Get out your dancing boots and get ready for some accordion, bajo sexto, electric bass, and drum sounds, San Antonio, because the 35th annual Tejano Conjunto Festival is coming to the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Theater and Rosedale Park.
For decades, Conjunto has been a key cultural marker of the true Tejano experience, a unique mixture of Mexican, Native American, and even German/European heritage and influence.
“Conjunto music is a symbol of our cultural identity, it’s a very important artistic and cultural form that we created,” said Juan Tejeda, a local Conjunto icon-turned college professor and co-founder of the festival. “It’s a synthesis, and our music and culture reflect this synthesis of who we are as a people – our cultural identity, our language, bilingualism, our food, our music and dance, they all reflect this fusion of cultures.”
The five-day Conjunto festival, both the oldest and the largest of its kind in the nation, draws tens of thousands of multigenerational Conjunto-lovers each year, along with some of the most lauded musicians from the state, country, and world. But the festival-goers, who are known to dance well into the afternoon and evening to seemingly no end, aren’t the only ones who “make their annual pilgrimage to San Antonio” for the festivities.
“(The festival) is like Conjunto mecca,” Tejeda said. “Conjunto musicians themselves say this is the Super Bowl of Conjunto music. It’s the culminating event of the year, and we present the best of the genre.”
“We feature some popular bands that exist in genre, but I always like to present new bands that have never performed in the festival,” he said. “We’ve also always showcased students from different parts of the state, and we try to have some international acts.”
The Guadalupe also hosts a poster contest each year for the festival, giving middle school, high school, and college students the chance to compete for their design to be official Tejano Conjunto Festival poster. This year’s overall winner is Therese Spina.
The festival will take place from Wednesday, May 11 through Sunday, May 15 at the Guadalupe Theater and Rosedale Park, 340 Dartmouth St.
For the festival lineup, and daily ticket information, click here.
San Antonio seniors are invited to kick off the festivities on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon for the free Seniors Conjunto Dance in the Guadalupe Theater, with music provided by San Antonio-based Bene Medina y el Conjunto Águila.
On Thursday, the Guadalupe will host the San Antonio Premiere of Conjunto Blues, an interdisciplinary theatrical performance by local poet, musician, and actor Nicolás Valdez. Tickets, which are $10-$25, can be purchased here.
Then, the festival will make its way to Rosedale Park on Friday, where a rotation of bands from San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, Brownsville, Eagle Pass, and much more will take the crowd through the rest of the weekend.
Attendees wont want to miss the Conjunto student showcase featuring eight different bands made up of young and talented Conjunto musicians on Saturday, as well as the culmination of the festivities with some of the genre’s biggest names in the industry, including Flaco Jimenez, on Sunday.
But no matter whether you’re there for it all or for just one performance, you’ll take with you the alegría, the joy of life that is the essence of Conjunto music.
“Its just this celebration of life, this gusto that the music has. It makes people want to tirar un grito, and drink a beer,” Tejeda said. “That’s probably the most important aspect of our music, and I think that of all music and all cultures, but we have a very special way of celebrating life through Conjunto and Tejano music.”
Conjunto music is the “original” Tejano music, Tejeda said, and stylistically they are nearly the same. Both, however, have been historically regarded as “low class music,” music of the working class Tejanos having a drink in the cantina after a long day, he said.
The Tejano Conjunto Festival is Tejeda’s way of bringing pride to his music, and more importantly his culture.
“I wanted to change those attitudes in people,” he said. “Music is not what is low class and high class, or fine art is better than folk art and primitive art. These are attitudes that have always existed. Music is just music. It’s different and we need to celebrate it, not that one type is better than the other.”
For more information on the festival, including start times and ticket prices, click here.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the festival goes through Saturday, May 14 when it actually concludes on Sunday, May 15.
Top image: Flavio Longoria and the Conjunto Kingz performed on Friday at the 34th Annual Tejano Conjunto Festival. Photo by Amanda Lozano.