Los Dells is a multi-genre music and arts festival boasting itself as the largest Latin music festival in the U.S. It may surprise you it’s tucked away in Mauston, Wis., near Wisconsin Dells on a massive ranch and sports complex surrounded by dense pine tree forests.
The Radio Milwaukee team headed out on Labor Day weekend to experience the festival and interview artists (more on that to come). While we are all veterans of the music scene with plenty of music festivals under our belts, we were enriched by the unique experience and surprisingly personal connections we made over the two-day event.
You may have heard a mix of music sung in Spanish sprinkled in our playlists from artists like Mon Laferte, Ambar Lucid, Café Tacvba, Ximena Sariñana, Natalia LaFourcade, Salt Cathedral and Y La Bamba — they all performed at Los Dells Festival.
While connected through language, the artists on the bill traveled from a variety of countries and spanned genres from indie rock to pop to reggaeton and more. Latin music may be lumped together on the music charts, but it was evident during this weekend that each culture has its own unique sound and flavor. Each region was celebrated and represented; mingling music and food together in a way that is very American in its vast melting pot.
We sampled the range of “comida” offered, far from standard festival fare; from tacos al pastor, elote, mango con chile, churros, murdoros, empanadillas and more while sipping on micheladas. The flavors and scents from these varied regional foods mingled beautifully much like our general experience. Sonically, festival-goers seemed nonplussed as stages switched from genre to genre. Walking past any of the four stages the vibe remained the same no matter what sound rang out; a relaxed and genuine good time with groups of families and friends sharing a pride of heritage.
Artists felt free to banter in their own language, free to sing in their own language — an opportunity that is not always offered when touring the states. That may have accounted for the seeming ease and happiness of the performers as well as the fans.
Another way Los Dells felt unique was in the family friendly atmosphere. Kids 10 and under are admitted free and families took advantage of the deal and came equipped with folding chairs and other comforts. The onsite campground, titled “Camp Dellero” had a family vibe, from shared propane-cooked meals to casual games of futball, bags and giant Jenga with a large fire pit bringing new friends together.
You don’t need a latinx or hispanic background to enjoy the shared celebration. You don’t need to understand the Spanish language to appreciate it; we reveled in the fact that music and art translate across those barriers.
Our DJ Kenny Perez had this to say of the fest. “Los Dells was beautiful and represented the whole of the Latinx people,” he said. “We experienced regional Mexican food, while enjoying the vast sounds of the Caribbean’s popular reggaeton son and vice versa. Their were families serenading their children with Natalia Lafourcade’s ‘Hasta La Raiz’ and teenagers screaming and moving to the sounds of Ozuna’s ‘Baila Baila Baila.’ Los Dells is a shared experience within our community that doesn’t happen for us (Latinx) ever and in the middle of Wisconsin!! WHHHAAAAT!!?? Los Dells is not your fast food taco joint experience, it’s a gathering with your family on holidays and everybody is coming over to contribute kind of weekend. It’s a not a snack you can munch on, it’s a buffet you can fill up on and go back for more.”
Photographer Gabriella Cisneros had a similar experience. “Los Dells offered two days of nearly non-stop cultural celebration that made me appreciate my Mexican heritage more than almost anything else in my life,” she said. “The grounds were a vibrant safe space for people of all backgrounds, and no culture tried to outshine another. There was pride without arrogance, camaraderie without cliquishness. Even without being a fluent Spanish speaker, I could appreciate the music and all the genres that flowed around the grounds. Though the location (a woodsy area outside of Wisconsin Dells with little to no cell service nor plumbing) is nothing like any hispanic country, it provides a seclusion in space as well as in time that made the experience even more winsome. Los Dells was a beautiful break from regular life that I will happily return to annually.”
Program Director Jordan Lee said, “This event was a testament to the power of Latinx culture in America. The rainbow of styles in the central American diaspora was displayed with so much care, depth and passion.”
Content Marketing Coordinator Amelinda Burich said, “Seeing another Filipino festgoer who was wearing a Philippines flag and showing pride, was something I was not used to seeing and it felt like everyone was welcome to express their background and heritage together. Representation matters and it was a magical experience to celebrate so many cultures in one place.”
We look forward to returning to the annual Los Dells Festival to discover more new music and revel in the sights, sounds and tastes it has to offer. For more of our experience, check out the photo gallery below.