Gilberto Garcia and Reuben Garza
When listing the top conjunto venues in Hidalgo County, La Lomita Park would likely top the list.
Owned by Pepe Maldonado, the venue is consistently hosting the type of musicians that Valley conjunto fans are crazy about. This Sunday night, the headliner will be Los Dos Gilbertos.
To the "puro conjunto" crowd, Los Dos Gilbertos repertoire — "El Rosalito", "La Vieja Escalera", "Palabra de Hombre", and "Redoblando" — gets them bailando on the dance floor. To the fans that can't make it but still want to share in the experience, La Lomita Park offers a live stream of their weekly Sunday night events on UStream.
During the mid 1960's, Gilberto Garcia had his own successful conjunto. The Edinburg native had been playing the accordion since he was a young boy, winning local contents and prizes with his superlative accordion skills.
Around 1970, an opportunity arose for him to join together with his tocayo, or namesake, for a new conjunto that featured duet accordionists.
"He had a group named Gilberto Lopez y su conjunto," said Gilberto Garcia, 72-years-old, in Spanish. "Then we decided to join together, have two accordions in one conjunto, to see if the people liked it."
They did. The two accordionists became one of the most recognizable acts of the era despite their brief run together. Garcia explains that their three year adventure ended when Lopez fell ill. A tumor was discovered, Garcia said. Lopez made a promise that if he were to survive, he would just focus on performing for his church. Thankfully, Lopez survived and has since gone on to become a Deacon at the Sacred Heart Church in Edinburg. The two accordionists still keep in contact to this day.
After Lopez left the group, Gilberto Jr. stepped in to continue Los Dos Gilbertos and move the band forward. Eventually it was Reuben Garza who would become the other major face of the conjunto.
"Reuben Garza used to be with Ruben Vela, back in the day. We became friends cause everywhere we played, he would greet us. He told me, 'If you ever need a bajo-sexto player and vocalist, call me.' There came a time when I needed one, so I called him and invited him. I asked if he would like to perform with me. And he said yes. We've been together since then."
Despite not having the "Gilberto" name, he's pretty much become an honorary "Gilberto" at this point. To the fans that fill the dance halls, Garcia and Garza are now known as Los Dos Gilbertos.
"I started with Gilberto in 1977," said Reuben Garza, primer voz and bajo-sexto player, in Spanish. "I feel very good about it, we have the same sentiments and we get along good."
Now in 2013, Garcia's been having a heck of a year. A few months ago, the original two — Garcia and Lopez — were interviewed by Dr. Margaret Dorsey at the Border Studies Archive. Garcia feels proud to have his legacy and history on the record at the University of Texas-Pan American.
"It's really a great thing for me," said Garcia proudly. "I started thinking, through there, all the students get to see everything that's happened. They learn about the music, how us musicians got started, along with our stories."
His time there got him thinking about the youth of the Valley. He encourages young students to be serious about their studying.
"For the young people, I tell them to learn (and focus) at school," Garcia said "But at the same time, they could discover and follow music after studying for their school work."
Another one of the highlights this year includes Garcia and Garza headlining the Saturday night portion of San Antonio's Tejano Conjunto Festival in May. It shows that Los Dos Gilbertos name is still a popular one outside the Rio Grande Valley.
"We went on last, from 10:45 PM to 12:00 AM," Garcia said. "The fans were there, enjoying the music. I felt very good cause there was people from everywhere. California, Arizona, Chicago and all of Texas. It was very beautiful."
The memories of where he's been and what he's accomplished are always with Garcia. The various labels he's recorded with through the years like Discos Falcón, Freddie Records, and Hacienda Records. The fun times he's had appearing on The Johnny Canales Show, Fanfarria Falcón and Rogelio Botello Rios. Garcia feels like he's been blessed.
"There's been so many beautiful things that have happened in my life," Garcia said. "I'm very happy with God and all the people right now."
Los Dos Gilbertos are scheduled to perform at La Lomita Park in McAllen on Sunday night. Event starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m. For more information, please call Pepe Maldonado at 956-867-8783.