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Blues festival draws a crowd to King Stadium

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By Lee Einer

“You can’t sit still for the blues.” Mary Oishi, KUNM disc jockey, chided those sitting in the crowd for not getting to their feet and dancing to the live music at Casa de Cultura’s first “Ain’t Got no Frijoles Blues Festival.”

Sunday’s event, which drew roughly 200 people, was conceived by Casa de Cultura’s director, Miguel Angel, both as a way to bring people together through culture and introduce them to the wonders of King Stadium.

It succeeded.

Young and old, native and newcomer, all came together to enjoy the blues. Jeff Romero of Jeff Romero and the Stormy Monday Band said the universal appeal of the blues might be due to its universal themes.

“The subject matter might be what draws us,” Romero said. “Some people think the blues is sad, but it’s really uplifting.”

And while some might think the blues is a music with roots far distant from northeastern New Mexico, only one of the bands was not local. That band, Twisted Mojo, came not from Chicago or the Mississippi Delta, but from Albuquerque. Jeff Romero began playing the blues when he came to Las Vegas in 1989 and hooked up with his brother Gerald’s group, The Low Budget Blues Band. Before that, Romero said he lived in Dixon, N.M.

Likewise, Wayne Roper, lead guitarist for the group Unfinished Business, has been in the area all his life. He began his love affair with the blues listening to the music on the radio and on LPs when he was growing up near Mora.

But why did they call it the “Ain’t Got No Frijoles Blues Festival”? It gets back to that universal theme of the blues. Organizer Miguel Angel is also a lyricist, and wrote a blues tune called “Ain’t got no frijoles,” which the Trevean Blues Band performed at the festival. It’s a song with a story behind it, and Angel tells it like this:

“When we were kids,” Angel said, “we’d come home from school to my great-aunt’s house and she’d always have a big pot of beans — me, my brothers, our friends, I don’t know how many kids she fed.”

“One morning, I found her dead. There was the funeral, and a couple of days later we were all just sitting around, looking at each other. And Frank, he said, “There’s no frijoles.’”

“There it was. ’There's no frijoles.’ Those beans meant family, friends, and culture as well as food. Later, I told a guy from Oklahoma about it, and he said, “Yeah, when you’ve got no beans, that’s the blues in Oklahoma too.” And a guy I met from New Orleans said the same thing. So I knew this was universal.”

King Stadium might seem like an incongruous venue for a blues concert, but having the festival there ties in with Casa de Cultura’s mission of community development through culture.

Presently, it is graffiti-tagged and down at the heels, with weeds growing between the stones that comprise it.

The city and county have done a lot to get King Stadium back on its feet, repairing the road to the arena and hauling away literally tons of illegally dumped refuse from the area. But there is still more to be done.

King Stadium was built in 1935, one of the many WPA public works projects in the Las Vegas area as part of the New Deal. King Stadium was built to be an an arena for equestrian shows and competitions, a place for the area’s upper crust to be entertained.

It has not been used in decades. Once a treasure, it has fallen into disrepair.

Casa de Cultura wants to restore it to its original condition, and holding the festival at the stadium is one way to place it in the public eye and hopefully get money for restoration. The goal is to have King Stadium become a public resource for the people of Las Vegas, a place where the community can come together to enjoy all sorts of cultural events.

A place to build community through culture. That’s Casa de Cultura’s mission.

It’s an idea that resonates with local businessman Jose Maestas, who attended the festival.

“The music’s great, of course,” he said, “but I’m here to support Miguel and Georgina, too, in their efforts to restore King Stadium. I used to come here when I was in the second or third grade, when I went to Douglas School.”

And Georgina Ortega said it in no uncertain terms.

“I want people here to call their representatives,” she said, “so next year, we can have people sitting up there (pointing to the empty stone seats of King Stadium) instead of down here.”

The plan is for the “Ain’t Got No Frijoles Blues Festival” to be an annual Las Vegas event.