News Column

Bands honor late drummer at ?Gordo Fest? at Merced County Fairgrounds

December 6, 2013


Dec. 06--MERCED -- Twelve local bands, ranging from reggae to rap, came together with Golden Valley High's drum line last Saturday night for an all-ages concert.

Gordo Fest 2013 brought more than 250 people out to Yosemite Hall at the Merced County Fairgrounds to raise money for a scholarship fund for students who want a music education, and to remember a dear friend, brother and son whose soul was full of love and music.

Manuel Steven Chavez died suddenly from heart failure just over a year ago, at the age of 26. A talented drummer and musician who loved all types of music, "Gordo" (a family nickname) left an impression on all that knew him.

With his band, Skeleton Radio, Chavez frequently played at festivals and bars. "The main thing about my son is that he loved the music," said his mother, Leticia Chavez. "All of his friends were musicians, or in this scene. They were always jamming, no matter where it was, a house party or somebody's garage ? mostly our garage."

Gordo Chavez's brother, Jacob Chavez, described him as someone who was always happy and loved to crack a joke. "The music that everybody knows him by ? that's what is going to keep everybody close to him, and the memories they've had with him," he said.

His father, Manny Chavez, said they wanted to keep Gordo's memory alive by having a music festival to raise scholarship funds for aspiring music students. "His dream was to go to a musicians institute in L.A., but we never had the money to send him," he said. "(Gordo's mother) figured in his memory we could try to raise a scholarship to send somebody."

A 2004 graduate of Golden Valley, Chavez was a 4-year drum line member for the distinguished Cardinal Regime band. His former drum instructor from junior high, Jacob Mercado, was at the festival leading the current Regime drum line in its memorial performance for Chavez.

Mercado recalled Chavez's first band competition, where he tripped and fell on his drum. Despite being shaken up and having busted his lip, Chavez continued to play.

"From there on out, I just saw the potential he had, and how much he had a passion for music," said Mercado. "He wasn't a quitter. He just had a huge heart and never gave up."

In a special tribute, Chavez's Skeleton Radio band mates, guitarist Branden Frade and bassist Anthony Perales, took the stage alongside Chavez's drum set, and played with the drum track that Chavez recorded for the album they were working on when he died.

"It feels good, but strange at the same time. It's not the same," said lead singer Frade, who wrote and composed the music with Chavez, about playing without the drummer whom he called his best friend.

He added that playing the Yosemite Hall stage with Chavez's drum track was "kind of nostalgic because this was our last show that we played on this stage. Definitely a fitting farewell."

Money for the scholarship fund was raised through festival tickets, a raffle and bake sales. The Chavez family said they want to make the festival a yearly occurrence. For this year's fest they hoped to raise enough money to cover expenses and start the scholarship fund. "It's crazy ? out of nowhere people just showed up," said Manny Chavez.

"As soon as we started planning this, bands were just wanting to play. We didn't have enough room for all of them. So next year hopefully it will be bigger and better," said Leticia Chavez.


(c)2013 the Merced Sun-Star (Merced, Calif.)

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