Palmahia Discoteca is a cavernous concert venue and night club located in Itagui.
The venue attracts top name talent across all genres, from Latin superstars to electronic music DJ’s.
I’d been wanting to check it out for years, so when my paisa friend Alejandra alerted me to a Willie Colon concert happening June 28, I jumped at the chance to go.
A few days later, I was buying our tickets at a Ticket Express outlet at the Oviedo Mall.
Willie Colon is a salsa legend, and his ticket prices weren’t cheap. Including the ticket fee, they ran us 84,000 pesos ($44) each.
The cheapest tickets were 74,000 pesos ($38), and VIP tickets which assured you a table in front of the stage, were almost double, at about 144,000 pesos ($75).
I asked the ticket girl about the start time, and she said the doors open at 7pm, and the show started at 8pm, which was the time shown on the tickets.
Given the trouble I had at my last big concert in Medellin, I knew if we weren’t getting VIP tickets, we should arrive early to ensure a good table.
As much as we both wanted to dance the whole concert, I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the same experience you have dancing to a DJ or small band in a salsa bar.
The people there loved to dance, but when the band was performing that night, almost everyone was standing still, watching.
My Spidey senses told me if that happened in the US, it was even more likely to happen in Colombia, where venues are often stuffed with tables and chairs in an effort to make money off alcohol sales.
Alejandra and I settled on 9pm. She had a point, that even if the doors opened at 7pm, the show may not start until midnight or 1am, leaving us to sit around all night.
We arrived at Palmahia by taxi at 9:30pm, and almost immediately guys were asking if we had extra tickets. The show was a sellout–all 2,000 tickets.
Upon entering the discoteca, our jaws dropped. The entire club was already packed!
Tables were filled in all three sections, the upper balcony at the back, the general admission covering two-thirds of the floor, and the VIP section in front of the stage.
We walked toward the stage, and made it as far as a long bar that spans the width of the space, separating the VIP area in front from the general admission area in the rear.
We turned right, and cut through the crowd, who were all sitting on wooden stools around small tables.
On the right side, twenty meters behind a support beam which also held the soundboard, we found an empty table and immediately grabbed it. To my surprise, we had a clear and direct view toward the stage.
Once we were situated, Alejandra suggested Willie wouldn’t take the stage until midnight or 1am. I disagreed, suggesting 11pm.
Many of the tables already had bottles and drinks on them, but waitresses were hard to come by. I didn’t feel like trying to get drinks at the bar, so we waited, and waited, and waited until we finally got a waitresses attention.
There were no drink menus on the table, so we were flying blind. We ordered a half bottle of Medellin rum, and a Canada Dry.
Thirty minutes later, the waitress reappeared with the bottle of rum, a bottle of Coke, and two plastic cups with ice. She said they don’t have any Canada Dry, so she wanted to offer Coke instead.
Alejandra, bless her heart, suggested Sprite instead, and before I could stop her, the waitress disappeared again. I knew it’d be another long wait before my Sprite appeared.
Meanwhile, I forced myself to sip the rum straight, as I knew the chances of getting a refill on ice were slim once it melted. At least cold rum is better than warm rum!
Around 11pm, an opening act called Salsa Libre from Medellin began to perform. Four singers in black and red suits put on a lively performance, backed up by their band.
The waitress reappeared with my lonely little bottle of Sprite, barely enough for two drinks. The bill? 93,500 pesos ($49)!
This was the same bottle of rum I saw in a Panamanian grocery store the week before for $5. Neither of us even wanted to drink that much, but at least it allowed me to lighten up.
The second act was an attractive female singer in a red and black-sequined mini-skirt. She sang “la plancha” songs.
As Alejandra described it, “la plancha” means “iron” in Spanish, and therefore these songs are meant to be heard by the people doing the ironing, such as housekeepers.
She also described it as drinking music–the songs were all quite sad and depressing, the kind which inspire one to drink, alone.
Finally, a few minutes before 1am, Willie Colon took the stage and began belting out salsa classic after classic. All the trouble and cost of the night fell by the wayside as his music filled the club.
The crowd, composed of families, couples, friends, and fans sang song after song, word for word. While I can’t say everyone jumped out of their seats, I sure did.
And in the little space we had by our table, Alejandra and I danced in circles.
I’m not the best with song titles, but I’d heard almost everything he performed before, and the stuff I hadn’t heard, I liked all the same.
I recorded the clips below for two of his most famous songs, Idilio and El Gran Varon.
A little after 2am, Colon and his band left the stage. I was still hoping to hear my favorite song, Talento de Television in the encore.
Five to ten minutes later, he was back, reminding us that it was June 29th, the 20th anniversary of the death of another salsa legend, Hector Lavoe.
The songs were an unexpected surprise, and made Willie Colon’s concert all the more memorable.
At the end of the night, as we walked along the highway, searching for a taxi home, the whole night felt worthwhile.
The high cost of the tickets, and rum. Our late arrival, and the lack of room to dance.
What mattered most was the music, and stage presence of a salsa superstar.
I would pay to see Willie Colon perform again any day, but next time I’ll skip the rum.