My home, home is Brownsville, Texas but I consider San Benito my spiritual home, and certainly the home of my career as an arts administrator. I owe it all to this place – the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center – and I’m always happy to return to its flagship program, the annual Conjunto Festival.
“There’s five major conjunto organizations of the state here right now,” says Juan Tejeda, Mexican-American Studies and conjunto instructor at Palo Alto College, and founder of the Tejano Conjunto Festival en San Antonio. “Narciso, Guadalupe, Palo Alto, Taller and Texas Folklife.”
“I hope no one plants a bomb,” I badly joked. “They’ll wipe us all out in one blow.”
This was late at night, the die hards who stay behind to chat because we just can’t seem to get enough conjunto in our souls. We’ve been listening to conjunto three days straight and we still want to hang out and talk more conjunto – and funding and administration and politics - with our fellow cultural workers. Earlier in the day the South Texas Conjunto Association and San Benito’s Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum were also among the crowd.
Y musicos; muchos musicos. Many musicians, of course, are in the crowds, and I had the pleasure of traveling with a great and unique one myself – Lala Garza, a rare female accordionist who was forgotten by history, but we’ve made sure she’s remembered.
This time at Narciso I had the opportunity to do something I had never done before – I emceed one of the nights. I’ve emceed lots of programs, but never the Festival and this one was special. When you’re organizing an event it’s easy to get lost in the details and stressed out. This time I got to truly enjoy the bands I was presenting, the crowd, the night, and deeply feel the spirit of it all. What a line up I got to present – starting with vintage, ‘60s conjunto vocals and harmonies of La Ralea Tejana, Chano Cadena and his rancho conjunto (with one cool medley where he went from polka to redova to chotis to huapango, and the dancers never missed a beat!), the bittersweet return of Los Hermanos Layton, then closed off the night with nothing but the best – Los Fantasmas del Valle and Los Dos Gilbertos. How much more spiritual, and puro conjunto, can you get than that?!
It was nice to be home again.