“It’s just sitting there empty,” says local reggae radio personality Makeda “Dread” Cheatom of the 1800-capacity Tijuana venue named Iguanas. “We’re coming in to reclaim it.” Iguana’s will have its first headlining show in over 15 years next February, says Cheatom, who has booked the room for her annual Bob Marley Day event.
Promoter Harlan Schiffman, who promoted most of Iguanas shows 15–20 years ago, says the owners of the building wanted it to be used every night as a bar instead of just two or three times a week as a concert venue.
“The last show there was Sepultura.” He says the unexpected closure of the venue caused him to move a 1994 Ramones show to UCSD. “After Iguana’s, it was a bar for several years, then a video arcade, then a disco.”
Schiffman says Iguanas had a rare magic to it. “You were seeing a show in a foreign country. It had a surreal design. There was a spiral staircase that dropped down into the sunken floor.” Guests could watch the bands in the pit or from two other levels. “You had the feeling you were in a palace.”
But there were problems at the palace, recalls Schiffman. “Someone would always come along and insist that money be paid or the equipment would be seized. The incidents were few, but occasionally donations had to be made.… It was always a bit of a gamble to do shows there, but now it is definitely more of a concern. The violence rate has escalated. The dynamics are…different. You have to have a visa to go down there now.”
Cheatom says one way she plans to make it safer is by having buses take fans from San Ysidro directly to the venue and then back again after the show.
“People are afraid [to promote shows in Mexico],” admits Cheatom. “You have to really know Tijuana. It’s like a jungle out there, but you just have to know what you’re doing and deal with people.” She says she will bring down a security crew from the U.S. to help with the show. “They just can’t carry guns. You have to have your own cartel,” she joked.
Cheatom thinks the recent decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana in Mexico will help the tourist industry rebound. “They are doing everything they can to turn Mexico around. Pretty soon it’s going to be like Amsterdam down there. Tourism will rise back up.”
The Bob Marley Days event at Iguanas will be February 12 and 13, 2010, and will feature Don Carlos, the Skatalites, Inner Circle, and Gondwana from Chile. The $15 tickets will be available in November at the World Beat Center in Balboa Park and D’Volada in Tijuana.