Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Year of Firsts...and Seconds!

Big Squeeze 2012
By Sarah Rucker
Photos by Michelle Mejia

As I stood in the wings at Miller Outdoor Theatre hearing the name of the 2012 Big Squeeze champion being called, I found myself looking back over the highlights of the last three months.
Rudy Salinas preparing for audition
The search began in February with the first audition in Houston, the city that hosts our Accordion Kings & Queens concert and Big Squeeze finals and is also home to two of our six champions. Our media assistant, Michelle Mejia, and I set off to locally-owned Cactus Music & Record Ranch on Portsmouth. Soon we had some familiar faces arrive to audition and a special performance by a past finalist. 2007 finalist Robert Vega (who can be seen in our documentary) played an electrifying set of “Rockteño” with his band Promesa Mortal who features his sister, Tina Vega on electric bajo sexto, brother on guitar and cousin on drums.

Then in early March it was down to the Rio Grande Valley which has always been a hotbed of great Texas accordion music. Since Michelle and I were tied up with our Board Retreat that weekend we had a good friend organize the audition, 2007 Champion Juan Longoria, Jr.  Hosted by Harlingen Performing Arts Center, this audition made the record for most contestants at a single location. Our friend Mayra Cruz helped wrangle all of the nervous contestants, Juan introduced each one, and his brother Federico Longoria assisted when contestants needed bajo sexto accompaniment.  Then their band Conteño performed. This audition had another special moment and a first for the history of the Big Squeeze contest. Juan’s son, Juan Longoria III, became the first child of a winner to audition for the contest.
Los Texmaniacs with Robert Casillas
on a hot Dallas afternoon
Michelle and I hit the road again to Dallas for our contest auditions and public program at the Latino Cultural Center on Live Oak Street in late March. We were greeted by the amazing LCC staff and our reigning champion, Ignacio “Nachito” Morales and family. There was a special presentation the night before the auditions by Karlos Landin, owner of Karlito’s Way Accordions, on the history of Conjunto music. Sunday we were blown away by the variety of styles the contestants played. After the auditions, Nachito played an opening set for the Grammy-award winning Los Texmaniacs.
Rodolfo Lopez announcing
contestants at Gallista Gallery
For our last audition of 2012 we returned to the Gallista Gallery in San Antonio where we were greeted by our friends and collaborators Conjunto Heritage Taller. Many of the contestants in San Antonio were students of Conjunto Heritage Taller or Teatro de Artes de Juan Seguin in nearby Seguin. CHT founder Rodolfo Lopez helped me introduce the contestants while Bene Medina accompanied them on bajo sexto. We had one of our youngest contestants at the age of 6.
In addition to the auditions, we had many mail-in entries from players from all over the state. In early April, came the nerve-wracking part: a panel of judges had to meet to narrow the dozens of contestants down to eight semi-finalists. The news was released the Monday after Easter. Previous finalists Isaiah Tellez from Houston and Omar Garza from Mission made it.  Candie Cerda from San Benito was chosen as the only female semi-finalist for 2012. Peter Anzaldua, a semi-finalist in 2010, advanced. In the 12 and under category, Zeth Lara and Juan Longoria III were chosen. And Michael Ramos and Luis Gonzalez from the Dallas area made it to the next round.
Joel Guzman autographing
Candie Cerda's accordion
At the semi-finals in Austin on April 28, the judges and audience were in awe of the amount of talent of the eight finalists who were accompanied by a full band at this point – led by Austin drummer and Big Squeeze supporter, Clemencia Zapata. 2010 Finalist Ruben Paul Moreno gave the crowd a taste of his Zydeco revolution. And Grammy-award winner Joel Guzman closed out the afternoon with his group.
Flashing forward to my moment in the wings on June 2 in Houston…
After watching the four finalists, Peter Anzaldua, Omar Garza, Michael Ramos and Luis Gonzalez steal the hearts of nearly 6,000 audience members, the results were being announced by Texas Folklife director, Cristina Balli. Brownsville native Peter Anzaldua took the title, becoming the second of six winners from Brownsville, Texas.  Previous champions Juan Longoria Jr., Johnny Ramirez and Keyun Dickson were there to congratulate him along with Texas Folklife staff and board members and the other finalists and their families.
Board members Armando Sanchez and Gus Voelzel presenting
Peter Anzaldua with his Grand Prize certificate and accordion
Photo by David Dodd
So another great year for the Big Squeeze was coming to an end. We made many new friends, got to see old friends and supporters in each city and made some great memories. Now time to plan the audition dates for 2013 – stay tuned and keep squeezin’!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Texas Folklife Receives City of Austin GTOPS Award Certificate

