Monday, September 30, 2013

Conjunto in the Capital City

by Sarah Rucker

Texas Folklife just returned from our nation’s capital after having the great honor of presenting for the third time for American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series. Our first time was in 2009 when we brought legendary blues guitarist Barbara Lynn and her band from Beaumont, TX. We were invited back last year to present Los Tres Reyes, the kings of trio music and were excited to return with Grammy-award winners Los Texmaniacs this year.

Texas Folklife has known Max Baca and Los Texmaniacs for years and has collaborated many times through our Big Squeeze contest and Accordion Kings & Queens concert. Most recently we worked together to promote our new live CD of the 2012 Accordion Kings & Queens show that they headlined with Flaco Jimenez by having a release party at Austin night club, Antone’s. Travelling out of state or country with friends is always a fun experience, so we were excited to hit the road with Los Texmaniacs to Washington, D.C. Unfortunately we don’t have our own tour bus yet at Texas Folklife so we actually all flew in separately, meeting there the morning of the show.

The Homegrown Concert Series showcases traditional music from around the country and includes two free public performances by each artist in addition to an oral history style interview conducted by the presenting organization. We started the day at the beautiful Jefferson Building where the Library of Congress is housed and the first performance which was in the Coolidge Auditorium. Betsy Peterson, director of the American Folklife Center, introduced Texas Folklife which was a treat since Betsy was one of the founders of Texas Folklife. The band gave a great one hour show for many excited music fans, most of whom were spending their lunch breaks with us. Afterward, the stage was cleared of instruments and chairs and tables were put out in a talk show configuration for a video webcast interview with the band. We squeezed into a tight semi-circle and the AFC staff turned on the cameras. It was fun to do a video interview as a contrast to the audio interview we had conducted with the band the month prior. Also, we got the chance to interview newly appointed bass player, Noel Hernandez, as well as guest guitarist Willie J. Laws and longtime Texmaniacs drummer Lorenzo Martinez who weren’t able to make the San Antonio interview.  The webcast will be shared on the AFC website in a few months. We then rushed off to the second show of the day, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center hosts a free show every day of the year. This show is also webcasted live on a stream via the Kennedy Center website
After a few nervous moments right before the show when Josh’s accordion broke and we scrambled to locate a Hohner accordion in Washington, D.C. the guys were off and running with another amazing set of authentic Texas music. And at the Millennium Stage there’s room to dance!

The TXF staff didn’t have time for much sightseeing on this trip, but we were able to spend time with good friends and family. And I got a tour of the Smithsonian Folkways offices and archives. This is the room
where they package all of the orders for CDs, records, books and DVDs placed online.
Marriott Wardman ParkI also took some photos of the street art in the Adams Morgan district which included graffiti and murals.

Lastly, by chance we stayed in the very hotel my grandfather and former General Manager of the State Fair of Texas, Joseph Rucker Jr., stayed in when on business trips nearly 50 years ago! 

We’d like to thank everyone at American Folklife Center, Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Folkways and the audiences who attended these shows. We were excited to hear that Los Texmaniacs 2nd release on Smithsonian Folkways, Texas Towns and Tex-Mex Sounds, has just been nominated for a Latin Grammy. Congratulations, guys!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Handkerchief Drawings by Hispanic Inmates in Texas Prisons

 A Collection and Essay by Ed Jordan

 Paño — Spanish for "cloth" or "handkerchief," specifically one illustrated with ballpoint pen and/or colored pencil. Paños are also referred to as pañuelos, and one of my artists called them pasajes, or "passages." These are a popular form of Chicano prison illustration and are a variation of the decorated #10 envelope that originated in Southwest prisons in the early 20th century.

Designs with ballpoint pens on white handkerchiefs that the inmate has to purchase from the prison commissary are often highly detailed and complex illustrations that tell the inmate's story or visions in art, rather than words. As the Mexican culture is a visual culture for the most part, the paño prison art styles and techniques are passed down from prisoner to prisoner. In the case of the ever-popular Virgen de Guadalupe image, often a stencil is made and passed on or sold to another inmate. One of these I have seen has probably been used by several inmates to copy onto a handkerchief. The Disney characters are also copied this way and then personalized by the artist and sent to a beloved child.

Much like the images used by the Kuna Indians of Panama, the paño images are from calendars, magazines, tattoos, and a variety of other sources. They are traced onto the cloth and drawn with ballpoint pens, then often colored with colored pencils. Sometimes if the artist lacks colored pencils, the paños are stained and colored with coffee, wax crayons, shoe polish, felt-tip markers, or whatever else might be available. One artist had a great time with a lipstick, probably stolen from a female employee of that prison.

