Commentary

Music's newly discovered territory

Originally Published: April 4, 2012
By Duff McKagan | Special to ESPN.com

We've established that this space sometimes covers the "in-between stuff" for music and sports. Today is one of those days, when I'll be offering up a little rock history lesson.

I've been following the busy sports schedule. But I got my information from rain-fogged Twitter feeds on my BlackBerry, in the dense Costa Rican rainforest.

The reason? Much like sports teams play far-flung games (like the Mariners and A's in Japan recently) and have to adjust to a different atmosphere, rock bands sometimes tour outside their comfort zone to find their fans. It's just part of the business, in music and in sports.

In the past, South America was a destination that barely registered. In the first few decades of rock and roll, pretty much no band would go all of the way down there to play. And Central America, too, might as well have been on another planet; one without British or American rock bands.

Queen was really one of the first bands to venture south. Sometime in the 1980s, Freddie Mercury & Co. took the bold step to tour Brazil and Argentina. One must say it was a bold step because, really, there was no infrastructure down there to put on monster gigs. No stages. No P.A. systems. No real promoter who could be counted on. But Queen did it, and they did it right, and thus opened up South America to bands like Judas Priest, Duran Duran and Guns N' Roses.

Yes, by the time GN'R went there for the first time in 1991, Brazil and Argentina were starting to really get it together, and Columbia, Chile, Venezuela and Paraguay were all putting in bids to bring rock shows to their countries. In turned out that rock and roll was nearly as big and beloved as soccer down in those parts of the world.

Now, these 20 years later, South America is a tried and true stop for really any band that does real tours these days. Brazil is a rising economic power, and things like graft and collusion between police and government are things that come off as archaic. Argentina is solid. Chile has a few world-class rock festivals throughout its summer. Columbia and Venezuela both have solid big-gig infrastructure. Peru, too.

But what about Central America?

South America is one hell of a long way to go from the U.S. or Europe. A flight from Madrid is 13 hours, and from Miami to Rio, flight time can be up to 10 hours. A long, long way. If you are going to Asia to play shows one has to expect to take these long flights, because, of course, there is nowhere in between to play. But South America has land above it -- Central America.

Central America, of course, has had its fair share of political turmoil. Panama had the whole Noriega thing. Nicaragua has been embattled internally for years, with violence spurred by economic and political one-sidedness. El Salvador has experienced a bit of an economic turnaround over the past 20 years, and Guatemala, too, has seen positive changes.

But of all of these countries, Costa Rica has been a sort of favorite go-to place for the rest of the world to vacation, and now Costa Rica is fast becoming a favorite stopover for rock bands, too.

April is a big month for me in a hell of a lot of ways. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing in Cleveland on April 14. An "It's So Easy (and Other Lies ...)" book reading at the Cleveland House of Blues the night before. I'm going on a tour of South America just after that, too, for 20 days. But before all of this, it was time for a couple of rock shows down here in Costa Rica this past weekend. A sort of rock and roll spring break for my wife, kids and me ... along with my band Loaded and Shadow, the old band (which he recently revisited) of Mike McCready of Pearl Jam.

This trip to Costa Rica would be a first for me, and would also serve as a great chance to see how the local infrastructure -- for getting rental Marshall amps and rental drums and whatnot -- would hold up in real time. I'd like to cut down on flight time to South America on future tours, and actually picking up more gigs on the way is just good business.

The big question, however, was: Would anybody show up? Do the ticos (slang for Costa Rica natives) like the rock music?

Answer: Yes. The proof was in the line around the block as our van pulled up to the side of the club. This is always good, when you see a "SOLD OUT" sign for two bands that no one really knows too much about. Like me checking out the scene, these ticos were just excited to get a chance to see what we were up to.

Next week? A report from Cleveland.

Michael "Duff" McKagan, a founding member of Guns N' Roses, writes a weekly column for Playbook Sounds and is a passionate sports fan. McKagan is currently playing in Loaded and Velvet Revolver, is a prolific writer, including an autobiography, "It's So Easy: And Other Lies."