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Photograph by Marina Chavez

The Big Payback: Alejandro Escovedo knows the way to San Jose.

Feelin' Familia

Alejandro Escovedo returns to the South Bay with new songs from an epic play

By Jesse 'Chuy' Varela

SOME PEOPLE call us event planners, some call us promoters, but ultimately this business is helping build community in the arts and civic scene," says Chris Esparza of Giant Creative Services, a company he started during the last year of his tenure booking musical acts at Fuel in downtown San Jose. When the club closed earlier this year, he shifted his focus and helped put on events for the Mexican Heritage Plaza and San Jose Councilmember Cindy Chavez and public concerts for the Redevelopment Agency.

Now Esparza presents old friend Alejandro Escovedo. Once a regular performer at the Ajax Lounge and Fuel, the singer/songwriter paid his dues in the South Bay before heading to Texas, where he flourished as a solo performer.

"My association with Chris, Tim and all those guys goes back to the Ajax," Escovedo says. "We hit it off right away and met really cool people there. San Jose was an amazing scene to me then that I didn't know existed. There was so much art, culture and music inside this town. The Nuns used to love to play San Jose with the band Nuclear Valdez; they were all DJs at this FM radio station. Rank and File played at a country bar, a big place, with the Blasters and Los Lobos."

Escovedo's return to San Jose comes at a time when he's still working on his epic play By the Hand of the Father. A culmination of three years exploring his own Mexican-American roots, the 2001 album release on Texas Music introduced the larger stage work and included songs from previous albums as well as trad-Mex classics.

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Escovedo grew up in Southern California and moved to San Francisco in 1975 to study film. He joined the punk band the Nuns (which had the distinction of opening for the Sex Pistols at Winterland) and in 1979 co-founded the cowpunk band Rank and File.

Alejandro moved to Austin in 1981 and formed the True Believers with his brother Javier. They recorded an album for EMI and toured the country with Los Lobos. His 1992 solo outing, Gravity (Watermelon), brought him into the spotlight as a singer/songwriter. In 1993, he won Musician of the Year at the Austin Music Awards. Since then, songs like "Wave," "Ballad of the Sun and the Moon" and "With These Hands" have defined him as a major generational voice with a keen ability to tell a story.

By the Hand of the Father is a personal journey into the experiences of Escovedo's own father and his migration from Mexico to the United States. For Alejandro, the play became a search for the stories he heard growing up and the excitement of hearing them for the first time. It was his publicist, Pamela Bassett, who felt the idea could be more than just a record album--and the seeds for a stage production began to sprout. Bassett Introduced him to About Productions and folks like Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, and they started collaborating in 1997.

"So what was the story of my father became the story of five different men who were born at the turn of the [last] century," Escovedo explains. "It celebrates their journey across the border to this new land and everything they had to do to survive. From work, to leaving families, to dealing with kids born in the 1960s and the questions that we in turn ask about things they brought across with them that we're not so enamored with--like machismo."

As we spoke from his home in Canyon Lake, Escovedo had to split to rehearse for a staging of the play at the University of Texas at Austin. It is also scheduled for the University of Arizona and the Smithsonian later this year. Given the play's burgeoning popularity, Escovedo will no doubt sing songs from By the Hand of the Father at his San Jose gig. Esparza plans to bring the full production to the Mexican Heritage Plaza this fall. Isn't it cool to know Alejandro Escovedo can always find a place to hang in San Jose with a little help from his friends?

Alejandro Escovedo performs Wednesday (July 10) at 8pm at the Hotel De Anza Palm Court Terrace, 233 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose. Tickets are $12. (408.286.1313).

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From the July 4-10, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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