As the executive director of Texas Folklife, Brownsville's Cristina Balli had a wonderful year full of accordion-related highlights.
One very special night for her was the Accordion Kings & Queens Live! CD release party at Antone's in Austin. The event featured a memorable jam that involved Max Baca and five young accordionists — Josh Baca, Nachito Morales, Michael Ramos, Roberto Casillas and Anthony Ortiz Jr.
"The reason that was really special is because we could see the strength of conjunto music right there, right before our eyes," Balli said of what she saw up on the stage that Summer night.
Seeing so many up-and-coming accordionists has lead her to believe that there is a strong future in conjunto music.
"For a long time, people were saying conjunto music was dying. But we are finding more and more evidence to the contrary. We our finding evidence that it's stronger than ever, but it's very grassroots. It's not mainstream, but with the 'Big Squeeze' over the last seven years, we have had 121 young conjunto accordionists enter the contest throughout the entire state. So that's huge, that's a lot of young accordionists and those are just the ones that entered our contests."
While she has a lot of events to look forward to in 2014, there is one in particular that stands out for her.
"The big thing we're looking forward to is our 30th anniversary on September of 2014," Balli said. "I can't announce any details yet since we're still planning but we will be having (an event). We hope to have musicians, scholars, folklorists that have worked with Texas Folklife throughout the years."
Texas Folklife played a major role in Tony Garcia's year. The Mission native was a "Big Squeeze" finalist at 24th annual "Accordion Kings & Queens Festival" in Houston. While he didn't walk away with the title, he considers it was one of his 2013 highlights.
"There were two dates in particular that I remember the most in 2013," Garcia said. "May 29, my (high school) graduation and of course who can forget about June 1st (in Houston). Playing in front of 7,000-plus people was a huge adrenaline rush and I really enjoyed doing that. But the thing that was really priceless about that the night was seeing some of my family members that I have not seen in so long and just appraising on how much I have advanced, skill wise, on the accordion in just 2 1/2 years, and how proud they were proud of me."
Garcia will be with his family when the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve. He is excited about a new band he joined, as well as continuing his education in 2014.
"It's a very different flavor of music but I also like it and it keeps me striving for more every time," Garcia said of playing for Julio Valenzuela y su Norteño Banda. "I want to go to school this upcoming year because I would love to go further in my education, to have a better future for myself."
Peter Anzaldua is another Valley native that benefited from Texas Folklife.
"(2013) was great," Anzaldua said. "There are too many highlights, it's hard to pick one."
Some highlights that I can think of include Anzaldua performing at the 24th annual "Accordion Kings & Queens Festival" and at La Lomita Park in McAllen.
The 2012 "Big Squeeze" champion will celebrate New Years Eve with his family and friends in Brownsville. As for 2014, he already has some plans set in motion.
"I am looking forward to recording another CD and God willing playing more."
For Edcouch-Elsa accordionist Lucky Joe Eguia, he tells me his favorite 2013 memory was recording Suerte, his first solo album. As for what he's most looking forward to in 2014, he's straight to the point.
"Work, work, and more work," Eguia said, with a smile.
I also talked with Mando San Roman about his year. With Eli Gonzalez, and the Total Multimedia Team, he launched "Puro Tejano TV" in October. Roman also returned to the radio airwaves on December 9th, for the Super Tejano 102.1 morning block. While working on TV and radio programming was a significant part of his year, he did more than just that.
"With Zereno, the Tejano band I play keyboards and do backup vocals with, we released our latest CD (titled Zereno) after a period of about 10 years without any new releases," Roman said.
He tells me that fans of his radio and TV programs have a lot to look forward to in 2014.
"2014 brings some great plans for the 'Mando En Las Mañanas' morning show," Roman said. "'Puro Tejano TV' will be featuring the biggest names in Tejano music plus exposing rising new young talents that will cater to a new wave of Tejano fans. There are some great surprises in store."