The commissary handkerchiefs are the most popular cloths to use, but if the inmate cannot afford them, bed sheets and pillow cases of similar texture are used. Please note the painstaking work on several of these examples that have fringes made one after another by hand, and then consider the time this must have taken.  

As a collector of this art form, I was told many times by the inmate artist that the paño I was expecting to receive had been confiscated in one of the many prison security crackdowns or raids. The guards would have instructions to raid the cells, and almost all materials found would be taken and destroyed as the prison employees searched for illegal contraband.  

As the art form has become more popular, the art has often become more sophisticated, and the talent inherent in many of the inmates has resulted in some amazing renderings. Many of the artists started signing their work, and museums, folk art collectors, and galleries have started collecting them.  

I did not start collecting paños until about 1994. After graduating with a B.F.A. from The University of Texas and a tour of Europe with the U.S. Army, I ended up in Dallas and became the art director of an advertising agency associated with the American Association of Advertising Agencies, where I handled the advertising for the State Fair of Texas and its many smaller entities in the 1960s and '70s. While serving as a design director and troubleshooter for a national packaging firm, I later participated in many art fairs, as well as nationwide museum and gallery shows (including 25 years exhibiting at the fabled Laguna Gloria Fiesta). In the summer of 1988, Blinn College of Brenham called to ask me to become the art instructor at their "Bastrop Campus," which they admitted was within the Federal Correctional Institution outside that city. Their current instructor was leaving for another position.

While teaching, I became aware of a new art form for me, the paño. Since I was forbidden to take anything in or out of the prison, it was only after the school closed down several years later that I was able to begin building this collection. I contacted one of my former students, Paul Young, who was by then finishing a term in a Texas prison, and asked him to look for paños for me. In addition to this collection of paños, I also amassed a large collection of Mexican folk art. Paul is responsible for most of my collection and found my best artist, Ruben Magallon, whose many paños you will see in this exhibit. I would have asked Paul and Ruben to be here to share credit for this wonderful art form and their work, but Paul died recently, and Ruben disappeared after his release from prison.

Paños/Pañuelos is on display at Texas Folklife Gallery 

August 1 - October 25, 2013

Opening Reception - Sunday, August 18, 2:00 to 4:00 PM

Commentary by Ed Jordan and Refreshments: free and open to the public

Monday, July 1, 2013

This 4th of July... polka on!

by Cristina Balli

Are you looking for something fun, different, unique, historical, and truly Texas to do this 4th of July?  Forget the beaches and lakes; head on over to central Texas and witness a perhaps little-known tradition of the Lone Star State - church polka picnics.

Some of them have been going on for over 150 years - an annual homecoming tradition for many folks with Czech, German and Polish roots and the biggest fundraiser of the year for each of these historic churches, these picnics are steeped in tradition and meaning for central Texas communities.  

St. John the Baptist Church
This year I've been driving around checking out some of these picnics and I'm only upset that I hadn't attended them before.  Some of them are a throw-back in time, like St. John the Baptist's picnic in Ammannsville that I attended earlier this June.  All these picnics have the same format - they start with a polka mass, followed by some type of fried chicken dinner (golden, kettle), live auctions (yet a whole other subject of discussion on the live auctioneers), games for the kids, drinks, snacks, and of course, live polka music.  This is where Texas polka music lives on - Mark Halata & Texavia, Czechaholics, Red Ravens, Ennis Czech Boys, Dujka Brothers, Chris Rybak, Shiner Hobo Band, Texas Sound Czech, and many more.  (I know I'm leaving out many other great bands; this is just meant to be a quick blog post.  Please bear with me...)

Ennis Czech Boys in Ammannsville
One thing I discovered about these polka church picnics is how difficult it is to find out about them if you're not plugged in to the community or know where to look.  I've found this true for most folk traditions; that's how you know it's real - you can't find it online!  I finally uncovered a series of flyers by attending St. Rose of Lima's picnic in Schulenburg, and later was told by Andy Behlen of the Schulenburg Sticker that most of the church flyers get printed at their newspaper.  I love their vintage design; I can already see an exhibit... Mark Halata told me he has an entire wall covered in them.  Maybe we'll convince him to lend us his wall to display somewhere... that would be fun.

