32nd Annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonioby Cristina Balli
|Los Dos Gilbertos|
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.
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.
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|
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...)
See ya in 2014!