It has been 25 years since Texas Folklife began popularizing the accordion, the state’s “national instrument,” and Texas roots music in the now anticipated annual concert at the Miller Outdoor Theatre. All genres of accordion music will be included in this year’s festivities, with performances by Ginny Mac, Mark Halata & Texavia, C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, and as part of the anniversary extravaganza, the second generation of conjunto pioneers – Rio Jordan, Flavio Longoria, and Juan Longoria Jr. with Conteño and Los Halcones. In addition, the newly crowned 2014 Big Squeeze Champs will be on hand to perform and celebrate. The new champs are: Garrett Neubauer, Grand Prize Winner for the polka category; Randall Jackson, Grand Prize Winner for zydeco; and Aaron Salinas, Grand Prize Winner for the conjunto category.
The star-studded affair will take place on Saturday, June 7, at 6:00 p.m., and will be co-emceed by writers and radio hosts Joe Nick Patoski and Tony Diaz. The festival is free and open to the music-loving public. Festivalgoers wanting seats in the pavilion area can pick up their free tickets the day of the festival at the Miller Box Office or become members of Texas Folklife and receive reserved tickets in advance.
This year’s dynamite bands include Houston’s own Mark Halata & Texavia. Known for his musical style that has been called “Czexan,” or Texas-Czech polka, Halata has perfected the Texas-style polka with strains from communities with their roots in Europe—Moravia and Czechoslovakia—with some Louisiana Cajun and zydeco thrown in. On the stage on this very special night will also be C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band. With his Grammy-nominated 2011 album Can’t Sit Down, his musical heritage, and over twenty years of recording history, C.J. Chenier is loved by audiences and critics alike, and has been dubbed “the crown prince of zydeco,” by the Boston Globe. Chenier is of course the son of the late “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier, whom he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award for at this year’s Grammys. Western Swing Accordion Queen Ginny Mac will also grace the stage with her exceptional singing, squeezeboxing, and multitalented, soulful musical style.
The special anniversary program will pay tribute to second-generation conjunto and Tejano pioneers Rio Jordan, Flavio Longoria, and Juan Longoria Jr. with Conteño and Los Halcones. Esteban Jr., Esteban III, and Ricardo Jordan carry on their father’s legacy with his band Rio Jordan. Esteban Jordan (1939-2010) is widely regarded as a pioneer in conjunto music who greatly expanded the boundaries of the diatonic accordion. The three brothers draw on their rich conjunto heritage plus add influences from jazz, rhythm and blues, salsa, and zydeco, as they perform across the state and throughout the southwest. Flavio Longoria is the son of Valerio Longoria (1924-2000), National Heritage Award winner and major innovator of Texas conjunto along with Narciso Martinez and Santiago Jimenez Sr. Flavio played the saxophone while his brother Valerio Jr. played the drums in their father’s band during childhood. After his father’s death, Flavio picked up the accordion and has formed his own band Flavio Longoria y Los Conjunto Kingz. Juan Longoria Jr. of Brownsville, Texas Folklife’s first Big Squeeze Champ, is the son of Juan Longoria Sr., who along with his brothers performs in the band Los Halcones, a conjunto Norteño band that has played across South Texas and the border region for more than 30 years. Juan Jr. has carried on that tradition with his own band Conteño. In addition, Juan Jr. has now passed his accordion playing skills on to his son Juan Longoria III who last year made it to the semifinal stage of the Big Squeeze accordion contest. The Longoria family with its three-generation accordion stars is a testament to the strong family traditions that are alive in the state and Texas Folklife’s role in preserving and promoting those traditions.
Texas Folklife will also honor Mary Thomas, the “Texas Queen of Zydeco,” and sister to the late Clifton Chenier, with the Star of Texas Folklife Award for her many years of work helping to preserve and promote zydeco music, which is traditional to both Texas and Louisiana.
“This is a banner year for Texas Folklife,” said Executive Director Cristina Ballí. “It is our 30th anniversary and it is the 25th anniversary of Accordion Kings & Queens. The annual concert was started with the idea of promoting the accordion and its role in the different genres of roots music found in the state. It has become a full-out celebration of that music, featuring musical legends and current stars, but it also has become the breeding ground for the next generation of culture bearers with our Big Squeeze Champs taking to the stage. Most importantly, it is a joyous night of savoring performances by the kings and queens of the accordion, with much dancing and merry-making, all under the stars in Houston, Texas. I hope many folks will come out this year to help us celebrate this very important birthday.”