Every once in a while an opportunity to experience something different comes along and one feels compelled to share. The Texmaniacs joined by el Flaco Jimenez will perform at the historic Gruene Hall on Friday, March the 4th, 2022. Tickets are selling fast.
Gruene Hall was built in 1878 and is Texas’ oldest continually operating dance hall. The building has not changed much since then and sits very close to the banks of the Guadalupe River. Gruene, (pronounced Green) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1975 and is known for its German-Texas Heritage, quaint shops, and honky-tunk atmosphere.
Why do I find this event so exciting? Because conjunto music was heavily influenced by German polka. Valley native and father of conjunto music Narciso Martinez fuzed its sound with a Mexican instrument called the Bajo Sexto (sixth bass.) Tex-Mex Valley meets German town bestowing a unique blend of folk music and we can experience it all in the historic Gruene Hall.
Martinez learned to play the button accordion in 1928 after hearing it played by local German and Czech families around Bishop, where he visited as a migrant farmworker. Most of the conjunto music recorded by Martinez was instrumental and played at local dances and festivals around Brownsville and Raymondville. Today it is considered classical conjunto. In 1937, Martinez would span his music into Cajun and Polka producing the albums Louisiana Pete and Polish Joe. One of my favorite of his waltzes is called Salvador.
The Texmaniacs are conjunto music ambassadors presenting a sound firmly rooted in tradition with plenty of contemporary dynamics. This Grammy Award-winning group performed at The Kennedy Center, The Governor of Texas Ball, and The Library of Congress. During a recent board planning retreat with Texas Folklife, I had the opportunity of meeting band founder, Albuquerque native and Bajo Sexto player Max Baca, his nephew Accordionist Josh Baca, and Bass Player Noel Hernandez of Mission, who gave us a private concert. It moved me to hear Max Baca talk about the times they traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan to perform for our troops. He said the melancholic song Cancion Mixteca was a favorite among the troops for it talks about being far away from our birthplace.
Accordionist Flaco Jimenez rose to fame in the 1940s and is considered a conjunto legend. A native of San Antonio he began recording at age fifteen with a group called Los Caporales. Jimenez worked with Dr. John, Peter Rowan, and Bob Dylan among others. He is a two-time Grammy Winner and original founder of the Texas Tornadoes where he joined Freddy Fender of San Benito, Augie Meyers, and Doug Sahm.
The two original instruments of conjunto music; the accordion and the bajo sexto are rich in heritage. Accordions date back to the 19th century Germany and spread throughout the world via immigrants. The Oud – a Turkish guitar -from around 3000 BC- traveled to Spain and was redesigned. With the conquistadores the Spanish guitar arrived in Mexico specifically to Paracho, Michoacan where 17th and 18th-century artisans built different types of double-stringed instruments. Some of the descendants of the bajo sexto are Guitarra Septima, Quinta huapanguera, bandolon, jarana jarocha and concheras*.
What an opportunity to experience this rich concoction of history and traditions gravitating around the Rio Grande Valley’s migrant worker heritage in a fun historical venue. Conjunto is the Valley’s gift to the world and will provoke us to cry or dance our hearts away – or both!
The event is almost sold out. As of today about 200 general admission tickets are available at $20 each. VIP passes are sold out. Buy tickets online at GrueneHall.com or by calling 830-629-5077. Standing room only but some benches are available on a first-come-first-served basis.
For another one of my stories on conjunto music read here.
So grateful for being a part of Texas Folklife a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and presenting the diverse cultures and living heritage of the Lone Star State.
Music is the Soundtrack of your Life”Dick Clark