Drifters’ concert raises Fiesta in America a notch
SECAUCUS, New Jersey — With dozens of fans swaying their hips to “the twist” on the concert stage and in the aisles, the legendary Drifters brought Fiesta In America’s main show to a resounding climax August 12 and 13 at New Jersey’s Meadowlands Expo Center here.
The east coast’s biggest expo and cultural show of its kind celebrated its 19th anniversary edition with a first in its history: a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group sharing the marquee with Original Pilipino Music (OPM) trailblazers, an “American Idol” sensation, and a “Tawag Ng Tanghalan” champion.
“We knew beforehand that the combination of the Drifters, Rey Valera, American Idol season 11 runner-up Jessica Sanchez, Noven Belleza, Music and Magic and VST and Company would cause a sensation,” remarked Nanding Mendez, Fiesta In America president and CEO.
“But we didn’t expect such a spontaneous and joyous crowd participation in the finale like what the Drifters roused.” Led by Jerome Jackson – who sounded uncannily like Ben E. King, the Drifters’ late front man and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as a solo artist – the group went through most of its Billboard Hot 100 hits, including Under the Boardwalk, Save the Last Dance for Me, On Broadway, Up on the Roof, and There Goes My Baby, punctuating each song with nifty choreography.
But it was its full-on rendition of Chubby Checker’s Let’s Do the Twist and Let’s Twist Again (Like We Did Last Summer) that brought the house to its feet and on the stage.
Opening-day ceremonies were just as filled with luminaries, although of the public service type. Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli, Bergenfield Mayor Norman Schmelz, Secaucus Councilmen John Gerbasio and William McGeever, and AARP spokesperson for the AAPI community General (ret.) Antonio Taguba graced the inaugural.
From the Philippines, the Department of Tourism and the Tourism Promotions Board were represented by Susan del Mundo, officer in charge of the TPB’s Domestic Promotions Department, and by Arnold Gonzales, officer in charge of the TPB’s Media
Relations and Communications Division.
Best Fiesta yet
Philippine Consul General Ma. Theresa Dizon de Vega, standing for the Fil-Am community of the east coast, delivered the formal opening remarks. ConGen de Vega was joined by Fiesta In America founder Mendez and the aforementioned American and Filipino officials at the cutting of the ceremonial ribbon.
According to Ogie Afable, the cultural show’s producer-director, this year’s Fiesta In America easily topped previous editions for its first-ever blend of mainstream and Filipino artists. “The two-day event stays on the path of quality improvement,” said Afable.
“The success of the Drifters’ full concert tells us that diverging from a formulaic approach, but still remaining consistent with the Filipino cultural motif, can work. And who knows? Presenting other legends of American music may be a recurring or even permanent aspect of Fiesta In America. After all, that type of positive disruption may generate tremendous consumer buzz since we will mark our 20th Anniversary in 2018,” Afable added.
The 200 million disc-selling Drifters aside, the Filipino performing artists enthralled the audience just as well.
Composer, arranger, producer and singer Rey Valera, who has penned hits for superstars like Sharon Cuneta and Rico J. Puno, peppered his songs with unexpected humor. Jessica Sanchez’ version of Whitney Houston’s hits convinced the audience even more that she should have won “American Idol 2012.”
Noven Belleza, the first “Tawag Ng Tanghalan” champ, proved why he bested other super-talented singers from all over the Philippines. Sounds of Manila, Music and Magic, VST and Company, as well as the schoolboy-faced Arato Brothers and the Band of Brothers reminded fans on both days of Fiesta In America why it’s the longest-running Fil-Am indoor expo and cultural show on the east coast.
Sponsors and exhibitors were equally vocal as the audience in their positive reviews. “It was such a happy, positive, family environment,” gushed Meriterese Racanelli, MS, R&D Food Scientist/ Nutritionist/Chef at Goya Foods, which returned as a major sponsor. “It was a joy to work at [Fiesta In America]! The talent and entertainment were outstanding, and it was wonderful to see how the community embraced the Goya Better For You low-sodium and low-sugar products. It touched my heart, and it was an honor to see several people from last year come back to my workshops.”
Nemesio Kinsora and Javier de la Rosa, represented Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. “Fiesta In America was a great success for the second year in a row,” said Kinsora. “It gave us the chance to connect with the community on a very large scale.”
At the People’s Ball, the Fiesta’s companion gala that on August 11 at the Meadowlands Hilton, new sponsor Don Papa Rum delighted numerous American and Fil-Am guests at the product tasting with the “world-class” smoothness of the Philippine-made rum. “I could have sworn it was a French cognac that I was sipping!” a taster exclaimed as he enjoyed a second thimbleful of the amber-hued drink.
By the sheer volume of consumer “touches” (estimated number of visual and audio impressions), Philippine tourism figured most prominently at the two-day expo. Stunning white beaches, gushing waterfalls, flavorful regional cuisine, ethnic festivals and other local attractions were projected on the outsize LED screen during concert intermissions on both days of the event.
Starring Apl-de-Ap of the Black-Eyed Peas, a video of world-class tourist magnet, from deep sea diving to urban amenities wowed the audience with Hollywood-level production values.
Featuring a real American tourist, the flagship “Anak” TV commercial of the Department of Tourism was beamed on the LED screen several times on both days, emphasizing the ad campaign’s theme of foreign visitors being warmly received as family.
Standing in for DOT Secretary Wanda Teo, the Tourism Promotions Board’s Domestic Promotions Department head Susan del Mundo, provided potential visitors among the audience with a rundown of current and planned tourism-boosting projects that will enhance their stay in the country.
For more information about the recently concluded Fiesta In America, log-on to www.fiestainamerica.com or visit the event’s Facebook page.
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