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Viva! Pomona creator Rene Contreras talks about

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For more than a decade, Rene Contreras has had his finger on the pulse of rising musical talent in Southern California and beyond.

As a teenager, he spent countless nights staying up until the early hours of the morning, cycling his way through every music platform available. He was searching for something that gave him the goosebumps and artists he could reach out to in hopes of booking them for a show in his hometown of Pomona. Contreras’ ability to hear something that he knew would one day make it big is what has made the Viva! Pomona Festival so successful.

The independent music fest — where now superstar acts like Chicano Batman, The Marias, Omar Apollo, The Garden, Cuco and DannyLux were exposed to audiences early on — is returning for its eleventh year at The Glass House in Pomona on July 15-16. El Monte indie rock trio The Red Pears will headline on Saturday, July 15 and Atlanta, Georgia-based pop duo Coco & Clair Clair will close out the event on Sunday, July 16.

“I never thought we’d even make it this far,” Contreras said of the festival with a cold brew coffee in hand, sitting on a bench in front of The Glass House concert hall. “It’s surreal, to be honest. And every year that passes it’s new artists, new generations and new projects people might not know about. And it’s great because we get to put that on the map for so many people here.”

 

Contreras, a first-generation Chicano, began his career by booking bands in backyards and charging $3 for local teens to catch rising punk, rock or indie bands in the Inland Empire. It didn’t seem like much back then, but Contreras knew he was onto something as he watched the scene grow.

He wanted to go bigger, but he didn’t know how.

Through a chance encounter, Contreras ended up connecting with Los Angeles-based music promoter Paul Tollett, who grew up in Pomona and attended Cal Poly Pomona before becoming president and CEO of Goldenvoice, the company responsible for festivals like the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Tollett, along with his brother Perry, opened The Glass House in 1996.

The pair clicked and in 2013, with Tollett’s blessing, Contreras launched Viva! Pomona at the venue.

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Since the inception of Viva!, it’s been vital for Contreras to book independent artists throughout Southern California. Still, a key ingredient is incorporating Latin artists, he said, noting that many Latinos who grew up in the surrounding areas listened to Spanish and English music and he wanted to create a similar vibe. Latin artists account for more than half of the 2023 lineup, with a little more than 40 acts in all playing this weekend.

“With any movie or book you read, there’s always a theme, and I really try to stay true to ours,” Contreras said. “If you’re from the Inland Empire, you know it’s heavily dominated by people who speak Spanish, so a lot of us grew up speaking Spanish in our households then going out into society speaking English, so it’s a representation of that 50-50 split. Every language and every person is welcome, of course, but the theme of it is to have that energy.”

Acts from Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Argentina and Spain have taken part in Viva!, and for some acts, coming to the festival marked their very first shows in the U.S. This year, Contreras shared that he booked several bands from Latin America and the Caribbean, including Indie Anthony, an artist based in Jamaica who will be making his California debut at the festival.

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