Folk music entered the mainstream for good in the sixties, and Texas’ best-known singers—such as Nanci Griffith and David Rodriguez—appeal mostly to middle-aged, well-educated Anglos. But for the past three years Texas Folklife Resources ( TFR) has been trying to reverse the tide. Through a remarkable series of concerts and tours, the Austin-based nonprofit organization has been taking traditional fiddle, blues, and conjunto music to younger audiences around the state.
TFR’s most recent and most ambitious project, an October tour called Canciones y Corridos de la Frontera (“Songs and Ballads of the Borderlands”), played schools and public concerts in ten South Texas towns, including Brownsville, Roma, Del Rio, and Uvalde. Headlining the tour were Tish Hinojosa, an Austin folk singer frequently compared to Joan Baez, and Santiago Jimenez, Jr., the San Antonio accordionist who plays more of a roots-oriented conjunto sound than his brother Flaco. For both of these artists, the TFR-sponsored concert series was an opportunity to perform in a part of Texas they had rarely toured before. For the people they played to, the performances were an affirmation of the rich musical heritage they grew up with along the border.
I caught up with the tour in the gymnasium of Zapata High School, where Hinojosa and Jimenez played an hour-long set for a thousand or so middle and high school students after lunch. The show began with Jimenez’s rendition of “Viva Seguin,” a punchy polka instrumental written by his father almost fifty years ago. From the roar that greeted the first notes out of Jimenez’s squeezebox, it was obvious that the music still had currency on the border, no matter how old it was or how young