Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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McAllen Wind Ensemble season finale is March 29

20190320 McAlen Wind Ensemble Francisco RocafuerteConcert features pianist Francisco Rocafuerte

The McAllen Wind Ensemble’s season finale, “A Gatsby Gala,” will be a celebration of music from the Roaring ‘20s. Under the baton of director Roger Olivarez, the band will perform the music of Gershwin, Holst, Grainger, Cole Porter, and more. This concert will feature pianist Francisco Rocafuerte performing Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. Rocafuerte will also lead the band as guest conductor in a performance of Danzón no. 2 by Arturo Márquez.

The concert will take place at the McAllen Performing Arts Center on March 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at just $10 and are available at the McAllen Convention Center Box Office,, and at the door the evening of the concert. For more information, visit or call 682-227-2101.

Francisco Rocafuerte began his musical career as a highly respected pianist. During his career, he has performed in various countries, received multiple awards, and recorded various renditions of well-known pieces. Eventually Rocafuerte translated his skills to conducting allowing him to be successful as both an artist and director.

20190320 McAllen Wind Ensemble Group 92QRocafuerte has been a faculty member at Universidad Autónoma de Puebla – School of Music, “Escuela de Perfeccionamiento del centro cultural Ollin Yoliztli” (Mexico City), The University of Texas and The Austin Chamber Music Center. He has offered master classes at almost every music conservatory in Mexico and at various institutions throughout the United States.

Since 1988, Rocafuerte has partnered with fellow Uruguayan pianist, Edison Quintana performing duets at numerous music festivals as well as for the world premiere of Arturo Márquez’s, Danzón no. 2 for two pianos. He is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his musical career and continues to perform over fifty concerts a year.

Spittin’ Image combines comedy and music for great entertainment

20190320 Spittin Image IMG 4566Ron Kriesel had no clue what was about to happen.

Sitting in the back row against the wall in McAllen Mobile Park's dance hall, Kriesel was picked out by identical twins Blain and Brian Swabb, known as “Spittin' Image,” and brought on stage along with two other “volunteers” to help with the performance of Queen's infamous ballad “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

The three sat tightly together and answered (or didn't answer) a few personal questions. Then Brian explained what was about to happen. They didn't have to sing or dance, all they had to do was open their mouths or nod their head as Brian hit them on the head or shoulder (lightly, of course), with a Nerf mallet-type drumstick.

The result was absolutely hysterical and kept the audience laughing till well after the masterpiece had been concluded.

“It was hot up there,” said Kriesel who, along with his wife, made the trip to the Valley for the first time this year from Owatonna, Minn. “But it was a lot of fun. Those guys are great.”

That probably summed up the audience's feelings toward a show filled with comedy, interaction and harmony-filled classic and well-known songs such as “Pretty Woman,” “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “16 Tons” among others. Of course, the show wouldn't be complete without the brothers showing their skills on the instruments, Brian with his guitar and Blain with his eight-string or five-string mandolin. They were especially impressive on pieces such as the “William Tell Overture,” and “Spanish Eyes.”

20190320 Spittin Image IMG 4452Blain and Brian Swabb were born, raised, and still live in Greenville, Ohio. In fact, they were surprised to have as many Ohioans at the show, saying they thought that state's snowbirds went to Florida. They started picking their instruments at a young age, and by the time they turned 13 years old the twins formed their first group. At 14, they were performing most weekends. “Mom and Dad would have to drive us to the places we played – whether it was a senior home or a nightclub, where we weren't old enough to be in,” Brian said. “They took us everywhere so we could perform.”

After graduating from high school, the two traveled the Midwest playing the hotel and resort circuit. Later, they came back to their hometown to own, operate, and perform in their nightclub, “My Brother’s Place,” which they had for 15 years. In 1998, the twins went back out on the road, and now average more than 500 shows per year. They cover most of Ohio and surrounding states during the non-winter months and then hit Florida and Texas during the winter.

Brian does most of the lead vocals and also adds the harmony to the sound. He is a wonderful guitar player and probably knows a million chords. Besides sequencing all the added background instrumentation (drums, bass, piano, etc...), he is the emcee for the group.

Blain is the oldest twin (by 26 minutes). He's electric on his Gibson eight-string mandolin, but is equally at home on his custom-made, five-string mandolin. When he’s not playing the mandolin he is playing his harmonicas or adding his vocal talents. He also has a love of doing pantomimes.

“What is real special is that Brian can't do what I do and I can't do what he does,” Blain told the packed house. “We've been doing this for a long time – 47 years in fact. It's all we've ever done.”

It was obvious that the duo knew how to get in sync immediately. Their jokes came off as serious stories until the punch line hit.

“I'm so thankful Mom told me that there was no Santa Claus,” Blain told the audience. “She told me there was no East Bunny either. Then when I was old enough, she had that talk with me about the birds and the bees.”

