Kaina performs to a hometown crowd at Ruido Fest in Union Park on Friday, August 20, 2021.
Kaina performs to a hometown crowd at Ruido Fest in Union Park on Friday, August 20, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Hinkel for Chicago Reader

Ruido Fest debuted in 2015 with a phenomenal lineup of Latin alternative music that’s been hard to match, with Café Tacvba, Molotov, Kinky, Ozomatli, Kali Uchis, the Nortec Collective, Chicano Batman, and dozens more. (The recent announcement of the Besame Mucho festival, scheduled for Dodger Stadium in December 2022, also sets a very high bar.) Like any such event, Ruido Fest has faced challenges—including justified criticism for its shortage of Afro-Latino artists, which compromised its ability to represent the Latin diaspora—but in the years since, it’s also continued to evolve. 

Chicago band Evil Empire, who describe their style as a mix of punk, metal, surf, and ska, perform at Ruido Fest 2021.

For its first pandemic incarnation, Ruido Fest presented virtual showcases, and in 2021 it returned to Union Park. Though other similar festivals—LatiNxt, Pilsen Fest, Fiesta del Sol—tried their best, they couldn’t compete. They either felt slapped together at the last minute, with lazy lineups, or they failed to engage audiences due to hasty, poorly executed promotion. Ruido Fest, on the other hand, pulled through in the face of 11th-hour COVID-related cancellations (Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Mexican Institute of Sound, et cetera) to deliver a diverse roster that mixed local favorites with promising bands (Margaritas Podridas, Las Nubes) and renowned veterans (Café Tacvba, Caifanes). It also continued its integration of unexpected genres by booking Bay Area singer and trumpeter La Doña—whose sound mixes mariachi, hip-hop, cumbia, reggaeton, and more—and Puerto Rican reggaeton royalty Ivy Queen. In 2021, Ruido Fest showcased the full variety of Latin alternative music better than anyone else in Chicago.

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