The City of Austin's Grant for Technology Opportunities Program (GTOPS) award presentation took place during the Austin City Council's March 22nd meeting.  The GTOPS program was designed in 2001 by the City's Telecommunications Commission to support digital technology projects that show promise of benefiting our community.

This year the City of Austin awarded Texas Folklife $22,415 to support "Stories from Deep in the Heart", the educational collaboration with Austin Independent School District and KUT-FM in which students and teachers are trained to produce short documentaries about their own communities for public radio.

Board Member Susan Morehead and Former Executive Director Nancy Bless accepted the award on behalf of Texas Folklife.  Congratulations!

Former Executive Director Nancy Bless and Board Member Susan Morehead 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Texas Folklife & Fisher's BBQ at SXSW

Texas Folklife has a special guest on our patio for South by Southwest 2012!  Fisher's Bar-B-Q from Houston, TX is serving up some delicious Texas BBQ all day and night during the festival.  

Adam Fisher 

You're Welcome! Campaign Kick-off: SXSW 2012

Texas Folklife staff members Charlie Lockwood and Sarah Rucker attended the You're Welcome! Campaign kick-off SXSW Showcase event on Thursday at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.  The event featured an array of music, dance and comedy performances as well as a healthy dialogue amongst creative artists and community organizers about integrating artistic production into a sustained campaign. 

The You’re Welcome! campaign, organized by 
Welcoming America, will use comedy, music, dance parties and other creative approaches to fuel a cultural shift in the U.S. in support of immigrants and their contributions to the country. Welcoming America and its affiliates across the U.S. are launching the campaign-in-development to engage the creative community and younger generations in a movement that celebrates the fusion of cultures and creates a more welcoming America, community by community.


Volunteers prepare audience surveys for the You're Welcome! Campaign  
From Left to Right: Tanene Allison, Invincible, Negin Farsad, and Oliver Rajamani participate in a panel discussion about creating social change through music and performing arts.
Detroit, MI based hip-hop artist Invincible 

Comedian Maggie Mae
Kenyan band Sauti Sol offers their unique brand of Afro-Fusion

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You Can't Change It

Doyle Bramhall 1949-2011
by Sarah Rucker

We’ve lost a lot of legendary blues artists in the past year: Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eye” Smith, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, and just last week – the great Etta James and the producer who discovered her, Johnny Otis. The blues is something that is near and dear to my heart, so with every one of these losses comes an indescribable pain as the living history of this music seems to be fading away.

I started writing this blog last November when I got the news about the passing of blues drummer Doyle Bramhall. This shocked and saddened me, most of all, because he was not at the age at which one might expect this to happen – the same age as my parents. I’ve been a Doyle Bramhall fan since childhood, as Family Style by the Vaughan Brothers’ and many of the Antone’s Anniversary anthology records were constantly playing around my house. The crack of the snare drum and beautiful Texas drawl in his singing were unmistakable. I grew up hearing my father’s stories about watching Doyle play at the Studio Club in Dallas and then in the late ‘60s at the Vulcan Gas Company in Austin. In 2003, I met Clifford Antone, who quickly became my good friend (as he did with anyone he met) and collaborator. No one spoke more highly of Doyle Bramhall than Clifford. He owed a lot of his club’s success to people like Doyle, Jimmie and Stevie Vaughan who were with him since 1970 – 5 years before the opening of Antone’s Night Club.

Photo by Sarah Rucker; Antone's November 21, 2011
On November 21, Antone’s Night Club hosted a tribute to Bramhall. If anyone thinks it is strange to go listen to live music or visit a night club as part of the mourning process – think again. As a fan, this was very therapeutic to hear and see his closest friends playing together in his honor.  The band was lead by legendary guitarist Jimmie Vaughan and included Denny Freeman, Paul Ray and many others. It was the history of Austin music and Dallas music, for that matter, all on one stage. It made me realize how lucky we are in this city, state and country to have such quality music being created all around us.

