One More From the Road

SOTO rocks San Bernardino's Ray's Downtown Deli

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: January 22, 2004

One More From the Road

If music were a drug, I would be the first to admit that I am shamelessly addicted. I just can't seem to get enough...I'm hooked!

Throw in dancing and good times in a firme atmosphere with Mi Gente, and you have all the ingredients of a cultural phenomena that's in a class by itself. I feel compelled to share this 411 with the World, as nothing is more beautiful than the Raza at play, especially when the music gets good.

So it was, in my continuing quest to seek out Mi Gente in musical action, that I exitedly accepted an invitation to one of my favorite party spots, to hear one of my favorite musical groups, the incomparable SOTO.

My fortunate venture takes me to Ray's Downtown Deli on a Friday night, located in the heart of the Inland Empire of Southern California, San Bernardino. Good ambience, food & service, and a great inland empire crowd make Ray's one of the more happening places in the Inland Empire. A hip, over 40 & good-looking, mostly Chicano crowd regularly pack the house and the dance floor, although proprietor Ray Ramirez laughingly admits youngsters in their 20s and 30s have been known to sneak in. Ray's has put on some good dance shows since their opening a year and a half ago, featuring such artists as TIERRA, Cold Blood, Tower of Power, Soul's Choice, Mo' Betta Blues, among others, and the renown artists of the evening, SOTO.

A Veteran Chicano Rock/Latin Soul/Funk/Fusion/Oldies (talk about talent!) group out of Southern Califas, SOTO has been together and performing for over 20 years, with a pretty good following. Band leader and guitarist extraordinnaire Bruce Soto, brother & bassist Artie Soto, legendary TIERRA singer & keyboardist Joey Guerra, drummer Joe Mendez and Dale Villavicencio, a most talented & electrifying percussionist reminiscent of my man Tito Puente, make up the nucleus of this hard hitting group, their talents and high energy blending perfectly into a soulful get-off-your-ass-and-boogie sound, that is made only better by the classy & sophisticated vocals provided by the beautiful duo of Rayleen Adams and Stephanie Alvarado.

Excellent music wrapped around saucy stage choreography make SOTO an exciting and stimulating entertainment experience, which is why they are one of the most popular and in demand party/dance groups in Aztlan.

It only took 3 songs from the beginning of their 1st set to fill the dance floor, with Stephanie Alvarado's hot, soul scorching rendition of the Chakka Khan classic "Sweet Thing" starting it off, and bringing loud & appreciative "oohs" & "ahhhs" from the standing room only crowd when she hit the high notes.

The dance floor was never empty after that.

Guitarist Bruce Soto, whom many in the crowd likened to a combination Carlos Santana/Jimi Hendrix/Rick James/George Lopez -type of entertainer (quite a burrito, huh?) showed the crowd what's up with his high energy solos, vocals & choreography. The band seemed to be having more fun than the crowd at times, with Bruce and vocalist Rayleen Adams each taking turns of jumping onto the middle of the dance floor in mid-performance, much to happy acknowledgement of the ever appreciative crowd. At one point, the group hit a sensual note with an enticing version of "Suavecito", and a heart teasing version of "Sabor a Mi", causing many of the couples to respond in a way they probably haven't in years... smooching on the dance floor!

Hey, I was there, my Gente were looking good! You know it's ALL good when THAT starts going down! Orale! My kind of party!

Wow! I've seen SOTO perform many times over the years, but tonight, they were in the ZONE! Ray's was packed, and there were some unfortunate souls that couldn't get in, so they were content to loiter outside the club just to hear the music. You can't get no better fan appreciation than that.

I briefly interviewed keyboardist Joey Guerra in between sets. Smiling proudly, he told me "This is what Chicano music is all about. My Gente, happy, smiling, dancing and having a great time with us, appreciating our music and making us want to play all night! I live for the dance. Hey, life is isn't always easy, so you got to take some time off to live it and have some good times, no matter what you do in life. I can't see a better way without music. I love music, it's been in my heart since I was 4 years old. Since I've been blessed with musical talent, there's no better way to enjoy this blessing than to share with my people and the World. Chicano music is a combination and assimilation of everything, and it needs to be shared!".

