Miller Outdoor Theater and the hill were filled to capacity for Night 2 of Festival Chicano. The crowd was energized for what was going to be a night filled with Chicano sounds and the bands did not disappoint.
Kicking off the night were Los Monarcas, a local conjunto that has been around for 45 years. Personally, it was when a record-store-owning buddy of mine (Turntable Records-Austin) asked me almost 30 years ago if I had ever heard of them. It was that first cassette that got me hooked with the sounds of acordeon, bajo, bass, and drums. Los Monarcas’ one-hour set was one huge medley of rancheras and polkas led by brothers Pete and Mario Diaz and complemented by a fat bass line and hard-hitting drumming. Hit after hit, they never stopped–even when one brother took on the acordeon duties to give us a rousing rendition of Ring of Fire. They fired up the crowd for sure.
This was also the first night that San Antonio’s La 45 would visit Houston, and boy, were they overdue. The outfit, which features a 5-piece horn section and 10 musicians led by Mike Torres, III and lead trumpeter John Ontiveros were introduced to the crowd by Henry “Pepsi” Peña, who offered a history lesson on Tejano music. Peña is a legendary SA radio personality who still promotes Chicano Soul concerts in the Alamo City. La 45 would offer up tune after tune, including Amor de Madrugada, some Latin Breed classics, R&B oldies giving them a flavor all their own. Showcasing the musicians, LA 45 gave opportunities to every member to give a taste of their chops with solos, with John Ontiveros earning the spotlight a few times. Joining them on accordion and keys was Herbie Lopez, an accomplished musician from the days of Conjunto Bernal. The crowd embraced La 45 after they gave so much of themselves.
After the presentation of the proclamation honoring 40 years of Festival Chicano by Houston Councilman Robert Gallegos, it was time for the headliner–Little Joe y La Familia.
No doubt, La Familia is one of the most precision-based bands in the business, and credit goes to Little Joe who demands it. Launching the show with an instrumental version of Las Nubes, the band switched gears to LJ classic, Prieta Linda, as Little Joe walked out on the stage wearing a zarape and mariachi pants. At almost 79, Little Joe showed no signs of slowing down–physically or vocally–taking us through memory lane with Por Una Mujer Casada, Ni El Dinero Ni Nadie, Recuerdas Querido Amigo and more. He would give his lead trumpet player, Carlos Salazar, the opportunity to belt out Jurame–one of my fave ballads. Later, Melinda Hernandez of Sister Sister came out for an impromptu tune, Baby Baby. After the show closers, Las Nubes and Borrachera, Little Joe came back for an encore with Por Un Amor. Needless to say, the crowd was satisfied and a bit overdosed with the best music.
Little Joe didn’t just perform, he also politicked a bit. Reminding us of the terror coming out of the White House. When he walked out and saw the capacity crowd, he sarcastically stated, “You all are beautiful. Beautiful rapists, murderers, drug dealers…” to which we all laughed, but also felt reminded about how culture and politics really do mix. He gave mention to the violence in El Paso, Odessa (the postwoman who was killed was daughter of one of his compadres), and everything else that is going on. He urged folks to register and vote, and to vote locally and not just in federal elections as that is where most decisions that affect us are made. Finally, he also did a tribute to his dad, performing a song his dad wrote about himself, La Cotorra, about his days of selling weed and doing a little time in the pen. LJ’s response song was a tune he wrote about his dad, Always My Hero. A very poignant moment to remind us we aren’t perfect, sometimes we make bad decisions, but we are about family and we push forward.
Saturday is the final night, featuring Elida y Avante, Los Garcia Brothers, and Tejano Highway 281. I won’t be there, so, if someone wants to write something up, I’ll post it here.
Que viva FESTIVAL CHICANO!
y que viva DANIEL BUSTAMANTE!
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