“She told you about the birds and the bees?” Brian asked, clearly surprised about this turn in the story. “She never told me about the birds and the bees.”

“I always wondered why she told me twice,” Blain responded as the audience once again burst out in laughter.”

After intermission, the “third twin,” Billybob made his way to the stage, looking awfully like Brian but with hillbilly attire and a vile set of teeth. He wanted to show everyone a magic trick. He folded and smashed a banana (which he mistook for a “bandana”), folded it up in a towel and to the audience's amazement – and his – the banana disappeared.

Brian also happened to be fighting a cold that day, but it didn't matter. His vocals, combined with his brother's harmony were perfectly tuned. The comedy, interaction and high-energy performance on the instruments were more than just a treat.

Other songs included “Good Love,” “Rock Me Mama,” “Walk the Line,” “On the Road Again,” and Good-Hearted Woman.” It was a lot of music and more packed into a non-stop electrifying performance.

Monarch Festival at Quinta Mazatlan

20190320 Monarch IMG 4693Carmen and Tim Connaughty had been driving past Quinta Mazatlan, located at 600 Sunset Dr. in McAllen, but never knew what it was.

“We would drive to the market or to the mall and see it. I mean, we knew it was there – you can’t miss it,” Tim said. “We just never knew what it was.”

They know now.

“We actually saw in the Winter Texan Times that this festival for Monarch butterflies was going to take place here and realized it was the same place,” Tim said. “It seemed fascinating to have a festival for a butterfly. But this is the place for it. This is amazing.”

The couple, who live in Seven Oaks in Mission, said they were impressed by every facet of the grounds for the third annual Monarch Festival, especially the nature walks, which cut through heavy and varied brush, plants, trees and ponds. Many families walked through the trails, stopping to check out the different ecological findings, peering deeply to see what were in the ponds and searching for bird and wildlife statues that are placed along the way as if in their natural habitat.

“There’s no way you could walk through there if there wasn’t a trail,” Tim said. “It’s impressive to learn about all the different animals that used to be here – it’s beautiful and amazing.”

20190320 Monarch IMG 4758Tim and Carmen enjoyed the somewhat cool day – temperatures started out in the low 50s but settled in around 58, with little-to-no wind – at Quinta Mazatlan, one of nine sites for the World Birding Center and affectionately known as a mansion with a mission due to the 10,000 square foot adobe structure that serves as the park’s visitors center.

Constructed in 1935, the Spanish Revival Style mansion was a private and luxurious residence, complete with a Roman tub. It had the distinction then and now of being one of the largest adobe structures in Texas.

Some 60 years later, the house was put up for sale at an auction. Despite Quinta Mazatlan’s appeal, developers with eyes on other projects wanted to demolish the adobe home. However the City of McAllen bought the property in 1998 to preserve the historic mansion, and in 2006 Quinta Mazatlan opened as a wing of the World Birding Center – a “mansion with a mission."

Its grounds were transformed into a Monarch haven. Teen and pre-teen boys and girls walked through the festival grounds wearing large silk-like Monarch wings, kids had butterflies painted with a rainbow of colors on their faces. Other children performed ballets and other dances on the Monarch main stage.

Pierre Tessier of Quebec City was volunteering to show children how to plant seeds and the importance of native plants. A Quebec City native, Tessier became a Winter Texan after meeting his future wife, Cathy, in Donna in November 2016. “I went back to Quebec City, came back and got married,” he said. The two live at Alamo Country Club.

“I became a certified Texas Master Naturalist,” he said as a group of children were planting seeds in a small pot. “This is what we do, work in the nature parks. Here we are trying to teach children mainly how to plant seeds and let them know that native plants and flower attract butterflies and that’s very important.”

Monarch butterflies are the most beautiful of all butterflies, many people say, their bright colors being attractive and eye-catching. They are considered the “king” of the butterflies, hence the name “monarch.” The Rio Grande Valley is known as one of the top birding and butterfly regions in the nation and the world.

Monarch butterflies are not able to survive the cold winters of most of the United States –especially where most Winter Texans reside, so they migrate south and west each autumn to escape the cold weather. The monarch migration usually starts in about October of each year, but can start earlier if the weather turns cold sooner.

The butterflies will spend their hibernation months in Mexico and parts of Southern California and a mass migration of them will come through the Rio Grande Valley. The butterfly actually migrates for two reasons. They cannot withstand the cold. Also, the food plants do not grow in their winter overwintering sites, so the spring generation must fly back north to places where the plants are plentiful.

“Butterflies feed off the native plants, they survive because of them,” Tim Connaughty said. “It’s important that we keep building butterfly gardens and do things to attract these butterflies.”

Local vendors included Hinovations Art Gallery, D’Grai Creations, God’s Garden and others. Live food prep presentations by Chef Marcel of the McAllen Culinary Academy showcased specialties for all ages. Local food trucks will also have cuisine for purchase.

