"Passion for Pachanga"

From a cover story by Marty Sundval in the St. Cloud Times published Sunday, Jan 19, 2003

Mike Hasbrouck presents culture through music, teaching

Thursday night. Nine members of the Stearns County Pachanga Society take the stage, the Latin music starts and immediately the dance floor is full.

It’s a scene that has played out many Thursdays downtown since late July, the band playing to a jam-packed dance floor. The same has happened at festivals like the Earth Mother Mind Jam, or even up the North Shore at Lutsen, where people usually stop in for a quick two and leave.

Not bad results for an idea that almost never got off the ground.

The Pachanga Society is the brainchild of Mike Hasbrouck, who is an assistant professor of Spanish at St. Cloud State University.

While the performance factors vary from the classroom to the stage, his goal is the same: Enlighten and impassion about Spanish culture.

"Sometimes you see someone growing up their whole lives in Stearns County, and once in a while they’d get to the cities, but the whole time they think that’s the only way it is in the world," Hasbrouck said.

It is a facet that comes through in the band’s energy, and a fact he stresses to his students.

"He gets you so excited (about the Spanish culture) that it makes you want to study it," said Adriana Dobrzycka, a 22-year-old former student of Hasbrouck’s from Italy who was dancing last Thursday night at the Rox. "He makes it much more than learning a language. He brings in stuff about the art and the music. He gets you to see the culture in many different ways. That’s what made me want to (study Spanish). You get a feel of the culture from him, and not just the language. I’m telling you, he makes you passionate about it."

In tune

Music always has been a passion for Hasbrouck, but quite unlike his brother, lead guitarist for the Hoolies, (among many other bands).

"For me, music has always been the thing that I’ve been most interested in, but it’s not the thing that I’ve done for the most time professionally," Hasbrouck said. I was never like Mark where I was going to dedicate myself and my life to that. I didn’t have the discipline that Mark does."

Hasbrouck went to Anoka High School and later got an undergraduate degree from St. Cloud State. He would go on to earn his master’s degree and his coursework for his doctorate in Spanish at Penn State. While always working full time, he finished his dissertation in four years, earning his doctorate degree in 1996.

Hasbrouck said the real education came from living in Spain.

"That was probably the biggest change thing of my life for sure," Hasbrouck said. "You go abroad for a long period of time and it is a mind-opening experience like you can’t imagine. Suddenly, you have a whole different way of perceiving the world culturally. You see that the way we’ve seen it our whole lives as Americans. There’s a whole different way to look at the world, another whole perspective that a whole group of people has. You see things that you think are better, you like more, or less, than your regular culture, and you get this understanding that things can be completely different.

"You just have to accept that there is a difference, because if you didn’t, you would hate it," Hasbrouck said. "But to accept it, it can be absolutely fantastic to explore the different stuff."

Hasbrouck teaches a culture class at St. Cloud State and makes music a part of that curriculum.

"When students start learning Spanish, they need something that really interests them, and then it makes all their learning meaningful," Hasbrouck said. "It makes them want to learn the language because something’s cool about it now, not just learning the wording and the grammar rules."

"It’s cool. He plays music in his class, music from the particular country that we’re studying," said Yoko Honda, a Spanish major from Japan who has been to several Pachanga Society shows. "In Japan, we never hear music played like this. It makes you feel like dancing."

‘Whoop it up’

One year, Hasbrouck was in Spain on a university grant. He went to the Fiestas of Santiago. And he had an idea. The way Hasbrouck describes it, at the fiestas there are charanga groups, small wandering musical groups, who play.

"They’re kind of amateurish, but the people would all whoop it up to the music," Hasbrouck said. "And I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have a group where you would just go out in a setting like this and play and everybody would whoop it up and have a great time."

"As I got into listening to more and more music, I thought people would love this," Hasbrouck said. "This was a long time I was telling people this."

Initially, the idea was met with a zero on the enthusiasm meter from many, though a few thought it would be a fun thing.

Where art thou?

The idea to start a local band that played Spanish and Latin music was in Hasbrouck’s mind for some time, but only Hoolies’ drummer Brian Heying seemed ready to go with the idea.

"Mark was skeptical," Hasbrouck said of his brother. "I kept saying ‘C’mon, it’ll be great!’ If there’s a group that has Brian and Mark in it, then we can do these tunes and the level of the music would be good and it would make music people would like."

But …

"For a long time, it seemed like nothing was going to happen," Hasbrouck said. "(Early this summer) the Hoolies weren’t playing much. And people could use the cash, so I went and talked to Dave Copa (at the Tavern on Germain) about doing a gig, and this was before I even approached Brian and Mark. I said the only people who would be there for sure would be me, Mark and Brian and there might be some other people. Want to try it three times and see how it works?"

Five players took the stage that first Pachanga night in July: the two Hasbroucks, Heying, keyboardist Jim Feia and percussionist Stacy Bauer, who did not practice with the band prior to the first gig.

"Stacy was great. She just said get the gig and I’ll be there," Hasbrouck said.

A few weeks went by and several ears had been caught by the music. Then Lalo Quillo joined the band. And things haven’t been the same since.

The new guy

Quillo grew up in Cuzco, Peru, but lives in Long Prairie. He met Hasbrouck because their children went to the same school.

"One day we invited Mike and his family to a birthday party and he saw me playing," Quillo said. "I was (excited) to get a chance to do this. This is a music that people can share and have a unique experience with."

With Quillo on native and pan flute, as well as lending vocals and rhythms, the music took on a whole different feel. Instead of just trying to duplicate the notes, here was someone that had been playing this music for 15 years.

"I remember that first night. We were playing ‘La Negra Celina’ and Lalo had never played with us before," Hasbrouck said. "He came up on that tune and he knew it from playing that his whole life. Then we played ‘Guantanamera’ and he comes up again and he knows that, too, and I’m like ‘Whoa! This is so cool.’"

That was in August. Soon, many members of St. Cloud’s Latino community would attend the shows. And then many international students from St. Cloud State also would also join the mix, making for perhaps the most ethnically diverse crowd to regularly gather in the area.

"What I really like is when members of the Hispanic community come, and the foreign students come and that makes me happy. I like it because here’s students from another part of the world here at a place where ordinarily you could not find this. And they’re into it," Hasbrouck said. "And the Latinos from the community mix who come on a regular basis who blend in with the other cultures .. man, that’s great."

Monica Segura came to St. Cloud from Bogota, Colombia, and has been here a year and a half. She has become a regular at Pachanga shows.

"When you come from a different country, you miss some things. One of the things I missed most was the music," Segura said. "When I first heard (them) play this, it was a filling of my soul. My heart just filled. I almost cried.

"They sometimes play music from Colombia, and play really old songs, too, that I remember from my parents … the happiness this brings me," Segura said. "This music is a part of my culture."

And for Hasbrouck, too.

"The one thing I was worried about was the Latino community thinking the music was kind of cheesy or something, but when they came and liked it, I was so happy," Hasbrouck said. "Not everyone who comes says ‘we have to go every week,’ but many come and have a good time.

"I really like when people get turned on by Spanish culture. The good thing is now I see a good number of my students at (the Pachanga) shows, and I never tell them, I never tell them in a class that I’m in this band, unless they ask," Hasbrouck said. "But to see them get into it, that’s great."