Peruvians Jose Meza and Paulo Martin Estelo live in New York City, where they play traditional South American Andes music as part of the group Pachacamac. Peruvians, New Yorkers, playing music from the Andes – not your typical Illinois State Fair performers. But Paulo’s aunt, who lives in Chicago, encouraged them to come to Springfield and perform at the 2009 fair. Paulo telephoned a fair administrator and set up their gig in advance. They arrived to find that everything had gone wrong.
Peruvians Jose Meza and Paulo Martin Estelo live in New York City, where they play traditional South American Andes music as part of the group Pachacamac. The group is named for the ancient Pachacamac temple, an archaeological site near Lima, Peru.
Peruvians, New Yorkers, playing music from the Andes – not your typical Illinois State Fair performers. But Paulo’s aunt, who lives in Chicago, encouraged them to come to Springfield and perform at the 2009 fair. Paulo telephoned a fair administrator and set up their gig in advance. Driving here from New York, they had to use their GPS to find Springfield and the fairgrounds.
They arrived to find that everything had gone wrong.
Paulo didn’t realize it, but he had talked to someone from the fair’s concessions division, who assumed the two men were exhibitors, not performers. They were surprised to learn they were expected to pay an exhibitor’s fee, sit in a booth and exhibit something.
“Maybe it was my fault,” says Paulo. He can be forgiven for not knowing the right person to talk to, but that didn’t make him feel better at the time.
Paulo and Jose decided to get a hotel room in Springfield and try to get things straightened out with the fair people. Hotel room? During the fair? Not going to happen. They didn’t realize that all the rooms would be booked during the fair.
They brought camping equipment, just in case. “Sorry,” they were told, “the fairgrounds camping areas are full.”
Their GPS told them there was a rest stop on Interstate 55 with bathroom and shower facilities. Paulo and Jose ended up sleeping there for three nights while working something out so they could perform at the fair. Fair officials eventually carved out a corner in the Exposition Building for them.
That led to Lucky Break Number One. They were performing when the right person happened to walk by. She is Rosa Juarez. Rosa was stunned to hear the very recognizable music of her home country, Peru.
“You should have seen the expression on her face,” says Jose. “She came up to us and said, ‘Where are you guys from?’”
Rosa got the whole story of the fair mix-up and the rest stop accommodations. Later, she related the story to her son, Julio Barrenzuela. Julio has been around Springfield for years, educating us to the delights of salsa dancing. Through his Salsa 29 Productions, he has brought the dance into schools and organizations all over central Illinois.
“It sounded like too crazy a story,” Julio says. But Julio hearing the story of Jose and Paulo led to Lucky Break Number Two.
The next day, Julio met with Blanca Bernasek, director of the multicultural awareness center at Lincoln Land Community College. They had already arranged to meet so they could discuss the possibility of Julio bringing salsa to the college’s multicultural festival on Sept. 30.
“He was telling me about these musicians he met,” Blanca says, “where there was some misunderstanding going on and they were stuck without a place to stay. What I saw was a possibility. We could help them out, and they could help us out in return.”
Blanca found an open room at the Baymont Inn in Springfield. Paulo and Jose were happy to leave the rest stop behind for more comfortable accommodations.
“She changed the whole atmosphere,” says Julio.
Blanca arranged for the two men to perform at LLCC’s cafeteria on Monday. Beyond that, she asked them to return to Springfield to play at the multicultural festival. They agreed and will bring the entire Pachacamac group here for the festival.
“From day one, it was really bad news for them,” says Julio. “I didn’t want them to go back to New York with that experience of Springfield. I wanted them to experience some Midwestern hospitality.”
Julio sees this as a story that starts out bad but has a feel-good, happy ending. He’s right. Paulo and Jose could have spent the rest of their lives telling the story of the time they went to this place called Springfield, Illinois to play the state fair and ended up sleeping in a rest stop.
Now, they will have a bit better story to tell.
“The most important thing,” says Jose, “is that we’ve found a lot of friends.”
We like happy endings.
State Journal-Register columnist Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 or email@example.com.