Accordion Kings & Queens Festival Miller Outdoor Theatre June 4, 2011
Timing can be everything. And it only took about ten seconds standing in the wings 20 feet from Clifton Chenier's former guitarist Lil Buck Sinegal and the rest of Corey Ledet's zydeco band as they kicked off their portion of Saturday's Accordion Kings & Queens festival to realize that these guys had just opened a can of Deep South Louisiana badass, and that something very special was about to go down.
It was also immediately apparent that Clifton Chenier's Houston-born baby, zydeco, had met New Orleans' Congo Square head on in a massive groove collision somewhere near Breaux Bridge and that all was right with the world.
People always bring up guitar technical whiz Sonny Landreth when they talk about Chenier's classic zydeco band, but Sinegal (right) was the man behind the sound for many, many years, and Saturday night he was the coolest of the cool cats as he locked in with the backline of bassist Lee Allen Zeno and drummer Cedryl Ballou.
Sinegal was doubling Zeno's bass line note for note, cutting the groove deeper and deeper and turning the orchestra pit at Miller into a dancehall. There isn't much live music more joyous than listening to and watching a locked-in Louisiana rhythm section laying down the voodoo hoodoo.
While many of Houston's music lovers battled the heat and crowds of Saturday's opening day of Summer Fest, another 4,000 or so took advantage of an unusually breezy cool evening for early June on the hill at Miller Outdoor Theatre to catch the finals of Texas Folklife Resourcess 22nd annual Big Squeeze contest, followed by the Accordion Kings & Queens extravaganza.
Fifteen-year-old Ignacio "Nachito" Morales of Dallas was this year's Big Squeeze champion, beating out Pasadena's own 12-year-old child accordion prodigy Isaiah Tellez, as well as La Joya's Omar Garza and Joseph Garcia of Victoria. Morales received $1,000, a new Hohner accordion and recording time at Corpus Christi's Hacienda Records for his victory.
Accordion Kings & Queens, emceed once again by Willie Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski, also serves as a showcase for the stylistic diversity of Texas' national instrument. The large, festive, family-oriented crowd cheered mightily for conjunto veterans Mickey y sus Carnales, who fired up the proceedings and brought back fond memories of Houston's Tejano heyday with their old-school Tejano/conjunto set.
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And just to add a taste of spice and a feeling of kismet to the proceedings, the festival organizers brought in Denton's nuclear polka band Brave Combo as the evening's headliner. One of the truly unique bands in Texas for over 20 years, the Combo moves in rarified air, floating effortlessly from klezmer to conjunto to "Chopsticks" without a change of expression.
The band is, in a word, musical virtuosity personified, but with a very Texan stamp. And if the true test of music is joy and dancing, you should have been at Miller Outdoor Theatre to see the smiles on the faces of the children who were present. That said it all.