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This weekend, Texas Folklife will be launching their upcoming 2017 “Big Squeeze” season right here in the Rio Grande Valley, at Los Fresnos High School and La Joya High School on February 4 and February 11. The statewide accordion competition for accordionists under the age of 21 returns after a hiatus during the year 2016. Last year a “10th Anniversary Extravaganza,” a celebration of the program, was held in its place in Austin on May 7.

The first ever “Big Squeeze” winner Juan Longoria Jr., who has regularly returned as a featured performer at the annual competition, will once again perform at the Los Fresnos High School event. At the La Joya High School event, a conjunto concert is scheduled to immediately follow the competition, with performances from Juarez-Lincoln High School’s Conjunto Sol, La Joya High School’s Conjunto Los Diamantes, and Palmview High School’s Conjunto La Tradición.

The first round of this competition includes events dubbed “Showcases”, where accordion-playing youth are invited to play to advance to the next stage of the contest. Musicians who miss their local “Showcase” can also mail or e-mail their videos of their accordion performances to Texas Folklife. The deadline to submit videos is March 31.

The players are then divided into categories that include — Polka (Polish, German, and Czech music), Cajun / Zydeco (Creole, Cajun, and Zydeco music), and Conjunto (Tejano, Conjunto, and Norteño music). Three finalists for each of the three styles, nine in total, will be chosen by a panel and announced online on April 3.

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Previously the contest only crowned one overall champion, but that changed in 2014.

“This contest is dominated by conjunto,” Cristina Balli, the former executive director of Texas Folklife, told me in 2014 after the change in format. “So we really wanted to make sure that we had more participation and that we highlighted other genres.”

On April 22, Texas Folklife will host their traditional “Big Squeeze” concert and finals at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin, TX, where the nine nominees will perform on a special line-up of accordion-based music. Judges will then crown three “Grand Prize Winners,” one player per category.

The trio of champions will receive a new Hohner button diatonic accordion, a cash prize, professional opportunities, and more, in a winning package that according to Texas Folklife is “valued at more than $4000.” The three will also perform and showcase their acrobatic fingers at the annual Texas Folklife “Accordion Kings & Queens Concert” in June.

The last three title holders, from 2015, are San Antonio’s Rito Peña (Conjunto), Port Neches’ Elizabeth Kelley (Cajun / Zydeco), and Holland’s Brandon Hodde (Polka). Since the start of the “Big Squeeze” in 2007, the Valley has seen multiple champions including Peter Anzaldúa of Brownsville, Heriberto Rodríguez of Edcouch-Elsa, and Juan Longoria Jr. of Los Fresnos.

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“The Rio Grande Valley is the home of Juan Longoria Jr., our first Big Squeeze Champ,” Charlie Lockwood, the current executive director of Texas Folklife said in a written statement. “We are proud to continue our relationship with him as director of the Conjunto Program at Los Fresnos High School. The ‘Big Squeeze’ program enables Texas Folklife to focus on one of our main priorities and our mission — to help preserve the traditional arts in the state. In this case it is conjunto, the homegrown music found in the Valley, featuring the accordion, the ‘national instrument of Texas.’

Quick Information:

Texas Folklife “Big Squeeze Showcase” — Los Fresnos
Where: Los Fresnos High School.
When: February 4th, 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM.
Cost: Free.

Texas Folklife “Big Squeeze Showcase” — La Joya
Where: La Joya High School.
When: February 11th, 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM.
Cost: Free.

La Joya School ISD Conjunto Spring Concert
Where: La Joya High School
When: February 11th, 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM.
Cost: $6.00

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