Baja Beach Fest, a quick sell-out with J Balvin & Ozuna, set to expand next year

Becky G is one of the 26 acts who will perform at this weekend's Baja Beach Fest in Rosarito Beach. Both days are sold out. The festival has a capacity of 30,000 per day.
(Photo by Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Becky G and Nicky Jam are also performing at this weekend’s Latin trap and reggaeton festival in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. Daily attendance is capped at 30,000.


If you missed J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s performances in April at the sold-out 2019 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, you can catch them this weekend at the second annual Baja Beach Fest in Rosarito Beach. That is, you can if you have a ticket for the two-day event, which has a daily capacity of 30,000 and sold-out in a near instant after going on sale March 5.

But Coachella and other established festivals have only recently began to add a few Latin trap and reggaeton acts. Baja Beach Fest showcases those two genres, which have crossed over into mainstream pop in a big way in the past few years. That musical focus is a savvy move by the event’s promoters, Los Angeles-based Chris Den Uijl, 32, and Rosarito-based Aaron Ampudia, 26.

The two met a few years ago in Encinitas, where Den Uijl grew up. He later attended Cal State San Marcos. Ampudia grew up in Ensenada until he was 12, then moved to San Diego and attended La Jolla High School before enrolling at the University of Arizona. Ampudia’s family owns Papas & Beer, the 4,000-capacity Rosarito Beach entertainment complex that has presented such hip-hop stars as Migos and Lil Jon.

Their performances were jointly produced by Den Uijl and Ampudia, who last year staged the first Baja Beach Fest and quickly sold it out. On Sept. 20 and 21, the two are producing the hip-hop-fueled Papas & Beer Beach Bash, which will be headlined by Tyga, YG and Migos member Quavo.

Ampudia and Den Uijl also book the three-year-old Coca Cola Flow Fest in Mexico City. That festival is staged by Mexico’s Ocesa, which was recently bought by Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert and live events producer.

The 2019 edition of Flow Fest featured Pitbull, Daddy Yankee and two performers who are in this weekend’s Baja Beach Fest lineup, Nicky Jam and Becky G. The 30,000 per day attendance for this weekend’s festival in Rosarito is double that of last year’s debut edition and the festival ground’s footprint has been expanded accordingly.

“We’ve seen how quickly the Latin trap and reggaeton market have been growing — and our fan base at Papas & Beer has been asking about it,” Den Uijl said.

“Aaron and I had talked about doing a festival on the beach in Rosarito. We’re big believers in creating inclusive and immersive events, and this festival spoke to us as one that hadn’t been done. We’ve been profitable since day one. At least 90 percent of our audience comes from the U.S. and the majority are from California. The 18-to-25-year-old demo is 70 to 80 percent of our audience.”

Chris Den Uijl, left, and Aaron Ampudia  are the co-founders of Baja Beach Fest, now in its second year. All 60,000 tickets for this year's edition in Rosarito Beach sold out in a near instant.
(Photo by Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Ampudia cites the back-to-back 2017 shows he and Den Uijl put on by Migos and YG as a major turning point.

“That really put Papas & Beer on the map,” Ampudia said. “They performed the same weekend and both sold out in a couple of days. Managers, agents and artists started looking at our venue, which they’d never considered performing at on a regular basis. Now, it’s become part of of their touring schedule.”

This year’s Baja Beach Fest is being co-headlined by Ozuna and Nicky Jam, the stage name for Boston-born reggaeton star Nick Rivera Caminero. Jam and young Los Angeles vocal star Becky G are replacing the originally scheduled Cardi B, who recently canceled a number of concert dates. (Her website still lists her Rosarito performance, but the Baja Beach Fest website does not.)

Either way, it’s likely this weekend’s event would have quickly sold out on the basis of its three headliners.

In 2018, Ozuna, J Balvin and Bad Bunny had the most viewed music videos on YouTube in any musical genre, despite the fact each performs in Spanish, not English.

Ozuna had more than 8.7 billion views last year. Balvin, who will perform Oct. 13 at North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre in Chula Vista, was close behind with 7.1 billion views. Bad Bunny had 7 billion views.

These numbers underscore how widely Latin trap and reggaeton have been embraced by mainstream pop fans, both here and abroad. On Tuesday, Bad Bunny and J Balvin were announced as two of the performers for the 2019 edition of the MTV Video Music Awards, which will air live on Aug. 26.

The success Ampudia and Den Uijl have had promoting live music events in Rosarito has helped bolster tourism in the town, which was impacted by the 2009 recession and by a decline in U.S. visitors concerned about Mexican drug cartel violence in Tijuana and other parts of the country.

Ampudia’s family owns and operates nearly a dozen venues across Baja, he said, and business has rarely been better.

“Tourism is up in Baja,” Ampudia said. “We’ve had (our) best year in 35 years.”

Beyond the music at Baja Beach Fest, Ampudia and Den Uijl have worked hard to ensure this weekend’s 18-and-up event will be safe, secure and suitably celebratory.

“From the second you get off the highway and enter Rosarito, it will be a complete festival takeover,” Den Uijl said.

“We’re using a lot of the city’s infrastructure and venues, including Papas & Beer. The main stage is just north of Papas & Beer, about a football field length or two away, on the beach. The whole thing is an immersive experience. You can walk out of hotels and restaurants and see the festival.”

Ampudia and Den Uijl cite the nine-year-old Hangout Music Festival, which is held on the beaches of Gulf Shores in Alabama, as a key inspiration for Baja Beach Fest. Their swift success with the festival in Rosarito has prompted the two to plan to make the 2020 edition a three-day affair. Additional VIP amenities are also likely.

In the meanwhile, they will continue producing the event independently, although they have collaborated on events elsewhere with the concert industry’s two biggest companies.

“Chris and I work closely with both Live Nation and AEG/Goldenvoice,” Ampudia said. “But, right now, we’re focused on growing our Rosarito event and positioning it to take our reggaeton and Latin trap festival around the world.”

Baja Beach Fest, with Ozuna, J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, Becky G and more

When: Friday and Saturday

Where: Rosarito Beach

Tickets: Sold out; after-party tickets cost $199 (general admission) and $369 (VIP); round-trip shuttle bus tickets from Tijuana cost $47.32