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!

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