Pato Alvarez is one of the country’s biggest independent music promoters, but when he first arrived in the Bay of Plenty from Chile in 2006, all he had was a handful of English words and a keen work ethic.
WORDS JENNY RUDD PHOTOS CAROLYN HASLETT / ROBBIE HUNTER / TRACIE HEASMAN / ALEX SPODYNEIKO
“I could have stayed at home and developed a weed habit – maybe become a Playstation expert. But instead I used home detention to focus my mind and start building my business.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard those words come out of someone’s mouth before. Words pour out of Pato like water off a cliff. You have to concentrate hard. His South American accent and rapid gunfire speech make listening an active task. He tells some eye-popping stories, like the one about a scuffle after a night out, which led to home detention.
Pato Alvarez is one of the country’s biggest independent music promoters. His reggae festival, One Love, held in Tauranga on Waitangi weekend, is New Zealand’s biggest music festival. With Mitch Lowe, he jointly owns the second biggest too: the Bay Dreams electronic music festival, which was held on January 2nd at the ASB Arena. And he runs about a hundred other shows a year, in New Zealand and across the rest of the world, touring bands and DJs.
Frankly, it’s hard to keep up with the information that tumbles out of him. The first time Mat and I went out to lunch with him, we asked how he came to be a promoter. I barely touched my food or wine (unheard of) over the next hour. Listening to him was one of those ‘the good will out’ fanfares of life and colour.
His stint at home in 2013, when he could have been twiddling his thumbs and waiting for the ankle bracelet to be removed, really propelled his business forward. “Although I hate that I had put myself in a situation where I embarrassed my family and myself, I am proud that I used the time well. I was still managing acts who were coming in and playing all over the country. It gave me the opportunity to concentrate on growing my business and expanding my festivals.”
Jade Jarreau, owner of The Bahama Hut bar in Tauranga, is a good friend. “Pato has been down and out a few times in his life. Each time, everyone said, ‘That’s it, he’s finished.’ I’ve said it before, too! But he just keeps getting back up and working harder and longer to get it right. What he has achieved with One Love is what we used to talk about years ago. He always said he’d do it. People would laugh. But he did.”
BRINGING MUSIC HOME
Pato is one of my favourite cover stars ever. All of us at Team UNO. have developed crushes on him. He arrived in New Zealand in 2006 from Chile as an excitable student who wanted to surf and have fun. Today, he’s responsible for adding a huge amount to our local economy. Between the One Love and Bay Dreams festivals, nearly 40,000 people came to our city this summer, bringing their money and pouring it into our pockets; book-a-baches, cafés, shops, dairies, motels, restaurants and bars. And those festivals also raise awareness of Tauranga around the world. Some 1,500 One Love tickets were sold in overseas in Hawaii, France, Germany, Australia, Rarotonga and Fiji.
He’s not well known outside the music and events scene, although many Tauranga city councillors would be aware of him. Stuart Crosby talked warmly about Pato in his interview with us. But everyone should know his name, because he’s doing so much for our city. He’s put us on the map, musically. He has vision and charisma, and works like a Trojan. Over the new year period, he ran back-toback shows, night after night, at different venues, for a total of around 30,000 people.
He’s generous, too. Everyone we spoke to talked about how he looks after the people he works with, and others. He’s a killer negotiator but says, “I don’t want to pay too much, or too little for anything. I want to pay people what their product is worth.” He has become a great supporter of Homes of Hope, the Tauranga organisation which provides a stable home for children in foster care, keeping brothers and sisters together. In fact, whenever we meet up to talk about this feature, he wants to talk about Homes of Hope. He wants to buy them a van, and has put up half the money himself. He has been looking for someone willing to kick in the other half, and is now fundraising with the equally generous Lavina Good from Brookfield New World. His ‘hustle’ is constant, and there are many who benefit from it. For instance, he happily agreed to join the Ladies’ Long Charity Lunch committee (which we also sit on), to raise money for the Good Neighbour and Te Aranui Youth Trusts. This year the lunch will be held on November 3rd (quick plug!).
FRESH OFF THE BOAT
At the age of 19, Pato arrived in New Zealand with barely a word of English. “I had come here to travel, and started in Gisborne, for the surf. My father had given me some money to start me off, and I just partied it away. I was too proud to go back and ask for more, especially as everyone had been so impressed with me going off to travel in a country where I didn’t speak the language.
