Carlos Olmeda was set to compete, all he got was a Red Vine.
This is the first year the Del Mar Fair staged “Cantautor Latino,” a contest that awarded $6000 to the top three artists who turned in the “best solo performance of an original song in Spanish.” First place won $3000, second won $2000, and third got $1000.
First place went to Oscar Muñoz of Chula Vista. Possibly the most recognized participant in the contest was Carlos Olmeda, who has supplied Spanish tunes to Jason Mraz, the Gypsy Kings, and Jewel/Steve Poltz. A mainstay of the local scene for about ten years, Olmeda has released five albums.
Olmeda was informed by contest coordinator Nelly Cervantes that his song “Mi Casa Es Su Casa” made him a top-ten finalist. Those ten artists were asked to play a 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. showcase at the fair on June 17. After that show, the top three would be chosen by a panel of judges.
Olmeda works as a part-time holistic health practitioner. Because “funds were limited this year,” he was “thrilled” that Cervantes gave him the last slot (3:50 p.m.), so he would lose as little work as possible. “She said she was glad to do it.... I told her that I would try to arrange it so that I was there by 3 p.m.
“In the subsequent days, she informed me in no uncertain terms that I would have to arrive at the special-events trailer no later than 2:45 p.m.”
Olmeda says that Cervantes told him she would provide a golf cart to take him and his equipment to the performance area, but he needed to be there by 2:45. “She said, ‘I’ll meet you there.’ I thought that was great because that would give me an hour to be ready for my 3:50 slot.... I called my brother Toca [who backs Jason Mraz as a percussionist and was planning to back his brother for this show] and said that I still had a shot and could he come down to City Heights to rehearse. He was gracious enough to come from Escondido two times.”
Olmeda says he and Toca arrived at the special-events trailer at 2:35, ten minutes early.
“The nice administrator behind the desk was kind enough to call Ms. Cervantes. The nice administrator said, ‘Ms. Cervantes says the contest was over. I’m sorry.’ I calmly said to the nice lady the director of the event gave me specific instructions to be standing in front of you no later than 2:45. I asked to speak on the phone with Ms. Cervantes.” Olmeda eventually got to speak with Cervantes. Olmeda recounted what Cervantes told him. “‘I’m so sorry, the contest is over. The last person finished at 2:40. But if you want, right after the awards ceremony, you can play.’ All I could hear in my head was, If you want, you can sing a song about love between all the Latin cultures and the human race, right after I stabbed you in the back. The next five minutes was like having a terrible nightmare and knowing that for many simple reasons, I couldn’t scream. I told her, ‘But, Nelly, you said specifically to be at the trailer no later than...’ Then she said, ‘Oh, we were going to disqualify you anyway because a woman who works for the fair and had a fair identification said she was your mother.’ I said, ‘Nelly, my mother passed away in 1997.’ Nelly just kept repeating her previous line, including the story of my mother’s ghost.”
Olmeda says all he wanted was his promised chance to perform.
“I handed the phone back to the nice administrator lady who walked away without a word. The other nice administrator smiled and offered me one of her Red Vine licorice whips.
“Why didn’t someone take down any info about the ghost of my deceased mother? What is this employee’s name?”
Good question. But no answers. Numerous calls to Cervantes, Luis Valdivia (director of marketing), and Linda Zweig (media director) were not returned.
Olmeda said Valdivia eventually contacted him and admitted that giving him a 3:50 set time was a mistake. According to Olmeda, Cervantes told Valdivia that she told him to be there at 2:30, not 2:45. “Mr. Valdivia said that although the ghost story was a miscommunication, there was no malice intended and that, to the contrary, she was doing me a favor the whole time. I would have preferred she tell me that anyone who showed up after 1:30 stood the chance of not playing.”