By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Fifteen minutes into the show and Marc Anthony was crooning with his shirt halfway open. The salsa icon was in the back yard of the White House on Tuesday night, delivering a riveting version of "Tu Amor Me Hace Bien" ("Your Love Makes Me Feel Good"). The environs might have been stately, but Anthony doesn't do subdued. The buttons must remain unbuttoned.
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, "Fiesta Latina" -- the latest concert in the Obamas' continuing White House Music Series -- came to life on the South Lawn in a sprawling tent that held 380, including Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, as well as Anthony's sparkling wife, Jennifer Lopez. The event -- hosted by George Lopez, Eva Longoria Parker and Jimmy Smits -- will be broadcast on PBS Thursday night at 8.
Previous Music Series concerts celebrated country and jazz, but those were intimate, somewhat formal affairs in the cozy confines of the East Room. Tuesday night's gig was bigger, more extravagant and, at its best, a lot more lively, thanks to the polyglot pop of Gloria Estefan, the tender balladry of guitarist José Feliciano, the alchemical rock of Los Lobos.
Percussionist Sheila E. held it all together, as the program's musical director and leader of the house band. With the South Facade at her back, she joined Estefan for the opening number, "No Llores" ("Don't Cry"), whacking her bedazzled timbales while Feliciano strummed along.
The results were highly danceable, but the trio still had to work for it. As the song surged, the only head bobbing in the place belonged to the president himself. (Either this guy really gets it, or he was just ready to party after the Senate Finance Committee's vote on his health-care reform bill that afternoon.)
After Estefan's performance, technical glitches ensued -- and would persist throughout the night, often leaving Lopez to joke his way through the dead air. "Are you guys almost ready?" he asked the scrambling stage crew. "I'm running out of approved material!"
Anthony came next and had the audience showing signs of life after his first verse. Next, Mexican pop queen Thalía took a more direct approach, inviting the president to dance as she sang "Amor a la Mexicana." To the delight of the crowd, he obliged. Los Lobos followed up with a twofer, injecting some six-string grit into "Cumbia Raza" and "La Bamba." President Obama didn't dance this time, but he did lean over to sing to daughter Malia.
Bachata group Aventura skated to the other side of the spectrum with its delicate hit, "Su Veneno." The crowd nodded along politely. Earlier in the afternoon, the Bronx-based quartet garnered a much more enthusiastic response during a meet-and-greet with the media. After a reporter asked her requisite questions, she planted a flurry of smooches on the cheek of lead singer Anthony "Romeo" Santos.
The quartet recently sold out Madison Square Garden, but the PBS telecast will bring the quartet's sugary bachata to an even vaster audience.
So which is the bigger thrill: Selling out MSG or serenading the POTUS? Frontman Anthony "Romeo" Santos mulled it over before saying: "Both are amazing and they both represent something different . . . "
Guitarist Lenny Santos quickly interrupted: "Naw, naw. White House, dude! Who in their career gets to play the White House?"
Feliciano does. Yesterday marked the entertainer's third appearance at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. A Tuesday afternoon breeze tousled the singer's shock of gray hair as he reflected on the notion of an American president recognizing the entire genre of Latin music: "It's about time!"
David Hidalgo, leader of Los Lobos, was sitting across the lawn, sipping coffee. The East Los Angeles native had never been to the White House before, but he already knew the sense of awe that comes with performing for leaders. "Getting to know and play for César Chavez and Dolores Huerta -- those were two honors," he said. But Tuesday felt different.
"We're not really a minority anymore," he said. "Latin music is being recognized as mainstream expression. It used to be just for Latin people -- now it's for everyone."
Aventura began sound-checking "Su Veneno" -- the song's cool flow beefed up by Sheila E.'s band. Hidalgo raised his voice over the din. "It turns out a lot of [the house band] are from East L.A.," he said, almost shouting. "So our home town is represented!"
They sounded in fine form later that night onstage, when Sheila E. and her father, Pete Escovedo, punched out the splashy classic "Ran Kan Kan." She later led Tito "El Bambino" through a salsified version of "El Amor." Unabashed by his pitchy vocal performance, Tito finished the song by heading into the crowd and kissing Sotomayor on the cheek.
But Anthony stole the show, returning to the stage with his megahit "I Need to Know." The flat-footed audience that had greeted him earlier in the evening was now on its feet.