before we began making noise. The venue is located in “La Roma” (the same neighborhood as Departameto, our first show) in a second-level building with tons of restaurants and people around it. We were waiting outside for Don Cuco to arrive with the bass amp he picked up from Raul’s house and the rest of our gear we left in the van when it started raining. It was a quick shower, but things were getting a bit complicated. He arrived around 8:45 pm and we quickly carried all the gear through the stairs to begin the soundcheck. Max arrived with the keyboard stands minutes later and helped us get the audio running. Casa Franca is known for its live music (particularly Jazz) and it was already a full house by the time we finished the soundcheck. The audience was eager to hear us play!
This was a very special show because it was the wrap up of our tour run. The venue was like a jazz club setup where people sit very close to the band, so we wanted to make sure we were not too loud. We kicked off the set and the audience instantly engaged with the groove that Chip, Josh, and I were creating on the spot. We felt very nervous, but we had so many old/new friends and my family (my parents, my dad’s compadre, and his two sons that I haven’t seen in years) supporting us and cheering every song. We invited Raul Garduño to jam with us on bass till the end of the second set and he blew us away with his unique groove and musicality. Looking back, it was the incredible people that helped us through all the trouble we faced that created one of the greatest moments in this visit, and for the three of us.
It has been a few weeks since we came back from our trip, and we still remember all the good and not so good experiences that we encountered. We learned so much on this tour and we cannot wait to do it again next year. We are extremely grateful for all the amazing people we met in so little time, and we hope we can see them again soon.
We’re going to be releasing another brand new single this summer which we hope you enjoy listening to as much as we did producing it. Make sure to check our calendar for future shows here in S. Florida, so we can talk more about our experience in “Tacoland”.
Thank you for reading this blog and keep on staying funky!