There are some websites, however, that post notices of some of these picnics on a weekly
St. Rose of Lima, Schulenburg
basis, like, Texas Polka News, and Texas Heritage Music & Dance Club.  You can check out these sights for lots of Texas polka news in general.   

Unfortunately I won't be around for St. John's picnic on the 4th (I'll actually be at South Padre Island!  But that's close to home for me, so I have a good excuse) but I do plan on being at the following church picnics.  If anyone wants to join me and carpool from Austin let me know!

Happy 4th of July!

P.S.  some of these picnics are held entirely outside, so just be ready for the Texas heat... they do have plenty of cold drinks (beer) for sale so you won't dehydrate.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Accordion Kings & Queens 2013

24th Annual Accordion Kings & Queens is Here!
June 1st
Miller Outdoor Theatre

featuring performances by: 

The Hometown Boys

Rosie Ledet & the Zydeco Playboys

2012 Big Squeeze Champion Peter Anzaldua
and the 2013 Big Squeeze finalists with Avizo 

Saturday, June 1, 2013
6:30pm to 11:00 pm
Free and open to the public!
Miller Outdoor Theatre
6000 Hermann Park Dr, Houston, TX

Facebook Event Page

Tickets for covered seating are FREE and can be picked up the day of the show with purchase or renewal of a Texas Folklife membership.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Annual Pilgrimage...

32nd Annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio

                         by Cristina Balli
Los Dos Gilbertos 
Everyone marks their calendars a year in advance; second or third weekend in May is reserved for what has become a pilgrimage of sorts, the annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio.  Now in its 32nd year, the conjunto mega-event is hosted by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in the conjunto mecca of the world, San Antonio’s west side. 

I’ve been attending this festival since 1997 when I was a social worker at St. Peter-St. Joseph Children’s Home in San Antonio’s south side.  My sister, Cecilia, was writing her undergraduate honors thesis on Tejano music and would fly down from Stanford to do her “research.”  I was her “research assistant” and would take vacation from work to attend five straight days of “fieldwork.”  Those were the days. 

Back then I had no idea I’d one day be doing this work myself, or that I’d work closely with festival founder and organizer, Mr. Conjunto Guru himself, Juan Tejeda.  My professional path went from social worker to public radio producer in south Texas, to the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito – the other spiritual center of conjunto music – and eventually to my current post at Texas Folklife.  It’s been a beautiful journey.
Linda Escobar & Conjunto J
at Ruben's Place

But through it all there’s always been one obligatory stop in the calendar year to pay homage to the conjunto maestros, to visit with all the other pilgrims who make the trek from throughout the state, from Louisiana, California, Virginia, Chicago, Monterrey, Holland and Japan!  This is where I see friends, músicos and colegas who I may not have kept in touch with throughout the year.  I get to relax, breathe, and just revel in the music, visit San Antonio spots where the after parties brew with even more conjunto music late into the night.  I reconnect and recharge the batteries of the soul.

Thoze Guyz
Each year is unique and special and 2013 did not disappoint.  Highlights included the “New Directions in Conjunto Music” show on Thursday night, where my favorites were Thoze Guyz from Sweetwater, Texas.  Texas Folklife staff members, including Program Manager Sarah Rucker, were thrilled to see one of our Big Squeeze champions, Nachito Morales, land a coveted spot on the TCF line-up.  Nachito (only 17 years old) and his brothers Rudy (11 on bajo) and Cheke (8 on drums!), together with another Big Squeezer, Michael Lopez Ramos on bass, already recorded their first album as Los Morales Boyz and are turning heads. 

Other personal highlights included hearing some of my favorite artists – Eva Ybarra, Los Desperadoz, and a surprise appearance by Oscar Hernandez with Bene Medina.  I enjoyed reading essays by Rogelio Nuñez and Abel Salas in the festival’s magazine, Tonantzin.  I always meet great new people at the TCF, and this year that included pilgrims from Cajun country Eddie Bourque and fiddle repairer Tom Pierce, and history professor Daniel Margolies from Virginia.  The four of us discussed roots music revival movements over carnitas listening to Santiago Jimenez Jr. on Sunday morning.