Additional activities at the festival included guided garden tours, speakers, painting opportunities and educational booths, including how to create a butterfly garden, which drew many visitors.

Monarch Fest at Quinta Mazatlan

20190313 Monarch Festival Quinta MazatlanThe third annual Monarch Fest at Quinta Mazatlan will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 16. Quinta Mazatlan is located at 600 Sunset Dr. in McAllen.

The event celebrates the northward migration of the iconic butterfly from Mexico through the United States and into Canada. The event will have food, speakers, tours, crafts, live entertainment and much more.

Quinta Mazatlan introduced the Monarch Fest in 2017 with McAllen Mayor Jim Darling’s signing of the Mayors' Monarch Pledge through the National Wildlife Federation. The City of McAllen is the first city in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the second in the United States, that pledges at the Champion Level to help create and restore habitat while educating citizens in the community about the plight of monarch butterflies.

As part of the pledge, Quinta Mazatlan is working with the McAllen school district to create learning landscapes on school campuses. The sanctuary also offers garden design workshops encouraging individuals and businesses to design gardens to support birds and butterflies.

The Monarch Fest features a marketplace, food trucks, art installations, live music and dance performances. Adults will enjoy the chef cooking demos with Chef Marcel, speakers from Mexico and the U.S., garden tours, native plant sales and more shopping.

“We seek to inspire the community to take part in saving the monarch by starting in our own backyards,” said Colleen Hook, manager of Quinta Mazatlan. “Together, we can make a difference.”

The urban sanctuary has more than doubled its acreage for habitat since opening in 2006 with many park improvements. A new LEED Certified Discovery Center was built in 2012, which services more than 10,000 children from area school districts annually and continues to grow the volunteer base bringing in over 8,500 hours annually.

For more information about The third annual Monarch Fest, visit or call (956) 681-3370. Tickets can be purchased on line at

Jazz Festival features Swing Street Big Band

20190313 Swing street group photo steveThe Swing Street Big Band is keeping big band music alive and their recent pairings with local high schools will be a lesson that musicians can perform for a long time.

McAllen High School will be hosting a Jazz Festival Saturday, March 16 in the school auditorium at 2021 LaVista Ave. The festival will feature jazz bands from McAllen High School, Memorial High School and the Swing Street Big Band.

This is the second partnership show between McAllen schools, the first performance was with Swing Street Band and McAllen Rowe High School last month.

Music will start at 5 p.m. with the high school jazz bands performing, followed by light refreshments before the Swing Street Big Band “Tribute to the Big Band Era” at 7 p.m. Swing Street Big Band is a 17-piece show/dance orchestra that is made up of band directors who currently teach in the Rio Grande Valley and retired band directors; some are Winter Texans from the Midwest.

Swing Street Big Band is made up of 18 very talented musicians from here in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, including vocalist Connie Crowell. Most are local active or retired band directors. The jazz band and big band styles of music come from the blend of saxophones, trumpets and trombones, plus piano, bass, drums, and guitar made popular by the bands of yesteryear and whose sounds have influenced bands still performing today.

Admission is $10 per person and tickets may be purchased in advance by calling McAllen High band director Bobby Salazar at (956) 369-2397. Tickets will also be available at the door on a first come/first serve basis and will entitle the ticket holder to attend all or any part of the festival.

For more information about Swing Street Big Band and the Jazz Fest, visit their website at or on Facebook at

Rusty Rierson skyrockets as top Wintertainer™

20190306 RustyRierson IMG 3189Rusty Rierson has rocketed in popularity to rapidly become one of Winter Texans’ favorite entertainers.

Not only did he earn the Valley Star Award's Male Vocalist of the Year, but he did so in this, his first full year performing in the Rio Grande Valley. While the park activity directors select the nominees for the Valley Star Awards, it’s the Winter Texans who cast their votes to choose the winners.

Much of that popularity has to do with his wit, friendly demeanor and, of course, his smooth vocals.
Recently, however, at Trophy Gardens RV Park, his vocals weren't where he wanted them to be as he came down with a rough case of the crud.

Read more: Rusty Rierson skyrockets as top Wintertainer™

Hooray for Hollywood: A Tribute to Symphony In Film

20190227 VSO Anastasia Dedik PIANIST black gownMaestro Peter Dabrowski and the Valley Symphony Orchestra invite you to step into the golden age of film with the Valley Symphony Orchestra’s Hooray For Hollywood, the latest offering in the 2018-19 "SYMPHONY... That's Entertainment" concert season to be held on Friday, March 1, at 8 p.m. at the McAllen Performing Arts Center.

Music from motion picture blockbuster hits such as Gone with the Wind, Ben Hur, Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, The Pink Panther, and more will be played by over 60 musicians in full symphonic arrangement. The evening’s concert will take place in the beautiful and acoustically dynamic McAllen Performing Arts Center.

Read more: Hooray for Hollywood: A Tribute to Symphony In Film

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