San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

No Festival Imperial in 2013?

From the print edition

On Tuesday, organizers for Festival Imperial, a massive music festival that took place March 24-25, held a reception to celebrate this year’s successful event. 

The Tico Times spoke with Gustavo Cornejo, head of brand marketing for Imperial and the man behind the fest. He spoke about how a month later, Festival Imperial 2012 appears to be the most popular edition of the event (TT, March 30). Despite a lineup that featured fewer rock stars than past festivals, the concert at La Guácima Racetrack, in Alajuela, north of San José, brought in 30,000 fans per day. 

Still, it is difficult to predict when the next Festival Imperial might be. The two previous incarnations took place in 2006 and 2008. Cornejo said in order to be a festival in the “truest” sense, it should take place every year. However, he seemed skeptical the Costa Rican brewery has the current capability to do that. With The Tico Times, he discussed the festival’s achievements, reactions from the artists who played and the challenges of pulling off a Festival Imperial next year.

Excerpts follow:

TT: How satisfied are you with the way the festival turned out?

GC: I am very satisfied, firstly, since it was a full venue. And secondly because we hosted a true festival. Before, it was a big concert with excellent artists, but it was not a festival. Now, for the first time, we had multiple stages, art, a green market and an area with different genres like electronic music. We had three times more artists than in past festivals. We had many types of entertainment. They could walk around La Guácima. They could rest. They could choose which artists they wanted to see during the day. … This evolution we had with the concept, and all that people could come and enjoy, was to me a true success. 

How was the lineup selected? There were some unconventional choices.

An important part of putting on a real festival is to have a lineup of bands that characterize the best live performances. Bands that are famous on the festival circuit like The Flaming Lips, Björk or Cypress Hill are of great quality live. There are groups that sound very good on the radio but don’t sound like that live. So we relied very much on the expertise of [producers] C3 on what to bring. For example, Gogol Bordello are not well-known, but everyone talks about how great the performance is live. 

What did you think of the 10 local Costa Rican bands that played?

I’m very pleased. First, they all gave excellent concerts, every one of the bands. Second, because [C3] producers liked one of the bands, [Sonámbulo], and invited them to go to Austin City Limits. Therefore, we are exporting the great Costa Rican talent that we have to the international music scene.

The festival’s non-mainstream lineup had many critics. But in the end it seemed the event had no trouble attracting fans. 

The festival is designed so that it doesn’t matter if you know the majority of the bands. You know the headliners and that attracts many people, but it also works to hear new groups, and I think after this first experience people understand that better. For future festivals it’s going to be much easier. We also have to correct certain things with more planning and more time, like including a little more rock since people were demanding more of that. We want to give a little more importance to Latin groups and different genres that weren’t represented. This is our role, but also, independently from that, it was a wonderful experience for the bands and those who were there. 

What feedback did you receive from the artists? 

We received a lot of letters from artists and managers. And we know that the artist community is a very small one, and they talk between each other, and there’s going to be positive feedback and word of mouth that is going to give a push forward for eventual future festivals. If you’re an artist and you heard from Björk, Cypress Hill or Maroon 5 that they had a great time, we’re going to be able to attract the best talent that’s out there.

In his personal journal, Moby had a full page talking about the great experience he had. Cypress Hill had a video that showed the whole experience. Cage the Elephant also uploaded a very nice video about the whole experience of the festival. Björk had a great experience. We received an email from her management [that said] she had a blast at the beach and very much enjoyed the concert. 

Will there be a Festival Imperial in 2013?

It’s an option. … Personally I would love to have it. But it is difficult, because when you try to put together one event like a festival, I’m not able to do the rest of the work that I’m supposed to do. Dedicating six months out of the year for organizing the festival is hard. So we have to think about how we’re going to organize ourselves at the brewery to think about future festivals.

Contact Matt Levin at

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