Aug. 31--When 11-year-old Juan Duenes Jr. takes the stage tonight ahead of the conjunto marathon dance competition at the Freddie Gomez Memorial Concert, he'll be performing in front of a large crowd.
But in his mind, as he's squeezing sweet strains from his accordion, he's performing for himself.
"I try to imagine that they're not there," the shy sixth-grader says of how he deals with the nerves of performing in large venues.
That tactic seems to be working, as Duenes earned semi-finalist honors at this year's Texas Folklife Squeeze Box competition in Austin.
Soft-spoken, he comes to life as he grips the accordion, bobbing his head slightly to the beat in his mind. A wry smile spreads across his face as his normally stoic expression melts away to the tune of the music.
Duenes will share that award-winning talent with Brownsville this evening alongside performers from across the Rio Grande Valley as part of the festivities, which are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre downtown on East Levee Street.
The dance marathon will begin at 8:30 p.m. and last until midnight as dancers in four age divisions show off their conjunto skills.
The event is free and will feature vendors offering food and beverages. Because there will be limited seating, those attending are encouraged to bring their own folding or lounge chairs.
The competition will feature eight rhythms that will quicken as the night passes, beginning with a Vals and transitioning through Bolero, Danzon, Redova, Shotiz, Cumbia and Polka before ending with Huapango.
The event, in its third year, is held in memory of legendary conjunto artist Freddie Gomez, who adopted Brownsville as his hometown shortly after retiring from a storied musical career.
Headlining the event and leading off the competition performers is Brownsville native Bene Medina.
Medina, 74, sometimes referred to as "El Maestro," Raul Torres and other legends of conjunto will be in the audience watching Duenes, Juan Hernandez and Eddie Rodriguez Jr. perform on accordion alongside vocalist Katie Lee, all of whom have been hailed as the next generation of conjunto in the Valley.
Duenes' father said the previous generation of accordionists had a distinct impact on his son, especially his grandfather and uncle, who he credits with inspiring Juan Jr. to take up the art.
"It runs in the family," he said.
And the young musician has come a long way from performing birthday tunes with his 10-year-old brother, Leonardo, who soon will begin playing the accordion.
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