Some hardcore dancers traveled from distant cities en masse.
Tejano Conjunto Festival
|photo | Mary Armstrong
|Young AJ Castillo and his flashy squeezebox, deep in the heart of Texas.
en San Antonio seems like a specialized gig, but the gazing over the people, there are all kinds, not just music geeks. Young, old, expert and experimenters, all reported for duty on the fest first night of dancing outdoors. Some hard core dancers traveled from distant cities en masse. These groups stake out a picnic bench just beyond the dance floor, surround it with folding chairs and hold court. Many families bring their kids. The teens, busy texting, feigning boredom, are still patting their feet and stealthily checking out the steps, knowing it won't be long before they are the young parents dancing as a trio, baby held high off the floor but still part of the dance, learning the music before they learn to speak. Meanwhile people from as far away as Japan gaze contentedly, feeling a part of the tradition, if just for a few days.
The festival's home is Rosedale Park, West Side San Anto, wide open space and plenty breeze to cool the dancers. Conjunto orquestal was the theme, meaning the typical accordion and bajo sexto joined by sax and more. Los Hermanos Layton from the Valley are apparently famed for carrying two saxes except they somehow neglected to attend the Laytons' Conjunto Festival debut. The synth frequently subs for horns, so that was the route taken, at least implying the sound that Festival's organizer Juan Tejeda had hoped to have open the show. The singing was gorgeous, the tunes were classic. Big fun to watch the young scenesters show that they had the little hops in the schotis conjunto is not strictly polka perfected as couples.
From nearby Austin, 23 year old accordionist AJ Castillo and band gave us pause with a wildly corny recorded intro: think used car ad announcer thundering over medley of the band's tunes. Many cocked eyebrows preferred Tejeda's simple explanation that the band plays it all -as the band's front man says, you wanna play in Texas, you gotta have a squeeze box, launching in to a hot medley of pure conjunto faves, plus tropical that put the horns to good use on some slithery cumbias some rock, smooth jazz and they finished off with deep funk version of "Brick House."
David Lee Garza y los Musicales always put on a fine show, but they needed more cooperation from the mix. If you don't already know the layers of his band's sound, you wouldn't miss it what was inaudible. Otherwise, if you are listening for the comments from the alto playing front man, his gritos and harmony, well, you'll be a bit disappointed. Conjunto is played on diatonic accordions, meaning if you want to switch keys, beyond the two or three on your box, you are packing extras. Two time Grammy winnder Garza switched frequently.
Roberto Pulido y los Clasicos let's say they were also the victims of sound glitches. After years of years in sound reinforcement I know that everything is blamed on the engineer anyway, so I eagerly volunteer our broad shoulders to carry the load of two singers in two separate keys from the otherwise drum-tight band. Must've been the monitors, right? My friend and I ran out after 4 or 5 numbers like that, watching musicians waving in franctic frustration at the sound board. We opted to preserve our memory of the legendary Pulido in perfect harmony. Dancers who are less critical listeners were perfectly content, packing the dancer floor with a swirling mass of dips and turns.
All in all it was a great night of delicious excess, the pleasure of having enough conjunto that you can let your mind wander without feeling you are not taking proper advantage of a rare opportunity.