There’s something special that occurs when some of Austin’s most talented musicians create a show that defies the rules — a show that’s not meant to be incredibly polished, a musical lab of sorts where experimenting is key.
Last month singer-songwriter and violinist Carrie Rodriguez teamed up with Grammy award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Ramos and top bassist Roscoe Beck to launch what will be a semi-monthly musical series called “Laboratorio” at the Cactus Cafe.
Each Laboratorio performance aims to create what the musicians call “culturally blended music for a culturally blended world” and will feature a different special guest each month to shake things up. “We want to leave room for moments that surprise us,” Rodriguez says. “There’s a little bit of ‘Wow, I don’t know what’s going to happen.’”
Joining “Laboratorio” on June 7 will be Latin folk-pop artist Gina Chavez. Rodriguez says ever since the birth of her son Cruz in 2015, she’s been spending more time making music at home and wanted to create an opportunity to delve deeper into the diverse genres within Latin music.
Although most of Rodriguez’ fans are familiar with her fiery fiddle playing and twang-laden Americana songs, her latest album “Lola” explored her bicultural roots and created Tex-Mex music for a new generation. Something magical happens to Rodriguez each time she sings in Spanish. The first time she tried it, “It was as if another person came out when I opened my mouth,” Rodriguez said in a 2016 Austin360 interview.
“Laboratorio” seems like a natural step forward as the artist stretches her musical muscles and explores her cultural musical roots and beyond. “It’s really a true collaboration,” she says. “I’m not necessarily the band leader either; it’s a group thing.” That’s also new for the veteran musician who has been a band leader for years.
At last month’s show, the musicians performed a polka that Ramos had created for his mother. “It’s the first time I’ve ever had a polka in my gig,” she says. Percussionist Alex Marrero gave a rousing version of the classic Mexican song “Volver, Volver” during the encore.
“I’d love to continue to do (the series) as part of what I do when I come home (from touring), Rodriguez says. “It’s also a great way to take advantage of the talent we have in our backyard.”
Experimenting has already sparked inspiration. “My gears are turning,” she says. She hopes to perform her bilingual version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” at a future “Laboratorio” show.“It’s a unifying kind of show,” she says. “It’s a great way to cross boundaries, expand everyone’s music experience and bring bilingual shows to the Cactus.”
Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $20 and are available online at cactuscafe.org.
Latino Comedy Project show returns
When the Latino Comedy Project, a multimedia sketch troupe, returned with new material at the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival last fall, the one-night-only event quickly sold out.
In the midst of anti-immigrant rhetoric and rapidly changing local neighborhoods, Austin had missed the hilarious political satire and parodies that made LCP popular since its launch in the late 1990s.
Now, the comedy gods have answered our prayers. LCP will bring back its latest show “Gentrif*cked” for two nights on June 9-10 at the Spiderhouse Ballroom. The show, which includes a mix of live sketches, music and original videos, examines the “causes and consequences of gentrification in Austin and neighborhoods across America,” according to the troupe.
When it comes to presenting real-world issues via humor, LCP Artistic Director Adrian Villegas has said, “Comedy is a way to cut through the superficial differences.” Special guests include Austin’s only bilingual improv troupe Migas, as well as stand-up comedy by “Funniest Person in Austin” finalist Vanessa Gonzalez.
Each night features an 8 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. show. Tickets are $15 and available online at latinocomedyproject.com.
You can find more news about Latino cultural art happenings on the Cultura en Austin blog at cultura.blog.austin360.com.
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Cultura en Austin is a monthly column highlighting Latino-related cultural events in Austin. Look for it on the last Friday of the month.
Nancy Flores grew up in the Texas border town of Eagle Pass and has been covering Latino culture for the American-Statesman and Austin360 since 2011. Before that, she covered Latino issues as a journalist in Mexico City. Send tips or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.