Dancing with the Gente on Friday Night

Chico rocks the San Fernando Valley

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: February 3, 2004

Dancing  with the Gente on Friday Night

Yes, indeed, Mi Gente knows how to party when the music gets good, and nobody looks better at it than the Raza. There's just something special about being around mature, good looking Gente, in a comfortable and celebratory atmosphere, with good music, good food, and a dance floor filled with smiling people celebrating nothing more than the end of another week. I can get into that...

So it was, in my continuing musical odyssey throughout Southern Califas searching for places & music where that good looking, hip, mostly-over-40 Chicano crowd goes to kick up the chancla and celebrate life as only we know how. That's why I find myself in heart of the San Fernando Valley on a Friday night, in the beautiful city of Pacoima, California.

This week's fortunate venture has me privy to be a guest of promoter Chuck Herrera and his lovely wife Lucy, at The Tavern on the Green, one of the better kept secrets of that older San Fernando Valley Chicano crowd, located at the country club of the Fairway Restaurant, Tavern and Golf course.

A comfortable country club environment without the snooty attitude... good food, good service, a full bar, large dance floor, and a great crowd make The Tavern on the Green the place to be every other Friday night . With a booming sound system, live bands, and a house DJ who knows what's up, the place was packed by 9:30 pm and I felt like I was with familia and homies from back in the day, as we all anticipated a live performance by one of the hottest, classic, Chicano Bands of Southern Califas: CHICO.

Prior to the show, I had a chance to briefly interview brother Chuck Herrera, a successful Chicano realtor and businessman, who is into his second year of music/party productions at the Tavern on The Green. That's a venture he happily states fell into his lap, and with the support of his wife & friends. Tavern on the Green is Chuck's idea of a place where an older Chicano crowd (like me, he despises the Reaganistic term "Hispanic") can congregate away from the noise, silliness and annoyance of the rap/hip hop generation. It has steadily grown into a thriving party spot for the Gente who love to dress up, step out, and dance to good music.

Judging by the size of the crowd, I'd say Chuck definitely has the right idea. Chuck tells me the impetus for his shows started after he & some friends organized a reunion of his former San Fernando Valley Car Club of the 60's, GROUP, in which he rented the country club for the occasion. The proprietors were so impressed with the size and success of Chuck's event, not to mention the classy Chicano crowd, that he was invited to make it a regular happening on Friday nights. And IT IS happening!

On this particular night, the opening act was The Company, a popular San Fernando Valley group who easily warmed up the crowd with their chancla-kicking Disco, Funk and Latin Soul sounds, filling the dance floor and starting things off right.

Then the stars of the evening, CHICO, featuring the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Bertha Oropeza, hit the stage con ganas! From their opening number, CHICO filled the dance floor to capacity, and I was amazed at how many times my feet were stepped on so early in the evening! (You know it's crowded when that happens!)

A veteran group of professional Chicano musicians headed by bassist Joe Espinosa, CHICO has been together and entertaining the Gente for over 30 years. Along with Adolfo Martinez on saxophone, Manuel Fernandez on drums & percussion, Danny Diaz on guitar, Gilbert Avila on trumpet & congas, and Steven Keis on keyboards, CHICO easily displayed their outstanding talent & versatility, deftly going thru changes in Disco, Oldies, Cumbias, Salsa, Funk, Tex-Mex, Rock n Roll, and Swing, much to the loud appreciation of the crowd who filled the dance floor till closing time.

Bertha Oropeza, a seasoned and highly talented Chicana vocalist extraordinnaire -- whose credits include stints with Frankie Garcia of Cannibal & The Headhunters, The East Side Connection and most recently, The East L.A. Revue All Stars -- hit all the soft spots with her sensual and inviting renditions of "At Last," "Working On a Groovy Thing," and "That's All".

Judging by all the smooching on the dance floor, it's evident home-girl knows how to work it! Interviewing Bertha between sets, she told me that her influences included such greats as Sara Vaughn and Aretha Franklin, among others. I must say, those influences have had a great affect on her, because she can hit them high notes with passion, and croon in those sultry low notes with such ease that one walks away impressed with the fact that they have been moved by a true artist. Bertha tells me she has been singing professionally since she was 11 years old, and has no plans of slowing down now.

Gracias, Hermana, I'm a big fan, and don't want to slow down yet either!

Like a lot of Gente the next morning, I had some seriously sore feet and a lingering smile, but NO regrets! Chuck & Lucy Herrera, along with the Gente of the San Fernando Valley made me feel welcome, and invited me back for future shows, and I WILL BE BACK! Gracias por todo, Mi Gente! I was honored to be there, in your company!

And so, with the completion of this article -- and it ain't hard! There's so much heart, soul, cultura and talent en mi Gente that all adds up to good times & Chicano pride -- that my journey continues, seeking out the pockets of Chicanismo, musica y carnalismo in Aztlan, and bringing you the full report, and continuing my endeavor to unite us all through music. I encourage all Mi gente to step out once in a while, and dance! (sure beats sitting on the porch eating nachos!)

Tough job, but somebody's gotta do it! Ha!

Who knows where Frankie Firme will show up next?....Stay tuned, Gente, only on LatinoLA.com!

Note: Chuck Herrera produces music/dance shows every other Friday Night at the Tavern on the Green, bringing some of the finest Chicano talent to the San Fernando Valley. Rumors have it that heavy hitters like TIERRA, The EAST L.A. REVUE ALL STARS, and NUESTRO may stop in....Orale!

For more info, call Chuck Herrera at (818)266-3180, and tell him you heard from Frankie Firme! Ask about the very special Valentine's Day concert & dance show!

About Frankie Firme:
When not dancing till his feet hurt, Frankie Firme spins the finest Chicano style, cruising Oldies but Goodies every Thursday, live, at 6:oo pm, (West Coast time), only on www.kclafm.com. website: www.frankiefirme.50megs.com

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