On a personal note, I’ve also been privileged to become friends with Bramhall’s daughter, Georgia, owner of Honeycomb Hair Boutique in Austin. The last time I visited Georgia at her salon, an interesting thing happened both when I arrived and left the building. As I was pulling into the parking spot at 501 Studios, “The House is Rockin’” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of Vaughan's biggest songs which was co-written by Bramhall, came on the radio. When I left a couple hours later, “Georgia” by Ray Charles came on my car radio, the song it has been said gave Georgia her namesake. Call me crazy, but that’s all I need to believe in angels.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Manuel "Cowboy" Donley's New Release

by guest blogger Luis Zapata
I met Manuel in a jukebox at Cafe Hernandez 15 years ago.  I played a song and it was this huge orchestration with probably 12 horns (his arrangements) backing up his beautiful voice in a ‘50s bolero - the ones you only hear in cantinas and dives. I asked Leon Hernandez if he was still alive. He said yes - he eats lunch on Sundays at my restaurant with his family after church. That's how I met him in person and invited him to record at the defunct Lone Star studios. His album got a few cover magazines and the Austin Chronicle and re-established his career.

During our long friendship, a guitar player myself, have asked him many times to teach me how to play Latin acoustic guitar in the style of his favorite trios such as Los Panchos, Trio Latino, Los Tres Aces. Because , though a highly regarded orchestra arranger and director (buzz is he had 16 horns at some performances back in the day), his love is the honesty of bare guitars and straight to the heart romantic declamation. And he is a Master at it.

Over 10 years later, Manuel comes up with a new release - "The Brown Recluse Sessions" - recorded at Michael Ramos’ studio. A collection of songs that you can imagine songs he and his friends would take in serenade to pretty girls a many in the ‘50s and ‘60s in the barrio.
Perfidia, Me voy pal pueblo, Maria Isabel, Sin ti, El reloj. They say there is no perfect music. Well, this is as perfect as it gets. As romantic, as sincere, as pure, as straight, as real as it gets. This will certainly spin in the air at my next date.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Southmost Taco Tales: Part 1

by: Michelle Mejia

It's hard to think sometimes that I grew up with flautas-

Si las enrolladas…

I remember being at my grandma Tocha's house, my mom's mom, and watching Bozo the Clown on her fancy brown couch in the living room. Back then she was still La DOÑA Teodiosa--her fierce and scary name that only became cuter as she got older. 

In the background, I could clearly hear the jingle de la XEMS, a border radio station that was too powerful, even for Bozo, for it would blast "radio mexicana. . .matamorense. . .XEMS"

a reminder of the division

 Since then I knew I was (an)other person from Brownsville, frontera with Matamoros. Side by side. Bien enrollados en la cultura. Rolled up in culture-- en la onda--the wave. 

I would occasionally walk to the dining room and join the cluster of adults working--enrollando flautas. Tocha or my mom would hand me a fresh corn-rolled tortilla, that I would then take back to the sofa. 

Siempre. Always. The words I heard on a daily basis before the age of 5: Flautas, pollo, carne, tortillas, paquetes, changarro

My grandma was still the head of the business by the time I came into existence. My mom, dad and I were just spectators--or occasional helping hands--occasional hungry stomachs. This would not last forever, since she decided to sell her business to a goddaughter--I believe this was in the early nineties. 
                                                                       Easy to Go Tacos, 2344 Southmost Blvd. 2010

Almost a year ago--Texas Folklife gave me the opportunity to delve into my deepest cravings - -tacos-

con cebolla, 
sin queso. . . 
with onion
without cheese--
no cilantro--
de bistek porfavor! bistek please!

I was to do some research about Southmost taquerias . . . 

which led to the unlocking of some of my deepest childhood memories. 

I was discovering and creating an "antojo" with every question I asked and every answer that was given to me--not just about the literal food, but a craving for a family history, to a greater extent--the history of my neighborhood--of a communidad that creates stories through the food they make--either for pleasure or survival.

This is just a probada, a ration of what is to come. 

I got the tail end of "el changarro" my parents would tell me, for I wasn't there for the height or the hype--only for the spinoffs.