Drama and Music at Viña del Mar 2024: The Hosts of Latin Music’s Biggest Festival Are Ready for Everything

Tonight (Sunday, Feb. 25) is the kick-off of Latin music’s longest-running and most-watched music festival. More than 200 million people are expected to watch the television broadcast of the Viña del Mar Song Festival, which celebrates its 63rd year (uninterrupted, save for two years of Covid-19 shutdown) with performances by global music stars.

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Alejandro Sanz and Manuel Turizo will open the festival at the Quinta Vergara Amphitheater tonight. Then, the week continues with Andrea Bocelli and his son Matteo Bocelli on Monday, Feb. 26 (with Miranda! as the second act); Maná and Men at Work on Feb. 27; Mora and Anitta on Feb. 29; a night devoted to Chilean artists with Los Bunkers and Young Cister on March 1; and for the finale on Feb. 2, Maria Becerra, who took the place of Peso Pluma after the Mexican artist canceled his Latin American tour last week. Trueno will be the second artist of the night.

Although the artists, international and folk competitions, and comedy sets are the main attraction of the festival, the backbone is its hosts. Chileans María Luisa Godoy — who returns for the fourth consecutive year — and Francisco Saavedra, have the titanic task of literally “conducting” the festival six nights in a row, in marathon six-hour plus evenings. Saavedra and Godoy, both veteran journalists, presenters and commentators, not only host and introduce throughout the evening, but they must navigate the subtleties of many artists (and new artists who come to compete), comedians and the live audience at Quinta Vergara, known as “the monster” for their active involvement in what happens on the stage.

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This year, Godoy and Saavedra also have an additional challenge, as the city of Viña del Mar was severely affected at the beginning of the month by fires that left more than 120 people dead and more than 15,000 homes destroyed.

Just hours before they go on stage, we spoke with Godoy and Saavedra about what it takes to prepare to host the largest festival in the world.

The Viña del Mar Song Festival has been celebrated for almost 70 years. What is different this year?

Francisco Saavedra: It’s different because a tragedy occurred in Viña del Mar, more than 100 people died and there are many places that are badly damaged. Therefore, the festival took on a supportive tone. Throughout our broadcast, a QR code will be displayed from where everyone can donate for the reconstruction of Viña del Mar.

María Luisa Godoy: It’s a wounded city, and we want all of Latin America to help us in this reconstruction. Therefore, the more than 200 million people who watch the Viña Festival hope that you will collaborate with us. At the amphitheater we have a booth for donations, and also, we aim to heal with music, with entertainment.

How do these facts change your work as hosts?

Saavedra: We’d been rehearsing for eight months, and we had to change the tone of what we were going to say. The artist introductions remain the same, but empathy is what changes the tone of the scripts. We had to re-study.

Godoy: The first night is the big challenge, because it sets the tone. So much so, that we even changed the outside [Godoy will wear a white pantsuit, Saavedra will wear all black]. The festival has always started with a party, and the outfits were flashier, but we’re striking a more sober note out of respect.

This is not a normal hosting job. Literally everyone in Chile — nearly 90% of the population –watches this show at some point. How do you prepare?

Saavedra: There is purely editorial work. We had 18 rehearsals inisde a television studio where the producers gave us all sorts of prompts of what could happen: applause, booing, the teleprompter cutting out, delays. They wanted to see our ability to improvise. You know that the audience in Viña del Mar is very different from other countries. They like to participate, and they’re very radical. If they don’t like something, they’re ruthless. So one has to be prepared for that.

Godoy: It is the largest festival in the world. There are six nights, where there are two artists who sing, plus the competition, plus the comedian. So it forces us to learn the biography of each person in order to present them in the best possible way. And part of the identity of this festival is that it has the “monster.” And the monster is very unique. It’s an audience that can literally eat the artist who is on stage.

In your three years at the Festival, María Luisa, what moment stands out?

Godoy: There was a particularly difficult festival in 2020, during the country’s period of social unrest. They even put up barricades around the venue, and it was difficult for artists to get there. The opening artists couldn’t come because crowds were setting cars on fire outside the hotel and wouldn’t let them pass. And I want to tell you about Ricky Martin who saved the festival in 2020. Every night, we weren’t sure if we would have a show or not. When Ricky came to the venue, he had to lie down inside his SUV because protesters were throwing stones at the cars, not even knowing who was inside. Every international artist started calling Ricky to ask what the situation was. And Ricky, such a good and generous person, completely calmed everyone down, put them at ease, and helped the festival take place.

Saavedra: A similar thing that happened with Alejandro Sanz this year. He went to see some of the people who lost their homes in the fires. It was very emotional.

Francisco, it’s your first year. Did you long to do this?

Saavedra: I think it is the most important festival in Latin America, and for any Chilean television host being in Viña is a very important step in your career. You are seen by audiences from all over the world. You cross borders. To live up to this we’ve been studying and working. It’s a dream for me since I was little. Now being able to fulfill it excites me deeply.

María Luisa, and you? How did the opportunity come to you?

Godoy: It was a surprise because my career was in political journalism, so it was never something I thought I could do. It’s not the kind of thing you can say no to because it is like wearing the Chilean T-shirt for the world. It has simply been the most important thing that has happened in my professional career.

You are a mother of five children. How do you balance such a complex job with motherhood?

Godoy: As a mother, I can’t move without my puppies. I have from 1-year-old to a 10-year-old and they are all here with me. What makes me most happy is being with them and fighting for women. Ever since i hosted Viña while I was pregnant — there had never been a pregnant woman [as a host] — I always said, my dream is to ensure that having children is not an impediment to working, and that working is not an impediment to having children for a woman who wants a child. You have to break down barriers. Motherhood can be made compatible with work.

Pancho, you are also breaking parameters as a gay man with two children. Your little one is just months old…

Saavedra: Absolutely. My daughter Laura and my son Emilio and my husband are here. It is the first time, I believe, in these 63 years that Viña del Mar has been, [that it] has had [an openly gay host] and it has to do with the evolution of the world and how minds are opening. There is a lot of homophobia in the world. This is a great step forward. And the only thing I have received on the street is affection, love and empathy. Being able to do an interview and talk about my husband and my children, and not raise an eyebrow, is a huge step in the right direction.

The Viña del Mar Song Festival can be seen outside Chile on streaming platform Star+.

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