Santiago Jimenez Jr. at Carnitas Uruapan
As always, it was great to see our dear friend Gilbert Reyes from Hohner Accordions and Reyes Forum, Eduardo Diaz from the Smithsonian Latino Center, Rudy Lopez from Conjunto Heritage Taller, Sheila Lee of Heritage Arts Productions, Karlos Landin from Karlitos Way Accordions, festival fixture Joe Lopez from Gallista Gallery, Lupito Acuña, Venessa Hill and Ric Vasquez shooting away on their cameras, and my amigas Linda Escobar and Chumbe Salinas who organized another great international afterparty at Ruben’s Place.  I also enjoyed seeing all the Brew Crew members support their favorite bands.  

I was grateful to my friend Alex Avila who accompanied me during the drive from Austin, although he witnessed me getting a speeding ticket!  Ugh.  A big congrats to Maricela Olguin who showcased her Sweet Chela’s deserts at the festival; I loooved that strawberry shortcake…

I leave you with a musical taste of this festival with maestros Oscar Hernandez and 
Bene Medina.  (please excuse the terrible videography; it's the music that matters...)

At the risk of leaving out anyone else who is dear to me and that I connect with at the festival, I’m including more highlights in pictures on our Facebook page.  Please visit us and “like” us!

See ya in 2014!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Help us Kickstart our Accordion Kings & Queens Live CD!

Please support our Kickstarter campaign! 

We are asking for your support in funding the completion of our first ever "Accordion Kings & Queens Live" CD.  
Pledge rewards are listed below.

The 2012 stellar lineup including Grammy award winners Mingo Saldivar, Los Texmaniacs with Max Baca and David Farias, and Flaco Jimenez. Other performers on the CD include Dora & Her Zydeco Entourage, the Ennis Czech Boys, the 2012 Big Squeeze contest finalists – Peter Anzaldua, Omar Garza, Luis Gonzalez, Michael Ramos - and the reigning 2011 contest champion, Nachito Morales with Los Morales Boyz. The CD will include special bonus tracks of the grand finale jam between Flaco, Mingo, the Texmaniacs, and the newly crowned 2012 Big Squeeze champion Peter Anzaldua. 

Pledge $5 or more
A personalized thank you note from Texas Folklife's executive director. 
Estimated delivery: Jun 2013

Pledge $15 or more
Be one of the first to receive a copy of the CD with free shipping. Estimated delivery: Jun 2013. Add $5 to ship outside the US

Pledge $35 or more

2 tickets for preferred seating at the 24th annual Accordion Kings & Queens show on June 1, 2013. PLUS: a copy of the CD with free shipping. Estimated delivery: Jun 2013.  Add $5 to ship outside the US

Pledge $60 or more
Complimentary or Renewal of Texas Folklife membership for one year PLUS: a copy of the CD and 4 tickets for preferred seating at the 24th Annual Accordion Kings & Queens show on June 1, 2013.
Estimated delivery: Jun 2013. Add $5 to ship outside the US

Pledge $100 or more
A Texas Folklife t-shirt and a copy of The Big Squeeze on DVD. PLUS: a copy of the CD, 4 tickets to Accordion Kings & Queens, and a complimentary or renewal of Texas Folklife membership. Estimated delivery: Jun 2013. Add $5 to ship outside the US

Pledge $250 or more
A thank you on our website and up to 10 tickets to Accordion Kings & Queens PLUS: and a copy of the CD, a Texas Folklife t-shirt, a Big Squeeze DVD, and a Texas Folklife membership.

Pledge $500 or more
A special thank you from the stage of the 2013 Accordion Kings & Queens PLUS: a copy of the CD, up to 10 tickets to Accordion Kings & Queens, a Texas Folklife t-shirt, a Big Squeeze DVD and a Texas Folklife membership.

Pledge $1,000 or more
A special thank you on our website and the stage at Accordion Kings & Queens PLUS: a Texas Folklife t-shirt, a copy of the Big Squeeze DVD, a copy of the CD, 10 tickets to Accordion Kings & Queens, and two Texas Folklife memberships

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Texas Folklife in New Orleans: The Katrina Connection

Big Chief Cyril "Iron Horse" Green, 2004. Photo by Eric Waters.

