Tejano music fans, mark your calendars. In September, Austin PBS affiliate KLRU will air Vamos Al Baile, a very special presentation featuring Grammy Award-winning Tejano icons Little Joe, Ruben Ramos, and Joel Guzman and Sarah Fox.
Filmed in July at KLRU’s legendary Studio 6A, formerly home to Austin City Limits, the program will explore the role that music has played in Tejano culture, and will also include interviews with the featured performers. Something even more unique is the emphasis on the important role that dancing has played in the history of the music. KLRU not only filmed the musical performances, but also made sure the camera captured the dancefloor full of couples.
The program is scheduled to air in conjunction with the PBS documentary, Latino Americans, a six-hour special that endeavors to tell the 500-year history of Latino Americans of all backgrounds from colonization to civil rights to becoming the most-coveted voting block in the past Presidential election.
Music fans can expect a wide variety of styles from all the groups who performed. The “King of the Brown Sound,” Little Joe Hernandez, along with his top-notch band, La Familia, showed their versatility with English and Spanish selections, ranging from Salsa to Country to Standards to “Las Nubes,” considered by many to be the Tejano national anthem. Joe’s son Ady Hernandez of Austin-based Dahebegebees, also joined them on stage.
Accordion master Joel Guzman and phenomenal singer-songwriter Sarah Fox, backed by world-class musicians (including Mike Torres III of the Grooveland Chicano Band on bass), brought a completely different sound, further highlighting the diversity of the genre. The eternally youthful and charismatic Guzman wowed the crowd with his famous accordion skills, and the group jammed some serious South Texas Conjunto, with some modern interpretations of classics and originals. One that especially stood out was the Fox-penned ranchera “Rosa Negra,” which really showed the vocal harmonies of the pair.
Just as the crowd was recovering from spending the first two sets on the dancefloor and were enjoying another Dos XX, it was time for Ruben Ramos and the Mexican Revolution. Making his way to the stage through the dancefloor, “El Gato Negro” brought the crowd to their feet with a high-energy, audacious entrance that would make James Brown take notice. Ramos’ soulful voice soared on his horn-driven Tejano classics like “Voy Navegando,” his signature “El Gato Negro,” with the legendary Mexican Revolution at the top of their game. An extended duet on “Unchained Melody” with trombonist Rene Garcia (who is quite the showman himself) was an especially memorable moment.
As the evening ended with the all-star jam to the cumbia standard, “La Mucura,” organizer and longtime Austin Tejano activist Leonard Davila beckoned the entire crowd to the dancefloor. Looking around at the faces, you could see not only the awe of the amazing performances they just witnessed, but you could also see the proud smiles of Tejano fans getting an opportunity to show off the amazing talent of some of the heavyweights of their music. You could also see the hope that, after a show like this, maybe there will be more opportunities, maybe there will be official ACL tapings for other stars. At the very least, an often-overlooked, yet significant, part of Texas music got its moment in the sun. Ramos himself told of a time he was part of the audience at an ACL taping and wondered if he would ever be on the stage, and he finally got his chance decades later.
The final product will be a one-hour special, scheduled to premiere on KLRU in Austin, on Thursday, September 26 at 8 p.m. Vamos Al Baile will follow another documentary that examines Austin’s own Conjunto Los Pinkys, their Sunday residency at The White Horse, and the changes taking place on Austin’s east side.
More information on the Latino Americans series is available online at pbs.org, and to learn more about KLRU productions and programming, visit their website at klru.org. Watch the official trailer for Vamos al Baile below.