Photo Credits : Justin Courter
Entering its sixth year as Nicaragua’s premier music and sustainability festival, and the only one of its kind, this year’s Pitaya returns to Playa Hermosa on March 15th – bringing romping and raging, fun-in-the-sun, and full moon festivities for locals and tourists of all ages. Pitaya Fest will transform the community of El Carizal into a rock n’ roll haven complete with national and international live music, a selection of cooperatives spanning Nicaragua from Ostional to Managua and a variety of specialty cuisines from your favorite restaurants in San Juan del Sur.
What is Pitaya Fest?
Pitaya Fest is a full moon festival featuring live music, local art and delicious cuisine annually in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. The festival is a fundraiser for a San Juan del Sur based non-profit called the Casa Llanta Fund.
The History of the Festival
The first festival took place in February 2009 with the aim of promoting local musicians and artisans, increasing environmental awareness and raising money to start English classes in the community of El Carizal.
The “Earthship Pitaya Festival”, as it was originally named, was staged at the site of a completely off grid house built out of recycled materials called an Earthship, or locally known as Casa Llanta (house of tires). It is from this marvel of a structure that the festival historically attributes its birth name and inspiration for celebrating sustainability.
In 2013 the festival site moved down the road to the beachfront backdrop of Playa Hermosa where it could jointly host a surf contest and music festival. The move also coincided with the shortening of its name to what it is today: “Pitaya Fest”.
Why the name Pitaya?
Pitaya is a dragon fruit native to Nicaragua. The fruit grows on a cactus and harvests in the rainy season – unfortunately the rainy season proves obvious obstacles for hosting a music festival. Local legends tell us that the pitaya cactus produces beautiful flowers which only bloom on a full moon. The Pitaya Fest has always been planned around the full moon in hopes of witnessing this natural phenomenon.
The History of the Music
The first festival was originally made possible by a beach front music bar named El Coquito. The music bar was owned and operated by expats James & Monica Sedgwick. Every night the bar would play host to musicians from around the country or just traveling through. It also served as a location to meet and contract musical artists throughout Nicaragua.
Early festivals included Nicaraguan bands such as Amalgama (Leon), Son de Oriente (Rivas), Don Bigote y Los Pobrecitos (San Juan del Sur) and international artists willing to volunteer their musical talent such as members of the The Harlequins (Santa Barbara, USA), Matty Powell (Canada), and DJ Johnny G (the Caribbean).
As momentum grew over the years and sponsors such as PitayaPlus, Claro, Quiksilver and Martin Guitar signed up to give support, the festival grew to include national sensations such as Run Dun Crew / Bluefields Sound System (Bluefields), Division Urbana, Cables Paleo, Liquidiamond, Milly Majuc (Managua) and international bands such as Ojo de Buey and Octopi (Costa Rica).
The most notable Pitaya Festival performing artists include 424, voted MTV’s best band for alternative rock in Central America in 2010 and a guest appearance from the Costa Rican sensation Debi Nova, a Grammy artist with the #1 dance hit single ‘Drummer Boy’ in 2013.
More than Just Music
While there is little doubt that it’s the music that draws the crowds to the festival year after year, the quality artisans should not go unnoticed. The festival features a variety of local art and handmade products including custom made guitars from Masaya, hand woven clothing, purses and beaded jewelry made from recycled materials from around the country, colorful handmade headbands, LIFE out of the BOX inspirational bracelets, dried fruit and frozen pitaya pulp from PitayaPlus and bottles of speciality jam made by the co-op women in the Condimentos del Carizal.
Sips and Bites
Experience has taught us to come hungry. The food court is filled with an array of local specialty foods from vegetarian calzones from Pan de Vida to burgers from Big Wave Dave’s. Every year the food vendors go all out to provide baked delicacies only available at the festival ground. The beer garden will be serving ice cold Tona and Victoria beers. The Flor de Cana will be flowing.
What is Pitaya Fest Raising Money for this Year?
All profits made from Pitaya Festival go directly to support local initiatives which in turn keep giving back to the community. This year, the focus is education. Here are the festival fundraising goals:
- English Classes – With funds raised from previous festivals, the Casa Llanta Fund, in partnership with Comunidad Connect, runs bi-weekly english classes at the Carlos Guzman school. The classes serve between between 15 to 60 students weekly from the communities of El Carizal, Las Delicias and Escamequita. In 2014, the projected costs to continue the english classes through the completion of the school year in 2014 is $3,600.
- Scholarships – With funds raised from previous festivals the Casa Llanta Fund, in partnership with Comunidad Connect, initiated a scholarship program for high school and university students in the community of El Carizal. In 2014, the projected costs for the Casa Llanta Fund to continue the scholarship program through the completion of the school year in 2014 is $3,580.
- Terre des Hommes – The Pitaya Festival has partnered with Terre des Hommes, an International Federation working to protect the rights of children and promote equitable development without discrimination. The federation has launched a new kickball league for girls in Managua and the program needs $227 to sponsor a girls kickball team in 2014.
Without dedicated volunteers and the generous donations of sponsors Pitaya Fest would not be possible. The 2014 Pitaya Fest sponsors include Terre des Hommes and PitayaPlus.