Friday, April 14, 2017

Road to La Villa Real Part 3

Selena performing at La Villa Real in 1992, photo from The Monitor

After many successful years of promoting events at the McAllen Civic Center, Arnaldo “Nano” Ramirez Jr. knew it was time to secure a venue of his own. He first secured ten acres on Bentsen and Expressway 83 in McAllen. Then one night at a club, while hanging out with some friends, Ramirez met someone that was involved in the insurance business.

"Discussing my situation, she said, 'I can get you the loan, if you insure yourself for the amount of the loan. That's all you have to do.' I can't believe it's going to be that simple but it sounds great,” Ramirez said. “So I did apply, and it was going to get approved. The only requisite was, that I had to get a local bank to do the inner-financing. It was an unbelievable how I came across this insurance agent."

After being denied at several banks across the Rio Grande Valley, Ramirez ended up at First Aid Bank and Trust Company in Mission. The president of the bank, Elliot Bottom, had a friendship with Ramirez's father. That played a role in Ramirez obtaining that meeting.

"I went to go visit [Bottom] and made my presentation. Right then and there, [he said], 'Why do you need to inner-finance? I'll finance this project for you. Give me some more details, bring me the whole package and let me look at it.' This was the end of June of 1977."

Bottom looked over the details and approved the project a few days later. Bottom said the only thing he needed from Ramirez, was for him to put the land up for collateral. One issue though — Ramirez was still making payments on that property.

"I went to Mr. Gegenheimer, asked him, if he could basically release the land, even though I still owed him, so I could put it in the bank and fund my project. He went ahead and released it to me, our payments were basically without even a contract, just a verbal agreement. It was an unbelievable relationship, the old school, the word of a gentleman, a handshake. It was unbelievable back in those days. He completely gave me the property. I went to the bank, put it for collateral, got the financing."

As soon as the papers were signed, everything started moving forward from that point on. Ramirez and his crew, broke ground on Labor Day Weekend 1977. Ninety days from that weekend was the target date for the grand opening.

With a week left before its first concert, Ramirez estimates he spent up to twenty-hours a day working to have the place ready. He had contracted the Country Roland band as his first act for his new venue.

Now a day away, Ramirez was worried because the tables and chairs had not yet arrived. At 1 PM on opening day, the shipment of the tables and chairs finally arrived, much to the relief of everyone. A crew of twenty people opened up the crates and set them up.

"I had everything set-up, it was basically a miracle," Ramirez said.

As the doors opened for the very first time, Ramirez headed home to get dressed. He estimates that he had not slept in two days by this point. He was as exhausted as he was excited.

After the event, the place was a mess. Beer cans were littered throughout. While he was originally distraught by how dirty the place looked, he soon found out that if his venue was clean after an event, it meant that the event was not successful. The messier, the better.

So on December 3, 1977, La Villa Real was born.

Friday, April 7, 2017

April Round-Up

Gilberto Perez and Pepe Maldonado Photo from Raul Robert Perez

This week, we're going to have a round-up of some of the most anticipated Tejano, conjunto, and cultural events of the month of April. Next week we will have part three of our La Villa Real series.

--South Texas conjunto legend Pepe Maldonado has lined up the month of March with another quality list of top conjunto acts from the Valley and beyond. Thanks to Joe Maldonado for reaching out and always letting me know the upcoming schedule. At La Lomita Park in McAllen, the following artists will be stopping by in the coming weeks of April: Los Badd Boyz del Valle and Grupo Soledad (April 9), Pepe Maldonado y su conjunto and Ruben Rivera (April 16), Ruben de la Cruz y su conjunto and Los Delta Boys (April 23), Los X2Gs de Hector Gonzalez and Los Gilitos de Riley (April 30). Entry fee is $10.00, and the music starts at 6 PM every Sunday night. For more information on these upcoming events, you can visit https://www.facebook.com/lalomitapark?fref=ts or call La Lomita Park owner and promoter Pepe Maldonado at 956-867-8783.

--Salinas Promotions is hosting a lucha libre event at Los Portales Pulga in Alton on April 29, Friday. The main event will be a UWA championship match between Corazon de Barrio and Laredo Kid, who recently wrestled for EVOLVE during Royal Rumble weekend in January. Hector Garza Jr., better known to some as El Hijo del Ninja, and El Zorro will also be in action. More names and matches should be announced in the coming weeks. Pre-sale is $15 for adults, two kids can get in for $10, and those prices increase by $5 at the door. For more information, call 956-457-9828.

--The Rio Grande Valley premiere of the documentary “As I Walk Through The Valley” will be premiering on Saturday, April 8, at the Edinburg Auditorium at 7 PM. The documentary, which premiered at SXSW in Austin a few weeks ago, covers different eras and bands throughout Valley music history. Readers of this column may be especially interested since there is a section in the film on Esteban Jordan, the great conjunto accordionist from Elsa, and an interview with his sons. I also make a brief appearance at some point in the film. After the screening there will be a Q&A and performances from Ralph & The Cruisers, Rio Jordan (sons and family of Esteban Jordan), Confused, Panteon, and DeZorah. Even is completely free.

--There will be a High School Conjunto Competition and Conjunto Student Showcase at the Jacob Brown Auditorium in Brownsville on Saturday, April 15. For more information email info@brownsville.org.

--Texas Folklife will be having their ‘Big Squeeze’ Finals at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin on April 22, Saturday, at 1 PM. Rio Jordan, Ruben Moreno, and The Gulf Coast Playboys will be performing. We will see the finalists compete and one champion will be crowned in each of the following categories: Polka (German, Czech and Polish music), Zydeco (Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music) and Conjunto (NorteƱo, Tejano and Conjunto music). For more information, visit TexasFolklife.org.