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Latin love

Caramie Schnell
cschnell@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

They’re an orchestra, but probably not what you’re picturing in your head right now. There are two guitarists, four people who play percussion, a bass player and a horn section – sax, trumpet, trombone; two of the members sing. Grupo Fantasma is a 10-member Latin orchestra that weaves funk, reggae and rock together into a raucuous good time.

The folks who hand out the Grammy awards seem to agree. The band took home the coveted award in February in the “Best Latin Rock, Alternative or Urban Album” for their record “El Existential.”

“It was a pretty surreal experience,” said band guitarist Beto Martinez. “We didn’t expect it at all.”

The band had been nominated for a Grammy in 2008; that year there was significantly more buzz about the band and momentum behind the album, Martinez said, to the point they thought they had a good chance at winning. They walked away empty handed.

Fast forward three years.

“This year, we did the album ourselves and we didn’t get quite the same response,” Martinez said. “Great response from Europe, but we didn’t seem to have the same feel as ’08, so when we got the nomination, we didn’t expect it at all.”

Tickets to the event were scarce and this time around, only three of the 10 members were allowed to attend the award ceremony. The rest of the band was on a tour bus, heading from L.A. to Austin, where they’re based, when they got the news.

“We were at a truck stop in the middle of Arizona somewhere and all of us started yelling and cheering,” Martinez said. “We had to explain to people that we’d just won a Grammy. It was very exciting; it’s an honor to be recognized by your peers in that way.”

Though they’ve performed in neighboring mountain towns, the band will play Vail for the first time Tuesday when they kick off the free Hot Summer Nights concert series.

“Kicking off the free concert series with a band like Grupo Fantasma seems like a perfect fit,” said Shelley Woodworth of the Vail Valley Foundationm which puts on the event. “They’re fun, summery and bring a little bit of the Texas Latin warmth that we love here in Vail. Their live shows are legendary, so I’m sure the crowd at the Ford Amphitheater will consider this a great way to finally celebrate this much-deserved summer season.”

An intimate group

Grupo Fantasma formed in Austin, Tex. in 2000. Every member has a Latin American or Texan background.

While members have come and gone over the years, three of the founding members remain; Martinez is one of them.

“We started here in Austin playing really small clubs,” he said.

At times, the band has had trouble fitting everyone, and every instrument, on stage.

“We do tend to run into that issue,” Martinez said. “When our road manager is advancing shows, he tries to find out how big the stage is. At times we’ve had half the band on the stage, half on the floor in front.

“When we run into it, we’re used to dealing with it,” he continued. “We know how to cram together. And when we do go to a really huge stage, we end up setting up close to each other anyway; it feels strange to be apart and the whole dynamic changes. We’re used to that intimacy and playing off each other and hearing each other really well.”

‘Primarily a live band’

The band draws influences from cumbia, salsa, old-school funk, reggae and more; Martinez sums up the music this way:

“We like to call it Latin funk,” he said. “We all have really diverse music backgrounds. Some of us grew up playing rock or funk and that comes out in our style. Our style is a mix of a lot of different things.”

The band has started throwing around ideas for a new album. Eight of the 10 members of Grupo Fantasma play in another band called Brownout!, a funky side project referred to as “Grupo Fantasma’s psychedelic-Latin funk little brother” on the band’s website, http://www.brownoutmusic.com.

“We’ve developed a cycle where we release an album with Brownout! then the next year, one with Fantasmo,” Martinez said. “We’ll release a Brownout! album in the fall and then we’ll start working on the Grupo Fantasma one.”

While the band has gotten plenty of praise for their albums over the years, including the aforementioned Grammy nods, Martinez said they put on a “very exciting live show.”

“That’s what we base ourselves on,” he said. “We’re primarily a live band and anyone on the fence about whether the show will be fun, should come out – it’ll be a good time.”

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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