Update 7/8/13
See this video of the second line from the New Orleans Times-Picayune 

On Tuesday April 2nd I attended Cyril 'Big Chief Iron Horse' Green's funeral in New Orleans.  As Big Chief or leader of the Black Seminoles Mardi Gras Indian tribe, Iron Horse was a well-respected community leader of New Orleans' 8th ward.  His use of a wheel-chair earned him his nickname, but Iron Horse didn't let his condition slow him down:

Green was involved with other Indian tribes, beginning as Second Chief of the Flaming Arrows in 1992. He then held the same title with the Young Cheyennes before forming his own tribe, the Black Seminoles. He was inducted into the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame in 2006 and received its highest honor, the Crystal Feather; he then served as Vice President of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Circle of Chiefs. He was also a computer scientist, holding an associate degree from Delgado Community College. He made regular visits to local schools and to the Jazz & Heritage Festival, where he was scheduled to appear again this year. 
(Offbeat: Louisiana Music & Culture)

Iron Horse passed away in late March and while there was grief and sadness from Iron Horse's family and friends during the funeral ceremony, the second line funeral parade that followed reminded me that a funeral in New Orleans isn't like a funeral anywhere else.  I had met Big Chief Iron Horse in Austin, TX and New Orleans, LA while conducting ethnomusicology research for my master's thesis at UC Santa Barbara.  Iron Horse lived in Dallas, TX for a time following hurricane Katrina, while other stewards of New Orleans culture including musician Cyril Neville and Mardi Gras Indians including Iron Horse's relative Big Chief Kevin Goodman of the Flaming Arrows, and Big Chief Darold Gordon of the Young Navajo ended up in Austin.  My previous work with Mardi Gras Indians explored the ways they continued their cultural practices in other cities after they lost their homes and possessions in the 2005 levee breach.  When Iron Horse passed, I was invited to go on a trip to New Orleans for the funeral by my friend and collaborator Jimmie Dreams, an Austin-based guitarist who performed with many of the musicians and Mardi Gras Indians in the years following Katrina.  We hit the road with Lori Stevensen, a supporter of New Orleans music and culture and close friend of many of those who ended up in Austin after Katrina, on what was to be an action-packed 30-hour stay in the city. After an all-night, bleary-eyed drive through Houston and across Louisiana on I-10, we arrived in New Orleans in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday and eventually headed to Our Lady Star of the Sea Church on St. Roch Avenue for the funeral.

The outpouring of community support for Iron Horse was indicative of how the Mardi Gras Indians tradition continues to bring many people from different wards of New Orleans together.  Several chiefs from other Mardi Gras Indian tribes also attended the ceremony, including Darryl Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas, Bo Dollis, Jr. of the Wild Magnolias, and Victor Harris of the Fi-Yi-Yi.  Several members of the Queen council, the female leadership of the Mardi Gras Indians, and Thomas "Big Chief Bo" Dean also made remarks at the service.  At the end of the church ceremony, the pall bearers carried Iron Horse's casket outside the church, where a massive crowd awaited.  A neighborhood brass band, several groups of Mardi Gras Indian tribes, and the second line of community participant tambourine players and dancers then marched through the streets of the 8th ward along with a hearse carrying Iron Horse's casket.  It was a moment of a community defining itself, saying goodbye to a local hero and leader that helped shape it and carry its traditions forward.

While important questions about the "true Indianness" of the Mardi Gras Indians is often raised by those unfamiliar with the tradition, as well as some Native American Studies scholars, there are two critical issues at play in understanding this.  First, this urban tradition arose when African-American communities in New Orleans grappled with what cultural studies scholar George Lipsitz calls families of resemblance, that is, the similarity of their own struggle for dignity and equal rights and that of another oppressed people, Native Americans. Secondly, many African-American in Louisiana can in fact trace their own Native heritage, but many are barred from claiming citizenship in Native American tribes because they are seen as 'too mixed' and therefore not Indian enough to qualify for the benefits granted by the State and Federal governments.  Elwin Green Gillum (Queen Chief Warhorse), leader of the Chahta Indian tribe of Louisiana, was one of those in attendance for Big Chief Iron Horse's funeral. She is the direct descendant of the last Queen of the Tchefuncta Nation, who ruled over the nation when, as a part of the Florida Territory, they lived under treaty with Spain. Like the Seminole, who harbored black people seeking to escape enslavement, Chahta bloodlines are now thoroughly intermixed. (  The Chahta Indians and the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans are bound through community, shared histories, and ambassadors who continue to forge the connections between the city's musical and cultural heritage and the traditions of the surrounding area's Native tribes.

Texas Folklife continues to highlight the cultural overlap of Texas and Louisiana, from the longstanding shared tradition of the accordion to the more recent Katrina connections highlighted here.  In December 2012 Texas Folklife helped with a youth-produced radio story about Big Chief Darold Gordon for the Stories from Deep in the Heart youth radio program.  Look for more on the Katrina connection in the coming year.

                                                      (All photos by Charlie Lockwood)