It was love at first sound for Max Baca.
When the Los Texmaniacs bandleader first heard the rich ring of a bajo sexto, he was enamored of the 12-string instrument used in conjunto, Tejano and Tex-Mex music.
“It’s like no other,” Baca said during an interview with the Capital City Weekly. “When I was a kid, and I first heard the bajo sexto, I was so attracted to it. I used to go see my dad’s band, and they would be practicing, and I’d get in trouble because I’d have to be in bed to get up and go to school the next day. I’d always be staying up late and I’d run to the end of the hallway and I’d listen to his band, and they’d be practicing. I was just so attracted to the sound of the bajo and found it intriguing.”
He and his fellow members in the San Antonio-based band are hoping to spark some similar passions when they perform as the guest artists at the upcoming Alaska Folk Festival, which starts Monday, April 8.
“I’m hoping the folks of Alaska, once they hear the beautiful accordion playing these beautiful melodies and the bajo sexto giving it that rhythm, that attractive sound, I’m hoping that they’ll get to experience what I got to experience when I first heard it,” Baca said.
Since he first heard it, the bajo sexto has allowed Baca to make a living as a musician for decades, brought Baca and his band acclaim in the form of a Grammy Award and two nominations and the opportunity to work with some big names and personal heroes.
Along the way, he’s seen the instrument work its magic almost instantly more than once.
“I got to record on the ‘Voodoo Lounge’ album with the Rolling Stones,” Baca said. “That was an experience. I got to meet Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. As soon as I pull my bajo sexto out, Keith Richards comes up and says, ‘Hey man, what is that?’ I go,’It’s a bajo sexto,’ and he said, ‘Can I check it out?’ and I said, ‘Sure, man.’ I was like I can’t believe Keith Richards was holding my bajo sexto. I was so star struck.”
After Richards played a few chords, Baca said the legendary guitarist made pitch to buy the instrument for whatever amount of money Baca deemed fair.
Baca said the instrument was a gift from his father, and he was unable to name a price for sentimental reasons and because it’s hard to know how much money one should ask for from a member of the Rolling Stones.
“When I came home, and I told my dad, he goes, ‘Pendejo,’ he called me a pendejo,” Baca said. “He says, ‘We could’ve bought the factory, man. If Keith Richards wanted to buy this thing, we could’ve bought ten of them.’”
Baca said he has long wanted to visit Alaska and is thrilled to be traveling to the state. He’s especially proud to represent a type of folk music that differs from the twangy Americana that the genre tag usually brings to mind.
Los Texmaniacs make a type of foot-tapping, rhythmic music that Baca generally classifies as conjunto.
Conjunto is the mish-mashed result of German and Czech settlers bringing their accordions and taste for polka with them when they made homes in Southern Texas, Baca said. Like Cajun music, which paired the accordion with the fiddle, conjunto paired up the squeeze box with the Mexican bajo sexto.
“To bring that sound to Alaska to me is very special,” Baca said.”When you say folk music, right away you think mandolins and twangy guitars and so forth. Conjunto, the traditional form of it, is a form of folk music.”
The genre generally features the accordion, bajo sexto, bass and drums. Sometimes a synthesizer or other instruments will be worked into the mix, but Los Texmaniacs tend to stick to a traditional conjunto sound with just those core four instruments.
Baca said the band favors a traditional sound and aspires above all else to inspire listeners to feel something and get moving.
“We’re the type of band where we don’t read music or anything like that — and I know, shame on me — it’s the type of music that’s played with heart and soul,” Baca said. It’s playing what you feel, and what we’re feeling is what we’re hoping the folks out there listening get to feel. I believe in happy music that puts a smile on your face that makes your foot tap, that makes you want to get up and dance.”
More in store
Los Texmaniacs won’t take the stage until Thursday, April 11, before playing again Sunday, April 14.
That leaves a whole lot of other time for folk performances from locals and acts mostly from around Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as well as a handful of workshops.
This year, early-in-the-week performances during the Monday through Sunday festival are set to begin a bit earlier than usual, so those performances are accessible to more people. Monday through Wednesday, performances will start at 6:30 p.m. at Centennial Hall instead of the usual 7 p.m.
“We bumped it back a half an hour to make it a little bit easier for people who are still existing within a work week,” said Andrew Heist, vice president for Alaska Folk Festival. “We want to make it easier for people to stick around for more of the performances.”
An official partnership with the popular open mice series Mountainside Open Mic is also new to this year.
“We’re partnering with Mountainside Open Mic, and they’re going to be hosting our songwriter showcase, which is Saturday and Sunday from 3-6 p.m. each day at The Rookery,” Heist said.
Heist said a push was also made this year to make Alaska Folk Festival’s Saturday and Sunday workshops something that participants would really learn from and enjoy.
He cited workshops led by members of the Foghorn Stringband as a specific example.
“This year we kind of made an effort to beef up the offerings there,” Heist said. “We want to make sure we’re offering workshops that can offer people a lot of information and technical instruction.”
While Folk Fest is coming up fast, Heist said more volunteers would be appreciated, and people can sign up via akfolkfest.org.
“It’s a really unique festival in that it’s built by the community and put on by the community and the way it works best is if as many of the community members (as possible) come out to participate to see the free music to see the performances, and if they’re so inspired, become members of the festival and volunteer,” Heist said. “That’s how the whole thing has worked for 45 years, and we’re looking at another 50 years after this.”