Arts & Entertainment

Chile’s Viña del Mar Festival: Home to toughest crowd on Earth

By Iñaki Martinez Azpiroz

Viña del Mar, Chile, Feb 22 (EFE).- Lengthy ovations or merciless booing.

One or the other tends to await artists and comedians who step on stage to perform before the Viña del Mar International Song Festival’s audience/jury, which is nicknamed “El Monstruo” (The Monster) and has earned its reputation as the toughest crowd on Earth.

The displeasure of the crowd is occasionally so intense that artists are forced off the stage at the Quinta Vergara Amphitheater amid chants of “Go home!” and thumbs-down gesturing that calls to mind a rowdy scene at the Colosseum in ancient Rome.

The latest instance occurred Tuesday night when Chilean comedian Belen Mora left the stage amid catcalls from the audience, who are not just paying customers but also decide the winners of the different Gaviotas (as the awards are known) with their shouts of “silver,” “gold” and “platinum.”

“Comedians get especially nervous and deal with greater uncertainty, because there’s no middle ground at Viña del Mar when it comes to comedy. It’s either a huge success or total failure,” Ricardo de la Fuente Puig, director of seven previous editions of the festival, told Efe.

In fact, the audience’s jeers have become so noisy in recent years that stand-up comedians like Natalia Valdebenito have come forward to demand “respect” for their fellow comics.

“A lot of work goes into every routine, and I ask for respect for my colleagues,” she said at last month’s Caleuche acting awards gala.

Latin America’s biggest song festival has opted this year for a line-up of urban music artists in a bid to appeal to a younger crowd, a move that is forcing comedians to adapt their own routines.

“There are comedians who have been working for many years and they keep telling the same jokes about their mother-in-law, people’s looks … You have to change that chip and adapt to the new times. Comedians need to stay current and have material that’s relevant,” Caroline Valenzuela, who is attending this year’s 62nd edition of the festival, which began last Sunday and will wrap up on Friday, told Efe.

Javiera Montenegro, another attendee, said for her part that the younger generations are more empathetic with the comedians: “In past years, there were older people (in the crowd) and several artists got eaten alive by the ‘monster,'” she told Efe.

One Chilean comedian, Yerko Puchento, pulled out of this year’s festival after Mexican rock band Mana was unable to attend and was replaced by 25-year-old Argentine pop star Tini Stoessel.

Both Mana and Puchento appeal to an audience that is generally much older than Tini’s fans, and the change in the artist list meant the comedian would be facing a much different “monster” at Quinta Vergara than the one he had signed up to entertain.

Since the festival is televised, strict time limits also must be imposed and that often means cutting short the performances of major artists.

These interventions sometimes infuriate the “monster,” since the demanding crowd members not only get surly when they’re bored but also when they want to keep hearing their favorite acts.

De la Fuente was the festival director in 2005 when the hosts caused pandemonium by cutting short Spanish pop band La Oreja de Van Gogh’s set.

“They screamed for 20 minutes and refused to stop. The hosts tried to calm them down, but the crowd ignored them,” he recalled.

Finally, De la Fuente was forced to call the band members and beg them to return to the stage to calm the “monster.”

But despite its reputation for bad behavior, the Viña del Mar crowd also is highly appreciative of outstanding work.

“The Chilean fans aren’t easy at all,” De la Fuente said. “But when an artist wins them over, it’s forever.” EFE

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