Let me give you a little background here. When we first arrived to DR, our new friends, in finding out I was Cuban, beamed with excitement to tell me about the free music event on Sunday evenings in the Colonial Zone. Of course Husband and I wanted to go… but Sundays? For a teacher? Like Kryptonite to Superman. So for five years, we have attempted to go when we had a Monday off and for five years, for one reason or another, our plans have been foiled. Five years of planning also means five years of building up expectations. Five years of high hopes. So when we finally went this past Sunday, we knew it had to be amazing otherwise we would be majorly disappointed. I could say now on the other end, with complete confidence, that if you are visiting Santo Domingo on a Sunday evening, you cannot miss Grupo Bonye in the Colonial Zone. Actually, if you’re visiting Santo Domingo, schedule your trip around being there on a Sunday just to attend this free, open air concert.
I had heard to arrive early (“starts at 6”) otherwise you wouldn’t snag a seat. Lucky for us we still run on American time while the country runs on Dominican time. We arrived at 5:45 to this:
And although seats were “reservado” with plain cardboard signs written in pen, surely we didn’t have to get here so early. On the optimistic side, being early has its benefits. A waitress was quick to take our order. “Un jumbo, for favor,” we ordered and then promptly answered what we knew would be her next question, “Light.” Within moments we were pouring a cold Presidente Light into 4 plastic cups. A few moments later, a middle-aged woman came by with a tub of empanadas de pollo. We weren’t hungry but who turns down 10 peso empanadas. Not I. Not my family.
We waited. The band was also running on Dominican time but with a set up this sweet, the waiting came easy. Slowly the ruins began to fill up. And fill up. And fill up. I guess surely we do have to get here early because by the time the band started the chairs were all taken, people were standing along the wall that had once been empty, every inch of grass space on the hill was filled, and people were sitting on the wall and in adjacent restaurants. I read that this event on some evenings could pull in 2000 guests. I wouldn’t have believed it before, but I believe it now.
When the band started, it didn’t take the completion of even one song before the dance floor was packed and people were dancing in the aisles. Locals and tourists brushed up against each other, bonded by their love of salsa, son, and merengue. Taking part in this evening puts you front and center of what it really means to be Dominican, what it really means to experience the Dominican Republic in its fullest flavor. When the band would proudly sing this country’s name everyone hollered, a hollering that sunk into your bones, a hollering that made you wish you were Dominican too. I had to hold my emotions back a few times because I understood that pride. This country is a part of me. This country is in me. It runs in my veins and the veins of my kids that were born here.
TIPS FOR GOING TO GRUPO BONYE IN THE COLONIAL ZONE
Get there earlier than 6. (5:15-5:30 is probably a good time.)
Bring your own cooler. While you could buy beer there and avoid some of the hassle of bringing your own stuff, bringing your own is totally allowed and most likely cheaper.
If you are going to buy beer there, know that they charge a “table” fee. I’m sure this is hit or miss and probably avoidable in some cases and pretty inexpensive anyway.
If you are planning to dance, sit closer to the stage. We avoided it because normally in DR the speakers are huge and loud, but here they were huge and just the right amount of loud.
You can bring kids. Plenty of people did. But if you have the option, make this an adult’s evening.
Find the empanada lady.