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The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (GCAC) and the audience of its flagship live music festival have faced a few curveballs over the course of the pandemic. First, the decision was made to shut down most public programming for all of 2020, including the center’s annual Tejano Conjunto Festival.

Late last year, the decision was made to move the 2021 festival online, but its older audiences – so used to live performance and dancing along – are having trouble with the migration to an all-virtual event.

Even “my own mother was struggling” with buying a ticket on the GCAC website, said Cristina Ballí, executive director. Ballí’s sister helped their mother figure it out, and Ballí said the center now advises callers to ask their technologically savvy children and grandchildren for help.

The Tejano Conjunto Festival runs from 6 p.m to midnight on Saturday, with related events Friday night and earlier Saturday.

The festival began in 1981 under the direction of musician and educator Juan Tejeda, who will join Ballí as co-hosts of the first all-virtual festival in its nearly 40-year history.

The 2021 lineup includes Santiago Jimenenz Jr. and Los Texmaniacs, who pre-recorded their set Thursday evening at the Guadalupe Theater due to a scheduling conflict.

Jimenez said that while many live, in-person performing gigs have been lost to the pandemic, he figures that “it may take probably about six more months” for the worst of the pandemic to pass, and in the meantime, it’s wise to stay careful.

Virtual festival or otherwise, “the main thing is to preserve the culture and keep it going, keep the listeners entertained and happy because people love this type of music,” said Max Baca, leader of Los Texmaniacs and a COVID-19 survivor. “It’s part of our culture.”

A camera man records a live performance with the Texamaniacs at the Guadalupe Theatre. The Conjunto Festival in 2021 will be virtual.
A cameraman records a performance with Los Texmaniacs at the Guadalupe Theatre. The 2021 Tejano Conjunto Festival will be virtual. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Whether enjoying conjunto music at home or in a venue with others, “we hope we have people that are tapping their foot and bringing some kind of therapy to their hearts,” Baca said.

The Texmaniacs’ recording will open the festival’s 6 p.m. slot, followed by a slate of bands that will perform live on the theater’s stage, with a high production-value livestream accessible to all ticket holders.

Los Cucuys de Rodney Rodriguez will perform after the Texmaniacs set, followed by Los 2 Gs, Los Morales, Los Monarcas de Pete y Mario Diaz, Hometown Boys, and Boni Mauricio and Linda Escobar.

Eva Ybarra, recently named the 2022 Texas state musician, will also perform. Tejeda and Ballí will introduce each band during breaks between sets and continue the educational mission of the festival, Ballí said.

“Juan is always very meticulous about introducing the bands with good information,” she said.

Two other facets of the festival are a Friday night stream of the Nicolás Valdez production Conjunto Blues, a theatrical personal history of conjunto music intended for live presentation but adapted for streaming during the pandemic, followed on Saturday by an hour-long virtual workshop led by Valdez, in which he will reflect on the interviews and historical documentary footage he compiled for the project.

Ballí said she’s thrilled with the lineup. “We’re going to have a show that’s representative of the music of the entire state of Texas, so I’m really excited about that, and I’m very proud of that.” Morale among the staff is high, particularly among the five-camera tech crew. “They’re going above and beyond,” she said, emphasizing that the GCAC has never had better production values.

Reflecting on 2020, Ballí said, “it was difficult and a disappointing year. But that then forced us into more creativity and innovation,” including adapting to livestreaming technology, which she intends to continue using for broadening access to future festivals.

Ballí pointed out that the 2022 festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary, “so we really hope to have a grand festival next year,” she said – live, in-person, and without any curveballs.

Access to all events, including Conjunto Blues, the Conjunto Origins Live Workshop, and the Tejano Conjunto Festival, is available for $15 through the GCAC website.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...