Latino musical pulse is alive, well

Whether it's norteño or cumbia, clubs here keep patrons dancing
2013-08-01T00:00:00Z Latino musical pulse is alive, wellJoseph Treviño Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

As he adjusts his straw cowboy hat, Felix Nevárez swigs a Bud Light and stares up at a TV set that shows a Diamondbacks baseball game.

Sporting grizzled stubble, Nevárez, a fit fiftysomething in a charcoal-colored, long-sleeved T-shirt, swivels his bar stool and heads back to where a young woman in a tight dress sits at a wooden bar table sipping a cocktail. He asks her to dance and after a slight hesitation, she nods in agreement and both stroll onto the hardwood floor bathed by a pair of funky, vintage '70s strobe lights, as Matador, a six-piece band in the northwest corner, dives into an infectious dance hit by Selena, the legendary Tejano icon.

Texas two-step. Fancy salsa turns. Some cumbia and waltz moves. Think "Urban Cowboy" with a tropical Latino twist. Tonight, Nevárez is determined not to let anything get in his way in order to glide exquisitely with this young woman across the dance floor. Not his two-inch high-heeled cowboy boots, his tight blue jeans or the Bud Lights: middle age be damned.

According to some music critics, Tex Mex or Tejano music is dead or on life support. But here, in South Tucson's Blue Moon, patrons will tell you that the genre is alive and well and living in this nightclub.

Located at the corner of South Fourth Avenue and East 29th Street, the Blue Moon is somewhat of a survivor in its own right, according to local entertainment promoters.

It was one of the few, legit, family-owned Hispanic clubs that survived the perfect storm shaped some years ago by the recession, the housing crash and above all, an increase in immigration laws and enforcement that scared many immigrant Latino partygoers, say veteran Latino entertainment promoters like Oscar Stevens II.

Several of the most popular and well-known Latino clubs closed in the last few years, yet others, like Tekilas have risen Phoenixlike in a quest to fill the niche.

Located on South Nogales Highway, a few blocks south of Irvington, Tekilas now flaunts several trendy deejays and live norteño, Duranguense and tropical live acts during weekends.

"They have a really good sound system and a pro DJ," said Sergio Castro, on a recent Wednesday at Tekilas, where he goes for karaoke nights. "Tonight I want to sing like Elvis."

Run by Marco and Brenda Villarreal, the young couple who used to run Barra El Greco (now called La Jungla) in Nogales, Sonora, wants Tekila to straddle the fine line between an adult-oriented nightclub and an "Antro," a Mexican nightclub geared toward a younger crowd.

In addition to karaoke nights on Wednesdays, Tekila boasts ladies nights on Thursdays, and live norteño or tropical acts on Fridays and Saturdays. Things have been going well for them since they took over Tekilas in February of 2012, said Marco Villarreal. But there's no denying that, besides the economy, immigration laws like SB1070 have made life difficult for immigrant Latino nightspots, he said.

"I have clients who don't even want to leave their homes," Villarreal said.

Blue Moon owner Octavio Bustillos said that just the mere mention of raids -whether true or not- managed to scare away half of his clientele four year ago. He changed music on Saturdays from a Mexican tropical genre to Tejano, a music favored more by English-speaking Latinos - and things have been going better, he said.

Andrés González, a former radio personality for several Tucson Latino stations, is the karaoke DJ for Tekilas on Wednesdays and for Zen Rock, which is a trendy downtown nightclub, with a Latino night on Saturdays.

A nightspot veteran, González said that even trendy nightclubs like El Mariachi and El Charro Cafe (where he used to be a DJ) saw their crowds dwindle after SB1070.

"Before there used to be three or four Latin nights during weeknights," González said, while in the background Jenni Rivera, a karaoke-favorite, belts a heartfelt banda ballad. "Now there's only about two or three during weekends."

Still, for Latinos things like fiesta, dance, revelry and the music of the night are part of their beings and good for their souls, said Bustillos.

For clubs like Tekilas, a mix of Antro style and '80s decor, a good ambiance and social media are making it a success, said Villarreal.

On this recent Saturday night, the Blue Moon is far from packed. But Matador, mostly belting out Spanish hits while entertaining with small talk in English, is putting on a first-rate show. The dance floor is sizzling. The crowd is happy, and the Tejano hits just keep on coming. Patrons said that they love the music and the family-friendly environment is perfect for couples.

Couples like Lupita Valles and Francisco Ponce, who are having a good time at a table next to the dance floor. She persuaded her husband to take her out.

"I told him it was a cool spot to dance," she explained in Spanish.

At the eastern end of the bar, Nevárez is still watching the Diamondbacks game. When a reporter asks him why he likes to go out on Saturdays, he replies philosophically in English:

"I am 55-years old. I can come here and dance, or I can stay home and watch TV. I'd rather be here dancing."

If you go

Blue Moon

1901 S. Fourth Ave., 620-1020, www.bluemoontucson.com

Tekilas Night Club

5358 S. Nogales Highway

www.facebook.com/TekilasNightClub

Zen Rock

121 E. Congress St.

624-3800

www.zenrocktucson.com

El Casino Ballroom

437 E. 26th St.

940-0973

www.elcasinoballroom.com

Contact reporter Joseph Treviño at 807-8029 or jtrevino@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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