Ofelia Garcia Hunter, Alice Echo-News Journal
The late accordionist Ruben Naranjo Sr., known to his fans as "El Hijo del Pueblo," was commemorated at the 10th Annual Ruben Naranjo Memorial Festival on Sunday at the Zeke Luna Park.
"We want to invite everybody," said Ruben Naranjo III, the late Naranjo's grandson. "We are doing it to keep our grandpa's memory alive."
The money raised at the memorial festival will be used to fund a tombstone for Naranjo's grave, family members said.
"We will try to raise money to get a tombstone and get something nice," said Ricky Naranjo, the late Naranjo's son. "It's mainly for his fans. I think the people deserve it."
Each year, hundreds of fans take to the park on Beam Station Road to listen to the conjunto bands and recall memories of Naranjo through his son, Ricky Naranjo and his grandson Ruben Naranjo III. His band continues to play Naranjo's style of conjunto music with Ricky Naranjo y los Gamblers.
Other bands scheduled to perform on Sunday are Ruben Vela, Bernal y sus Compadres, Los Primos de Freer and Los Alacranes.
The doors to the park opened at 2 p.m. and the music started at 4 p.m. and continued through 10:30 p.m. Organizers encouraged attendees to bring their lawn chairs and umbrellas to get some shade.
Ricky Naranjo began with the band after high school when his father said he needed to get out and find a job to help with living expenses because the music business was wearing him out and he couldn't do it by himself.
"I told him that I would help him and that's how I got in the business…it was a proud moment for both of us," Ricky said. "My dad bought a sound system and I had to learn to be a sound engineer overnight."
Ricky said he tweaked with the system and learned how to use it. He said that one day his father was critiquing their drummer because the group wasn't sounding the way the older Naranjo wanted.
"He was always hard on the drummers," Ricky said. "So that day, I sat as the drummer and told him that I was going to play and I wasn't going to leave."
The rest is history and Ricky was the new drummer and after his father's death, he spearheads his father's band with his nephew, Ruben.
The late Ruben Naranjo passed away on Oct. 12, 1998 at the age of 53 from congenital heart failure. Many remember his famous phrase of "Si Senior," which he would shout in between his songs. His conjunto style of music continues to flourish because of the younger generation that took on his tradition.
Naranjo, the grandson, said he never imagined that he would be singing and playing the accordion like his grandfather.
"I guess it was my destiny," the younger Naranjo said.
Ruben said he debuted with his grandfather on stage when he sang with the band at the age of five.
"I used to sing with my grandfather when I was little," Ruben said laughing. "I was too short, so he would put me on the accordion box."
Ruben. at the age of 15, learned to play the accordion as a Christmas gift for his grandmother.
"I was just going to learn a couple of songs," he said. "But, I fell in love with it."
Ruben also plays the saxophone. He has received several honors including the Brush Country and the South Texas Conjunto awards.
Ricky remembers when Ruben got on stage for the first time at the San Antonio Conjunto Festival with thousands of fans.
"When my dad would play, all of the crowd would get close to the stage," he recalls. "But when Ruben was singing they were climbing up on top of the tables."
Ricky said each year, fans from out-of-state, Laredo, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley show up to remember his father.
"I just want to thank everyone for each year that they support us, I want to thank all the sponsors that have been there for us," Ricky said.
"It's about remembering my dad and his happy times."