Tex-Mex legend Freddy Fender tells it like it is at the fair

March 05, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Performing a rollicking set of Tex-Mex, country, cumbias and blues, as well as the hits that made him famous, crooner Freddy Fender took to the grandstand stage here Sunday night during the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta.

With the grandstands about one-third full, Fender kicked off the show with a blues jam, leading into his oldies radio classic "Tell It Like It Is."

Audience reaction was immediate as those assembled for the free concert cheered Fender on.

Said 29-year-old Ray Romero of El Centro: "That's straight oldies — cruising down the street with your ruca (girlfriend)."

Early on in the set, Fender stuck to cumbias, blues and accordion-heavy Tex-Mex to a largely unenthusiastic crowd.

However, midway through the show Fender turned it on, playing a string of hits by Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffett and several Texas Tornados numbers. From that point on, couples could be seen dancing near the front of the stage and along the concrete bleachers near the back of the venue.


El Centro resident Angel Mercado, 22, gathered with friends to hear Fender, whom Mercado said he had never seen in concert before.

"I like his music. When I found out he'd be in concert, I jumped at the chance to go," he said.

Mercado added, "I'm here to see him because he's a legend and an American icon. He's one of the best Tex-Mex legends there is."

After knocking out a tender version of Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door," Fender and his band launched into all of the Texas Tornados' biggest hits, including "Guacamole" and "Que Paso (Hey Baby)."

Fender's work with the Tornados in the 1990s brought the star much critical and commercial success. The group, comprised of such Tex-Mex legends as Flaco Jimenez on accordion, earned Fender a coveted Grammy award.

Introduced as a song about a beautiful woman buying avocados in a grocery store, Fender and company got the crowd on its feet with "Guacamole" and kept them there as the band smoothly segued into "Que Paso (Hey Baby)."

Wedged into the set list were stellar versions of Jimmy Buffett's classic "Margaritaville" and the Hank Williams concert staple "On the Bayou."

The concert reached its apex when Fender let loose with his 1960 smash, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," the song Mercado and Romero said they came to see.

Kristina Salgado, 27, of El Centro said "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" was her favorite Fender song because of the memories she attaches to it.

"It's the music that all ages can relate to. These are the songs my dad used to sing to me," she said.

Fender closed the evening's show with the Sam Sham and the Pharaohs classic, "Woolly Bully."

After the show 20-year-old Danielle Dhillon offered her opinion on the performance.

"I liked it. It's not my style of music, but it's a change of pace," Dhillon said. "My grandma likes this stuff and I think it's pretty cool."

Romero added, "It was pretty good, but the sound wasn't there if you weren't sitting in the first 10 rows.

"Freddy was doing a damn good job," he said.

Staff Writer Richard Montenegro can be reached at 337-3453.

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