“I came to Tauranga as I’d heard there was work in the kiwifruit orchards. In 2007, I lived on the street for a month, eating a cheap loaf of bread each day. I hadn’t experienced that before, and don’t ever want to do it again. I walked round orchards at Pukehina and Te Puke, looking for work. I became really good at reading body language. I’d work out who the boss was, then I’d say my only English word, ‘Job?’ They would say ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ I would cut them off by doing the thumbs up or thumbs down sign, and that was my job interview.”
KILLER ENTREPRENEUR SPIRIT
Pato’s English improved, and he had enough money to find somewhere to live, and continue partying. “I have always loved music and festivals. In 2008, there were a whole load of bars and nightclubs in Tauranga and some pretty big, lively nights. One night, the owner of Coyote asked if I wanted to DJ on Friday nights. They’d been quiet, so we filled the bar with South Americans and called it the Latin Party. It went off. He paid me $1,000. I’d just made more in one night than a whole week picking kiwifruit. I thought I was the man!”
Pato has an instinct for spotting opportunities, and is not afraid of failure. He has so much grit. While he and his wife, Monique, were young and had a small baby, he used to buy, then sell his cars to backpackers to help make ends meet. “I knew absolutely nothing about cars, but I would buy them cheap on Trade Me, give them a really good clean, take them for a drive to make sure everything worked, get a mate at a garage to do any small repairs, then remarket them at the backpackers’ hostels.”
In 2010, Pato was walking down Harington Street and saw that Temple Bar was closed. He knew that everything was ready to go inside, so he found out who the landlord was, and phoned him in Napier. “I told him that if he filled the fridges with alcohol, I’d fill it with people. We chatted for about two hours while I tried to convince him to let me do it.” Ballsy, from someone still in the early stages of learning English, and with no money.
“The landlord said, ‘Write it all down in a business plan. Then talk to one of my tenants, Glenn Meikle, who also owns Brewers Bar, as he’s interested in Temple, too. Do that and I’ll think about it.’ I went home and stayed up all night with Monique, writing the proposal. I knew I had to do a good job so he would take me seriously. Glenn and I ended up running Temple Bar for the next two years, and expanded it to have four dance floors. We connected with Colosseum Nightclub, then changed its name to Illuminati.”
Because things were going so well with the nightclub business (Pato had also bought a bar in Rotorua called Heaven & Hell), Glenn and Pato decided to organise festivals and shows. Pato had been organising DJs to play in Temple, and had an idea of the kind of shows he wanted to do. He wanted to bring in bands and DJs from across the country, and further afield, and find bigger venues. “We decided to do a festival in Manu Bay in Raglan with a few DJs. Two weeks out, I already knew it was going to lose money, but I really wanted to do it. We had worked hard to get the licence, and I knew in my heart it was a good festival. Although it lost money, I was still happy, because I’d learnt so much. It was like a mini university to me.
“One of the DJs told me that Tiki Taane wanted to play at that Raglan festival, as his song Always On My Mind was massive. I had no way of paying him, as the festival was going to make a loss. When we met, I was honest and told him what was going on. I had no idea how much he usually charged. He said, ‘Nah man, I’ll play for free. Just sort me out a couple of rooms and some tickets, so I can bring some friends.’ He came, we had the best night and became friends. He has taught me a huge amount. The first lesson was that you can’t do charity all the time, but not everything is about money. The other thing he taught me was to always do everything well. People notice quality at a music event. And they’ll come back for more. So Tiki pretty much became the first act that I toured.”
“I realised we couldn’t keep doing shows with just Tiki, so we looked around for other bands. Tiki introduced me to P-Money, and my stable of bands and performers grew.” Pato was becoming a promoter.
“The atmosphere around reggae must be one of the best in the industry. I feel so at home with everyone involved — the musicians and the fans — and I love the music. I saw that reggae fans were not well served in New Zealand, despite it being such a well-loved genre of music. Electronic music fans were well served; that side looked pretty saturated. That’s why I started One Love in 2013.”
He’s right. Our team were at One Love shooting Pato, and we all commented on the musicians and the crowd. Goodwill and friendliness were everywhere. Many of the bands Pato had brought in were made up of dads, uncles and cousins. We spoke to Black Slate, who’d been flown in from London for the festival. They had previously been to New Zealand in the eighties, when the current lead singer, Gaven Creary, was just one-year-old. His father, Chris, had been the lead singer before him, Uncle Des plays drums, and is Gaven’s ‘sometimes guardian’ after a few too many!