A talented artist and performer for over 35 years, Joey has definitely done some sharing...don't quit now, Carnal, and gracias!

Outside, beaming like a proud papa, stood proprietor Ray Ramirez, along with some of his staff, Andy, Jerry, and Dan. These guy's efforts to make people feel welcome and at home have paid off, judging by the size and obvious enjoyment of the crowd. Born and raised in San Bernardino in the 1960's-70's, Ray states "I love that sense of Chicanismo, of Carnalismo, of getting together with family & good friends and having a party, sharing good food. That feeling of getting together with the homies, cruising and dancing to good Chicano flavored music....the kind of experience that is unique to Chicanos. Those experiences were becoming too far and in between for me, so I decided to do something about it. When my good friends Jerry and Victor and I came up with the idea of a place where Chicanos could congregate in a party environment unto themselves, music was the first consideration. Our Gente, especially our beautiful women, have taken music and dance to higher level. We need a place to get together to keep that alive....Ray's is that place in the Inland Empire!".

I couldn't agree with you more, Brother. I've been to Ray's several times, I've always been treated well and I've always had a good time. Ray's draws a mellow yet sophisticated crowd, that loves to dance to good music. I encourage all Mi gente to check it out if you're ever in the neighborhood of San Bernardino, Califas, en Aztlan!

Outside & inside, I was fortunate to meet happy fans of Chicano music, and some fans of my show. Regulars Larry Castro & Barbara Anderson of Colton told me the crowd, the music and the food keeps them coming back. Henry Nava, also of Colton, and Felix Rivera of San Bernardino admitted they had become big SOTO fans tonight. Felix told me "man...the atmosphere, the music, the mellow crowd...there's just a good feeling in this place. Partying hardy with the Raza in the way it's supposed to be...I will definitely be back. Especially if SOTO's playing".

I met a young brother by the name of Paul Pasillas also from San Bernardino, who, along with his lovely fiance and a large hometown group, were making their first visit to Ray's... Homie was tearing up the dance floor and having a great time, even though some of the music was older than him! A lovely lady from Colton by the name of Mary Ann Vasquez, enthusiastically told me how she & her friends had discovered Ray's as a place where an older crowd makes for a pleasant party, which encourages the younger crowd to "join us and catch up on good, Chicano music,every Friday".

Lita Nunez, a beautiful Latina from Rubidioux, was taking a break after some hard ponte chancla action to let me know she is an "occasional" regular, mostly because of the mellow crowd and the tasteful atmosphere, but she sympathized with the gente who came late and couldn't get in. "This is a great experience, but it needs to be in a bigger place.There aren't a lot of places like this, but there's so many good gente that need this type of entertainment outlet...you know I'll be back!" I teased Ray about that, asking him what would he do if he won the lotto. He said "I would expand the operation, and there would be 'Ray's' all over Aztlan". Not a bad idea....promoting Chicano music all over the World...hmmmmm.

Whew!... despite the long drive from the San Fernando Valley & back, where I currently hang my hat, I had a great time AGAIN at Ray's! I danced, ate some great food, had a couple of drinks and met a lot of good Gente from the Inland Empire, took a lot of pictures, and once again enjoyed the pleasure of catching a sizzling, live performance by the one & only SOTO......tough job, but somebody's gotta do it!

I will gladly do it again, Mi gente....stay tuned! I continue my never ending quest in 2004 to seek out Mi Gente in musical action, and bring you the full report.

Who knows where Frankie Firme will be next?.....

Note: Ray's Downtown Deli has live entertainment & dancing for the Gente every Friday night. Some events may require a reservation, as they quickly sell out.

Ray's Downtown Deli
168 So. E Street
San Bernardino, Ca 92401

For more info on upcoming events: (909)885-7776 or go to http://www.raysdeli.com

....and tell em' you heard it from Frankie Firme!

About Frankie Firme:
When not on a musical odyssey, Frankie Firme spins the finest cruising Oldies but Goodies on the World Wide Web, live, every Thursday at 6:00pm, pst, only on www.kclafm.com

website: http://www.frankiefirme.50megs.com

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