Ajijic, as most of our readers know, is a mere spit of land, a sliver in the giant glassy blue palm of Lake Chapala.
And yet, through the industry of a few enterprising souls, this sleepy little settlement has hosted – for the last 16 years – a classical and jazz festival whose import and weight belie its unassuming setting.
Started in 2002 as a way for professional classical violinist Chris Wilshere – whose parents had recently moved to Ajijic – to lure his musician friends from his native Canada to the placid shores of Lake Chapala for two weeks of music and bonhomie, the annual Northern Lights Music Festival has grown considerably in scope since that time.
But perhaps due to the fact that the festival’s founder and chief organizer is a 39-year-old musician, one who is often personally acquainted with his talented invitees, the event seems to have maintained – in part thanks to the lakeside setting – the atmosphere of a summer camp for grown-ups, or a family reunion.
In some ways, the festival’s evolution has paralleled that of Ajijic, although some longtime residents would balk, possibly, at characterizing the changes the town has gone through in the past decade or two (or three to six, depending on the resident) as “evolution.” In any case, at least part of the impetus behind the festival’s creation, according to Wilshere, was to give himself something to do in a town where not a lot was happening, at least not for a man in his early 20s.
“I was frankly bored,” said Wilshere reflectively, who had just finished playing a program of Franck and Debussy sonatas with CDMX pianist Manuel de la Flor. The afternoon concert was held at the Wilshere home, a sprawling property within a stone’s throw of the reedy, lakeshore. We talked about the festival’s genesis over brisket and caesar salad in the rambling back patio, a malty lake breeze ruffling the hair of the small collection of friends and family who had stuck around after the show.