Celso Piña

Celso Piña
by Jana Birchum

Celso Piña

Mexican American Cultural Center, Friday, March 15

A free concert in the massive courtyard of the Mexican American Cultural Center, the Pan Americana showcase was noticeably more democratic than most official SXSW shows. No hierarchical lines separated the haves and have-nots and the old line proved perfect: "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!" The people's festival was a family affair, with babies abound and a cluster of fold-up chairs for those that camped out since early evening to enjoy the blaring salsa of Grupo Fantasma and dubbed-out cumbia-step of Corpus Christi selector El Dusty. Squeezebox maestro and headliner Celso Piña led a sevenpiece band in an hour-plus set of crowd-pleasing cumbias. The 59-year-old El Rebelde del Acordeón looks like a Mexican Kenny Rogers and filled the floor with the rollicking rumble of "Cumbia Sobre el Rio" (originally recorded with Control Machete) and all other manner of cumbia ("Cumbia Poder," Cumbia En Mi Tierra," "Cumbia de Cualquiera") from the Monterrey legend's nearly two dozen albums. Several fans added percussion with guiros brought from home and the applause winner of an onstage dance contest was easily eight months pregnant. It was that kind of party, and the crowd gleefully repeated the mantra that the Cacique de la Campana recited between nearly every song: ¡Arriba Austin! ¡Arriba Monterrey! ¡Arriba México!

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