August 2, 2013

Rockin’ For A Cause


I wrote this article for RGV Beyond Arts & More  magazine. It was the June 2013 cover story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing about the Renaissance Rockers.  If you click on this link, you can find this issue and look at the great photographs of the Renaissance Rockers taken by Leonel Munoz.

It has been almost 60 years since Elvis Presley was discovered, and the better-sounding version of the solid-body electric guitar was produced by radio repairman Leo Fender and musician Doc Kaufman. The sounds of what we know as “rock” developed from several different sources and regions throughout the 20th century. Rock and Roll music has come a long way and is now far more appreciated and a global trend ever more captivating. It has been written that the sounds of rock and roll were shaped, and continue to be shaped, by countless regular people, and they continue to remind us of the vigorous energy of an immortalized rebellious youth.

Rock and Roll music is not only appreciated in the Rio Grande Valley, but it has been the driver behind the “rocking for a cause or a cure” movement started by local regular folks, with exceptional skills, who love rock and roll music and revel in playing it to relax and have a good time.

Dr. Carlos J. Cardenas is a Board Certified Gastroenterologist who serves as the hospital’s Chairman of the Board, and was recently named Interim CEO of this prestigious institution. Dr. Noel E. Oliveira is the director of the hospital’s Wound Care Center and is a Family Practitioner in Edinburg, Texas.

They both welcomed us in the under-remodeling office of Dr. Cardenas at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, where two electric guitars stood by the wall as if partaking in the interview. Dr. Cardenas was sporting a long sleeve shirt and tie under a white doctor’s lab coat embroidered with his name in blue, and adorned with a Hard Rock Café guitar-shaped lapel pin. Dr. Oliveira was in blue scrubs looking ready for any emergency. It was not hard to notice the sparkle in their eyes when they realized the interview was to be about the Renaissance Rockers. The excitement was in the house, and with enthusiastic energy they shared with us how it all started.

For several years, Cardenas, Oliveira and some friends, would call each other, bring their guitars and jam during family and friends’ parties never knowing how many guitars would show up. “We were just messing around,” said Oliveira.  Until one day in 2006 when Tejano music legend, and owner of Don Chilo’s  Bar and Grill in Peñitas, Texas, Cecilio Garza, walked into Dr. Cardenas private practice for a consultation. Before the appointment was over, Garza extended an invitation to Cardenas and his friends to jam at Don Chilo’s. Cardenas was very excited at the prospect while Oliveira was hesitant, but not able to elude Cardenas’ persistence, he agreed to check it out not knowing what to expect and wondering what kind of hole in the wall this place was. “Well it turns out it is a hole in the wall, and it is a dive, but it’s an awesome place!” Both said adding it is a family friendly place with a great atmosphere where everybody has a good time.  Before they even knew it, they became regulars at Don Chilo’s playing once a month and packing the place. But they were not an organized band yet.

Both considered calling Dr. Carlos Morales, a cardiologist, who already had a band called Midnight Rodeo to join them. Oliveira was also part of a band called the Rock Docs at that time, so both bands cross-pollinated to become the Peñitas Posse. “Eventually, we morphed into the Renaissance Rockers because we’re all physicians here at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance,” stated Cardenas.  The six member band is composed of physicians Cardenas, Oliveira and Morales plus bassist Ron Yoder, Matt Baker with the keyboards and drummer Mauro Vasquez.  “We also have unofficial members of the band who bring their instruments and play with us every now and then,” Oliveira said.

Cardenas and Oliveira have been friends for many years, and both graduated from UT Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.  Their love of music and community has led them to “Rock for a Cause.”  Since 2006, the band has helped raise over one million dollars to aid numerous local charities. One of their biggest gigs is the Fishing for Hope Tournament benefiting the Hope Family Health Center of McAllen, Texas, where the group helped raise $150,000 last year. It is also customary for the band to “pass the hat for a cause” during all of their presentations. Their Rocking for a Cause mission has transcended borders and landed them a gig in El Salvador this past month of April where 1,300 people danced to their tunes and helped raise money for a local nursing home for indigent people.

Neither considers their physician member band to be a rarity for they said there are plenty of people who do medicine that are musically inclined.  Cardenas played the trombone in High School and College while Oliveira played at his church choir and had a band in medical school.  Both have taken guitar lessons off and on, but nothing formal. “I never stuck with it even though I’ve always loved the instrument, and now it has become an obsession. I play all the time,” said Cardenas with a smile.  Oliveira considers having introduced Cardenas to the world of Rock and Roll as his claim to fame.  “He gave me the courage to actually play onstage,” said Cardenas about his friend Oliveira.

The two electric guitars on the floor will be part of the wall décor once the remodeling is finished, along with several of the band’s memorabilia.  They are part of Cardenas’ large collection of guitars which includes a handmade Melancon guitar; Cardenas favorite one.  Cardenas and Oliveira grab a guitar and begin tuning as they get ready to jam for us.  “We rarely rehearse.  We practice individually, but we now have a set list and can roll through 100 songs easily during our shows just by calling them out,” affirmed Oliveira as he stringed his guitar and asked Cardenas to give him a high E.

Without taking their eyes off their guitars, they both simultaneously answered, “yes” when asked if they had a fan base among their patients. Fans, like Nurse Jackie Almanza, can also be found among the hospital staff. “I don’t see how he does it. He sees patients, he does procedures, he works in the office, and then I see him rocking with his guitar. I think he plays to release stress,” Almanza said shyly.

The music of the Moody Blues, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Hendricks and Eric Clapton among others is what Cardenas admires, while inspiration comes to Oliveira through the music of Todd Rundgren and Carlos Santana. “Those guys cannot be replicated, duplicated or imitated,” Oliveira concluded.

A multifaceted artist, Oliveira has written a couple of episodes for the television series ER in which he also played a doctor.  “I was the only real physician on the set. I actually diagnosed two people on the set with real illness, and had to send one home.” Oliveira said as he elatedly revealed how he used the real monitors used on the set to perform an electrocardiogram.

When talking about the future, they both hope to return to Don Chilo’s for a reunion. Cardenas has written several original songs which he hopes can be recorded soon. He also plans to continue learning how to play an acoustic guitar. Sympathetically, he talked about the hospital’s involvement with the arts and their support of art related organizations. He mentioned the grand piano player in the lobby and the reproductions of renaissance art displayed throughout the hospital.  He is excited about the new medical school and the potential residency programs that may come due to the merging of the local universities. We could have asked him about the many responsibilities that keep him engaged at the hospital, but this time we decided to tap on his passion for music, and the love of community he shares with his dear friend Oliveira and with the rest of the Renaissance Rockers band members.

“We are not stellar musicians, but we play with a lot of heart.” He said as we fared goodbye.

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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