Even though the event was over two days, many of the acts came on the day they weren’t performing, just to enjoy the atmosphere. Everyone smiled, ate, drank, chatted and danced together. It was an incredibly friendly backstage environment. There were no I-am-a-star egos; it was just like a family party, even though these were huge, international bands. I wasn’t the biggest reggae fan, but I’ll be going to One Love every year now. I highly recommend it.
STRAIGHT TO THE TOP
Being a promoter looks like one of the riskiest jobs ever. As you grow, the risks get bigger and bigger. By his own admission, Pato has lost some hideous amounts of money. The stress of managing so many artists must be enormous but he handles it all calmly, taking one step at a time.
One Bay Dreams headliner was Yelawolf, an America rapper who has been to rehab for alcoholism, and who, days before Bay Dreams, was admitted to a psychiatric ward. He had just cancelled his up-and-coming American tour, but Pato and Mitch ensured he came over by working closely with his management team.
It would appear that Bay Dreams was probably Australian group Sticky Fingers’s last show for a while. Lead singer Dylan Frost is struggling with addiction problems. But thanks to a strong relationship with the band and their management, Pato and Mitch’s team ensured these two huge acts arrived, performed, and loved it.
I feel for those two men with problems. But from Pato’s perspective, I can’t imagine managing the mental fragility of his performers…Will they actually turn up, what they might do at the event, and how will 18,000 festival goers react to something going wrong?
By building a reputation for paying bands and DJs well, and for running slick shows, Pato has started to get calls direct from American promoters. New Zealand has traditionally taken a backseat to Australia. An American band will come to our side of the globe primarily to tour Australia, with New Zealand dates tacked on at the end as an afterthought. Pato wanted to go direct and get great acts, show them a brilliant time in New Zealand and build good relationships. His reputation precedes him, and he’s been bringing over some crackers. The Ja Rule, Ashanti and Chingy gig, the night before New Year’s Eve outside Rising Tide, was huge. He’s bringing Boney M (yay!!!) to New Zealand. They’ll be playing all over the country, including the ASB Arena in Tauranga on June 10th.
EVERYONE PLAYS THEIR ROLE
“Attitude is everything at festivals,” Pato says. “Even if I’m feeling worried or annoyed, I work hard to make sure I am conveying love and happiness to everyone at my events. And I expect everyone to treat everybody else with respect, no matter who they are. On the first day of One Love, I gathered my security team and said to them, ‘How you treat people will determine how they behave. If someone asks where the toilets are or how they can find water, smile at them. Speak kindly. Even if you have to say it numerous times all day.’ It’s so important to me that people have a great time.”
Similarly, Pato has a strong ethos of equality. “Everyone is treated with the same respect when they work for me. The person cleaning the toilets and the headline act are all there for the same reason: to put on a great show for the 20,000 people who have bought tickets and want to have a good time.”
That’s what really sets Pato’s shows apart. He and his core team of Jade Bennett, Moe Coffey and Ranui Samuels, work hard to produce something they can be proud of.
“It doesn’t matter what obstacles are in the way, we always deliver,” says Pato. “I love my team like family. We can all rely on each other. We spend every waking moment together over festival season, so need to be confident in each other’s abilities.”
One of the biggest enablers of Pato’s success is his wife, Moñique. They have been together for almost the entirety of Pato’s New Zealand life. They share a devotion to their two sons, 7-year-old Alexander and 15-monthold Camilo. Moñique is undoubtedly the most stable influence in Pato’s life. She is unwavering in her loyalty to him, and works hard to keep their young family spending time together, bringing the children to work for walks and dinners with daddy, while Pato works around the clock during the busy festival season.
“The main reason I work so hard is to make my sons proud of me. I call them my lions, and would love for them to be able to take over one day, running the businesses themselves.”
Although the scale of Pato’s operation has grown, he still maintains that entrepreneurial drive. “I’m developing my own range of drinks to sell at my festivals. I know what people like to drink, because I have the data from the sales. So I want to provide my own brand of drinks. I also want to start developing some of the artists coming through my shows, managing them and touring them.” Pato has recently partnered up with a local guy with vision, Josh Te Kani, to fulfill another dream: owning a radio station. “I have so much access to the music, and it will be a great way to promote both the up-and-coming artists and the established ones I’m already touring. And we can advertise One Love and other shows.” And his ambition for One Love doesn’t stop here. “I want to take it global.”
His mind doesn’t stop either. His energy is like a bubbling spring; there’s no end to it. During the entire cover shoot in Auckland, he didn’t stop working on his phone, working for us and concentrating on what we needed him to do. His love for his job shines through. You can see it in his face and hear it in his voice. You will be hearing so much more from this man with a plan.