San Pancho’s Music Festival began in 2001 when village residents John & Patricia Alexander invited 12 musicians to join their informal jam sessions on their back porch. Everyone had such a good time that the following year some of those same players suggested to John that they gather again, but this time invite a few others from around the area. With time, the word spread and others asked to participate. John and Patricia were gracious hosts, and their philosophy was that anyone who wanted to play was invited to join in..
By 2006 the number of performers had grown to over 100, and this annual event was now stretched to three days in the Alexander backyard. Andy Crawford, a professional jazz bassist and educator from Illinois, began assisting in 2003 with the organization of the event, coordinating the required sound gear, working with Mexican officials, and translating when necessary. Andy continues to be a key organizer of the festival, and also performs at the festival several times each year.
The father/son combination of Beto and Carlos Gonzalez, who have been active performing since the Festival’s inception, have also become integral to the organization of the Festival by working with government officials to get the required permits every year, and scheduling and working with many of the regional performers. Their family continues to perform each year, which has become one of the longest running festival traditions.
In 5 short years the event had begun evolving into a full fledged music festival, and it wasn’t long until the general public and seasonal tourists began discovering the event. This evolution continued until the festival started to outgrow the intimate surroundings of the Alexander home. It was apparent that a new and larger venue would be needed for the event.
Eventually John and Patricia moved further down the coast, so they turned the organization of the festival over to Craig Schumacher, an internationally known music producer and professional musician. Craig relocated the Festival to a small stage in the Plaza del Sol in 2007, which provided attendees with more comfortable seating space for chairs and coolers. It also allowed a small group of local restaurants to offer food and beverages for sale throughout the performances so that the audience could dine without missing any of the entertainment.
Craig Schumacher hosted the festival for several years, and as it grew he reached out for some assistance. One of the people that he approached to help was fellow musician, and San Pancho resident, Chas Eller. In addition to being the keyboardist for the internationally known jazz group, Kilimanjaro, Chas is also an award winning audio engineer who has owned five recording studios, one of which is located in San Pancho. Chas began performing at the festival in 2006, and a few years later started lending a hand with the sound mixing duties. It wasn’t until 2009, however, that he began helping Craig with the booking of the acts, so when Craig decided to move back to the States after the festival that year, he passed those duties along to Chas. He has continued to do the majority of the booking since then, with the exception of 2010 when Chas’ group, Kilimanjaro, was asked to perform at the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, which unfortunately ran concurrently with the San Pancho Music Festival. Local resident, Chris Parsons, jumped in and assisted that year in his absence. Since then Chris has continued to serve as the festival photographer and maintain the website.
After the festival doubled in size each year, by 2011 it became necessary to move it again; this time to a newly constructed, larger stage in the Plaza del Sol. With that came the challenges of providing sufficient lighting and sound for this expanded venue and audience. While the performers have historically donated their time and talents, which is perhaps one of the more unique aspects of the festival, it now became necessary to actively solicit donations to keep up with the growing costs, and continue to make it free to the public.
In 2013, the festival started using two stages to present continuous music from a wide variety of genres throughout the night. The Plaza de Sol in San Pancho fills with music lovers, food and artisan vendors with between 1000 and 1500 people in attendance every night.
Today, the festival continues, due to the generous donations from numerous “friends of the festival”, merchants, and the audience, along with the many people who volunteer their time and services. As the Festival attempts to raise the bar each year, by introducing new and exciting musical acts, the operating costs also continue to escalate, and that has required bringing even more volunteers onboard to help with the fundraising and organizing efforts. What was once a little musical gathering in someone’s backyard, has now become one of the annual highlights of the San Pancho calendar, and it has undoubtedly contributed to the town being dubbed “The Cultural Heartbeat of the State of Nayarit.”