One of the acts featured that day was a 16-year-old, Veterans Memorial High School sophomore by the name of Peter Anzaldua. I had heard about him — the conjunto world is a tight community — but this would be my first time getting a glimpse of what he had to offer on the squeeze box.
He got up on the stage and busted out two dynamic polkas — "Atotonilco" and "Viva Seguin". Within minutes, the dance floor was filled up with people bailando in a circular motion.
"It feels good to know that people dance to your music," said Peter Anzaldua. "I never would have thought I would have been playing, much less people dancing to music that I'm playing. I feel blessed at that moment."
Anzaldua's been interested and involved in music from a very young age. He credits his family for giving him the 'conjunto-bug'.
"My uncles played, so I would see them play whenever they would have cookouts," Anzaldua said. "(Conjunto music) is the only thing we listened to, like Tony De La Rosa."
While his family has photographs of the prodigy playing with a toy accordion as a baby, it wasn't until he was 7-years-old that he received his first actual, button-diatonic accordion.
"My cousin taught me a polka here and there," Anzaldua said. "Then I let it go, 'cause I wouldn't have the patience 'cause I wouldn't get it. Then I kind of picked it up on my own."
Working at it by himself in his home in Brownsville, he was inspired by the music he heard from Tony De La Rosa and Ruben Vela. One day, his mom's co-worker received an email about the "Big Squeeze" accordion contest. She passed on the information to the Anzaldua family.
Anzaldua auditioned in 2010, but he didn't make it to the semi-finals.
"I remember the first time I performed (there), I was thinking, 'Man, these guys are all doing different things.'"
He didn't try-out in 2011 due to school activities getting in the way. He returned in 2012 and things would be different this time around.
"I wanted to stand out," Anzaldua said. "I just wanted to play something different."
That "something different" turned out to be "Carmela Medley"; a crowd-pleasing, showcase potpourri of different pieces, one of which was "Folsom Prison Blues". With that, he ended up advancing to the semi-finals and winning the "Big Squeeze" crown in Houston in the Summer of 2012.
"It was a good energy," remembers Anzaldua of that night, which also included him jamming out with Flaco Jimenez and Mingo Saldivar. "I feel like I've gotten a lot more exposure because of (the 'Big Squeeze' win)."
What Anzaldua seems most happy about is the community and camaraderie he's found in the local conjunto music scene. When he's at La Lomita Park, or around his fellow conjunto musicians, he feels like he's right at home with his family.
"La Lomita is like family there. I go to dances there and all the musicians there, they always get me up (on stage) to play. I want to thank all the musicians that have helped me out — Ruben De La Cruz, the Badd Boyz (del Valle), Los Dos Gilbertos, Lazaro Perez, Ricardo Guzman. All of those, I want to thank them for getting me up there to play with them and throwing me out there."
That night in San Benito, I remember observing what happened after Anzaldua got off the stage. Roy Rodriguez, the curator of the Hub City Conjunto & Tejano Museum, went up to Anzaldua and asked him to autograph a conjunto book of his. That particular book has been signed by many, if not most, of the top names in the conjunto music industry. If Anzaldua decides to stick with the accordion after high school and college, he's going to have a career that's every bit as bright as those musicians that signed their names in that book.
Peter Anzaldua and Los Badd Boyz Del Valle 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. Entrance fee is $10.00. For more information, please call Pepe Maldonado at 956-867-8783 or visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Lomita-Park/146095848797378.