This Saturday’s first annual Tejano and Tamale Festival at Stramler Park has all the makings of a tightly wrapped pre-holiday fiesta.
Attendees are in for a spicy afternoon at this combination of a music fest, celebrating the musical traditions of Tejano (Tex-Mex) music, and food festival, honoring the popular Latin American dish enjoyed year-round, but especially at Christmastime.
Event promoter Manuel Gutierrez Jr. says he was inspired by his father, Manuel Sr., who owned a small string of local Kern County nightclubs in the 1980s. Working on the weekends alongside his father, it was Sunday music bookings where he says he was introduced to the sounds of Tejano music featuring accordion legend Francisco “Pancho” Zavaleta and others. Zavaleta is widely noted for working with Buck Owens and an icon who played with "alma y corazon" (heart and soul).
Zavaleta passed away in 1995, but Gutierrez says those memories are still fresh in his mind.
“I was 15 and Sunday was my night to hang out there. I was always around Norteno and Tejano music.”
After the closing of the family’s clubs, Gutierrez built his own independent DJ business working area clubs and private events. In 2011, he opened Elements Venue & Banquet Centre, hosting a variety of events as well as his own concerts, which included stars such as Tejano music legend Michael Salgado, who performed twice to capacity crowds.
“My place wasn’t big enough. We had people traveling from not only Bakersfield but out of town. I knew the music had a solid local following and a need for Tejano music.”
Tejano music is similar to American country as it combines polka and waltz elements for two-step dancing. Its roots date back to the late 19th century with Texas proudly claiming the sound as its own with bestselling artists such as Little Joe y La Familia, La Mafia, Freddy Fender, Jay Perez, La Tropa F, Jennifer Pena and late superstar Selena (Quintanilla), the “Queen of Tejano music,” helping expand its reach nationwide. Mostly sung in Spanish, many songs are sung in English and/or "Spanglish."
Check out the songs, “(Hey Baby) Que Paso” or “Guacamole” by the Texas Tornadoes for easy reference. Easier yet, cue up “Streets of Bakersfield,” by Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam. That’s Tejano, baby.
“If you see the way they dance, it’s like country music. They two-step in the same rhythm, and Tejanos (Texans) love country music. It’s cowboy music.”
Headlining Saturday’s event will be acclaimed Tejano group La 45 from San Antonio. Popular Bakersfield act Grupo Abigeo, who play a Tex-Mex blend with other Latin styles, will also perform along with Califas from Visalia.
“Since the show was announced, I’ve had people from Fresno, San Jose, Indio, Visalia, calling me for hotel recommendations,” said Gutierrez. “In the past if you were a Tejano music fan, you’d head to Northern California. Local fans have been thanking me. They were tired of traveling so far.”
All that dancing is sure to create quite a Texas-sized appetite making tamales the ideal food to keep attendees happy, he added.
“There’s something for everybody.”
According to Gutierrez, all general admission attendees can enjoy a number of different tamale competition booths. All tamale tastings are included with admission while they last, but if they do run out, additional food vendor booths will be on site selling Latin cuisine of every kind, along with tri-tip, hot wings and desserts. And of course, plenty of cold beer, spicy micheladas and nonalcoholic beverages available for purchase.
“It’s that time for the year for all kinds of different tamales and not just pork tamales, there will be chicken, bean, jalapeno cheese and many more types.”
Gutierrez added advanced tickets sales have been brisk and is already planning for next year.
“Tejano music resonates in Bakersfield because of our country roots, but it’s not publicized much. I’m hoping this event will help.”
The first Tejano Music and Tamale Festival runs from 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Stramler Park, 3805 Chester Ave. Admission is $30 or $50 for VIP, which includes a three-taco plate, access to a private lounge bar, tented area, private restrooms and table seating. (General admission guests are encouraged to bring low-lying chairs or blankets for seating.)
Tickets are available, plus service charge, at eventbrite.com. The event is for those 21 and over only.
An after-party featuring Manuel y Los Corpenos will follow the festival at Elements Venue at The Ice House, 3401 Chester Ave. Admission is $15 or $10 with festival wristband.
For more information, call 301-4681.