License / Al Rendon
Famed Tejano musician and San Antonio native Leonardo “Flaco” Jiménez has been added to the list of headliners for the Tricentennial's New Year’s Eve celebration, the Tricentennial Commission announced late Tuesday evening.
Five-time Grammy Award winner Jiménez, 78, will join headliners REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo and several other acts in ringing in the new year at Hemisfair on Sunday, Dec. 31.
"I think it's a natural [choice]," said Juan Tejeda, curator and co-founder of the Tejano Conjunto Festival, which will celebrate its 37th year in 2018. "Flaco is one of our most celebrated, important, and iconic San Antonio musicians. He's a living legend."
With 17 days to go until the kickoff of the year-long celebration honoring San Antonio’s 300th birthday, Jiménez’s addition to the lineup comes on the heels of criticism that the event’s musical selection is outdated and lacks local representation.
Tejeda on Wednesday said he understands why event planners booked big-name acts REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar, but wishes they had chosen more performers who represent San Antonio's culture and history.
"[REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar] are good old rockers, and San Antonio has always been a rock city," he said. "But people come to San Antonio for its authentic history, for that indigenous, Mexican, Latino, Mestizo confluence of cultures. We need to promote our distinctiveness, and sometimes we don't do a good job of that for big events."
The Tricentennial Commission on Thursday announced that BillyRay Sheppard, a San Antonio-based saxophonist and smooth jazz artist, will also perform at Hemisfair on New Year's Eve.
The headliners have a “huge” following among 35- to 55-year-olds who may bring their children, said Carlos Contreras, interim Tricentennial CEO, at a press conference last week. The addition of Jiménez and Little Joe [y la Familia] serves to "exemplify the richness of our culture," he stated in a press release Thursday. “The combination of these conjunto and Tex-Mex music powerhouses, Flaco and Little Joe, is an incredible addition to this family-friendly celebration that has been 300 years in the making."
Born and raised in San Antonio, Jiménez will be the most high-profile act among the local and regional talent, which includes Little Joe y la Familia, The Last Bandoleros, Selena cover band Bidi Bidi Banda, and Sam Riggs. Jiménez’s career spans more than 60 years, having performed both solo and with groups such as the Texas Tornados and Los Super Seven. In 2015, Jiménez was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
His performance on New Year's Eve was underwritten by a donation from WellMed Medical Management, a Tricentennial release stated.
"It's important that Flaco and Little Joe" are among the New Year's Eve acts, Tejeda said, "but [the programming] still could have been a little more diverse."
The Tricentennial operations have been marred by numerous struggles over the past six months. In May, Asia Ciaravino resigned as chief operating officer; in late October, the San Antonio Express-News reported a botched process regarding media contracts; and in mid-November the Tricentennial Commission’s chief executive officer Edward Benavides stepped down.
Just last week two Tricentennial chairs were replaced with Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president of Texas A&M University-San Antonio, and former Northside Independent School District Superintendent John Folks. The two were nominated by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and await approval from City Council.
Influenced by his father Santiago Sr., whom many consider a pioneer of Tex-Mex and Conjunto music, Jiménez first picked up an accordion when he was 5 years old. He has been a staple in the local music scene ever since, participating in signature events such as the Tejano Conjunto Festival since the beginning.
"We've made it a point to showcase him at the festival every year," Tejeda said. "I remember his first year in 1982, Flaco played a set with his father and his brother, Santiago Jr. That was the only time all the three played together."
Renowned local photographer Al Rendon said Jimenez's performance at the Tricentennial will be an important moment for the musician's career and San Antonio's history to document. Rendon has photographed Jimenez several times since the 1980s, both in studio and during concerts and plans to be there on Sunday, Dec. 31 to capture the concert and festivities.
"I'm really glad they got Flaco," Rendon said. "He's a big draw and has a huge fan base. He can get up there and play with any of those bands, because he's played so many different genres and with so many different artists. It's gonna be a good show."