At 10 years old, Carrie Rodriguez stood on the stage at Carnegie Hall looking out at the plush red seats and thinking about the world of possibilities ahead of her. She was performing as part of a school group, but even at that age, she knew she was exactly where she wanted to be.
“I’m sure it wasn’t a packed house, but there I was at the most glorious theater in the world,” Rodriguez said. “The memory for me is still so vivid – the sound of our violins in that hall was better than any sound we ever made before and it just made us realize we didn’t need to think too small about our dreams.”
As a singer and fiddle player, Rodriguez has since released five studio albums that blend her Texan roots with her Chicana heritage. On Friday, Feb. 22, she will kick off the first installment of the Pearl’s Canciones music series with Laboratorio – a collaborative concert project featuring an all-star band and a special guest artist for each performance. The show will be the first time the group has performed outside of Rodriguez’s home base of Austin, and the band will welcome San Antonio accordionist Eva Ybarra as its guest.
Laboratorio’s unique nature is what made Rodriguez the perfect artist to launch the concert series, said Elizabeth Fauerso, the Pearl’s chief marketing officer.
“Laboratorio is really emblematic of what Canciones is all about,” Fauerso said. “While [Carrie] has her own unique and specific space as a South Texas artist – a talented vocalist, fiddle player, and songwriter – her commitment to the sounds of South Texas, to working with other artists, and to creating new work in real time with other artists is such a powerful expression of what we’re trying to do.”
For Rodriguez, a love of Texas music is in her blood. Her father, David, was a celebrated folk musician from Houston, and her great-aunt Eva Garza was a beloved ranchera singer from San Antonio. It was her father who first introduced her to the fiddle when she was 12, giving her the chance to improvise and learn about her roots through music. Later, old recordings of her great-aunt opened her up to the idea of writing and singing bilingual songs for her fifth album, Lola, leading Rodriguez to joke that her genre is “Americhicana.”
“Country twang and fiddle music is only half of me,” Rodriguez said. “I love Spanish music, I speak Spanish, but it took me a long time to feel brave enough to sing it. But the more I did, the more I realized it brought out another side of me that was sometimes deeper, and more emotional.”
It was after the release of Lola and the birth of her son that Rodriguez first envisioned Laboratorio. She wasn’t able to tour much at the time, so instead she began connecting with local musicians who now make up her band, including Latin Grammy award-winning producer and accordionist Michael Ramos, and Leonard Cohen’s former musical director Roscoe Beck. Alongside the guest artists, Rodriguez said the group gets the chance to make every performance different.
“My favorite aspect is the collaboration,” Rodriguez said. “I get to learn so much from our guest artists. With Eva [Ybarra] I spent some time last week rehearsing with her over speakerphone, and I just thought about how lucky I am to make these connections and work with people who come from such different musical traditions than I do.”
When it came to choosing a special guest for the San Antonio performance, Rodriguez said Ybarra was a no-brainer. Beyond Ybarra’s standing as the so-called “Queen of the Accordion,” Rodriguez said she could also relate to her story of being one of the only women in a field full of men. The two also will be paying homage to Rodriguez’s great-aunt Eva Garza with a few arrangements of her songs.
“It’s hard to be a female instrumentalist, even in this day and age,” Rodriguez said. “Eva’s story really inspired me, and my hope is that if there are any young girls in the audience, that they can look up and be inspired by two women on stage rocking it.”