Close to midnight on a recent Saturday, some tired commuters exiting the Wonderland T station were visibly startled to see a small line of clubgoers getting ready to start their evening. The Congas Room of the Oceanside Events Center in Revere was filling up with a young, mostly Central American crowd in tight clothes and partying to the electro beats of a reggaeton soundtrack provided by DJ Archy. The music switched to Dominican bachata, and the dancers quickly coupled up.
Downstairs, in Oceanside’s larger ballroom, the crowd was older and more formally dressed, and the tempo was much slower, as two prominent Haitian compas bands, dISIP and Zenglen, took to the stage.
Before COVID-19, such a night was common at Oceanside, which was previously known as Club Lido, and, for much of the last century, the Wonderland Ballroom. Over the years the three-room club has featured everything from wrestling matches to big bands. In more recent years Oceanside has been the Boston home to touring artists from the Caribbean and Latin America — “music from anywhere south of Miami, you’ll find it here,” says operations manager Taras Hrabec.
When the state lifted pandemic restrictions at the end of May, Oceanside was a vaccine site that at its peak saw hundreds of shots administered daily. Now it’s roaring back to life as a live music venue, with shows slated this summer by the likes of Iranian violinist Bijan Mortazavi (July 31), compas from Klass and Oswald (Aug. 7), a pairing of the Mexican-American band Montéz de Durango and the Colombian cumbia act Sonora Dinamita (Aug. 13), and Venezuelan salsero Oscar D’León (Sept. 19). A Colombian double bill of Fonseca and Andrés Cepeda play the 1,100-capacity downstairs ballroom Aug. 20, the night after the singers appear at the FTX Arena, the home of the Miami Heat.
Oceanside isn’t the only venue for international music that is reopening its doors. The William E. Reed Auditorium in Dorchester has a Caribbean Carnival lineup that includes Jamaica’s Teejay Aug. 21 and St. Vincent soca star Skinny Fabulous Aug. 28. Brazilian duos Jorge e Mateus and Zé Neto e Cristiano are slated to play at Campanelli Stadium in Brockton Sept. 5.
“Since we’ve reopened the nights have been very successful — Latinos are itching to come back and dance to bachata,” Oceanside booking manager Mauricio Rocha says with a laugh. Both Rocha and Haitian music promoter Picard Thelasco say the club became the preferred choice for the independent Latin and Caribbean promoters who rent the hall because most of the other rooms its size are booked by entertainment behemoths LiveNation and AEG, which are unlikely to be interested in the kinds of acts that have to be micro-marketed to specific immigrant communities.
Thelasco has produced events at Royale, which like Oceanside is owned by Boston club magnate Lou Delpidio. “But the parking is much easier at Oceanside than it is in downtown Boston,” Thelasco says. “Even though about 65 percent of the Haitian community in Boston lives south — from Dorchester to Brockton — they’ll drive to Revere.”
Rocha promoted Oceanside shows by Bad Bunny and Nicky Jam before they became arena acts. He sometimes encounters Latin music stars who are reluctant to play a suburban venue. “They say BU kids won’t cross the Tobin Bridge. We have acts that cater to hard-working, blue-collar Latinos. But now we’re also expanding into acts with more of a middle-class following,” he says.
Thelasco uses social media and announcements in WhatsApp groups to spread the word about his shows. But he also makes sure that Haitian beauty salons, barber shops, and markets have posters and tickets.
Mexican bands are a mainstay at Oceanside, even though “the Mexican audience is very small,” says Rocha. “The number one consumer today of tickets is the Salvadoran community, and they buy Mexican music and reggaeton. When I’m deciding on an act, I ask my Salvadoran friends if they like it.”
On Feb. 23, 2020, Oceanside was packed for the annual appearance by the famed Mexican-American band Los Tigres del Norte. A few weeks later, its doors were closed due to the pandemic.
One challenge that remains is getting bands into the country while COVID still rages around the world. Brazilian music, long a staple of Oceanside, made its return last month with samba singer Xanddy. But the Orlando resident appeared without his longtime Brazil-based bandmates Harmonia do Samba.
Thelasco says many of the top compas bands are now based in Florida or New York, so they can easily come to Boston. Those based in Haiti are still waiting on visas.
Some are still not ready to dance the night away in a crowded indoor venue. Thelasco, whose Classic 1804 Entertainment outfit is named for the year Haiti won its independence, noticed his recent Oceanside show with the band Vayb did better than the Zenglen/dISIP show. “Zenglen and dISIP get more of an older crowd. Instead of 1,000 people I only had 600 or 700, because people in that age bracket are more concerned about coming out. Vayb draw younger people who are more open to coming out right now.”
As she entered the Xanddy event, concertgoer Natalie Prada said in Portuguese that she was coming not because of the headliner, “but to enjoy the people and enjoy the night.” Xanddy, whose show included confetti blasts and Carnival dancers, didn’t spend a lot of time referencing the ongoing pandemic in Brazil, which has left him only able to perform abroad.
“There’s a lot of suffering right now,” he said, “but tonight we are here to celebrate.”