NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Rick Trevino + Johnny Rodriguez – Johnny Rodriguez = ?

Hispanic Country Music Tribute Goes On Without No-Show Star

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo)

It was one of the most anticipated events of Fan Fair week (aka CMA Music Festival week). An Hispanic country music tribute called Streets of Laredo, it was to feature Rick Trevino with Johnny Rodriguez and Riders in the Sky and include a tribute to the late Mexican-American country star Freddy Fender.

Rodriguez was, and still can be, a country music giant who hasn’t had much exposure in recent years due to personal factors. But a lot of people in Nashville wanted to see him again. And Riders in the Sky are a perfect fit for such a program since their cowboy music directly links to the Mexican influences on country music. It was set in a first-rate venue, Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, as part of prominent sponsor Target’s World Music Festival: Music of the Americas series on Wednesday night (June 6).

But the event deflated pretty quickly. Word went around day of show that Elizabeth Cook and Jim Lauderdale had been hastily added to the bill. And their links to Hispanic music are? Well, Lauderdale once co-wrote a song that Trevino recorded. Cook is a wonderful singer, but there is no one whiter than Elizabeth Cook. She has a song on her new album that Trevino onstage called a bolero. The song, “Sunday Morning,” as Cook quickly reminded him, “is actually Velvet Underground.”

Of course, given the lack of diversity in country music today, it’s no surprise that there is a shortage of Latin or other ethnic country singers who could have filled in, which is country’s loss. Raul Malo, who is of Cuban ancestry, has worked closely with Trevino in the past, but he was up the street at the Ryman Auditorium on Wednesday night, playing Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam.

Once I got to the concert, everyone in the hall seemed to know that Rodriguez was going to be a no-show. So all the air went out of the tires pretty quickly. Trevino confirmed the Rodriguez no-show news twice from the stage, adding that that only made the evening “more authentic.”

If the show’s organizers knew pre-start time that Rodriguez was not coming — as seems apparent — ticket refunds should have been offered. They were not.

So, what we were left with was Trevino doing a lot of his own stuff — very good but not always overly Hispanic or Mexican — and Riders being their usual charming selves and performing border songs, and Cook and Lauderdale being briefly — and enjoyably — thrown into the mix. It was fun to hear, but I did not feel as if I were being conveyed through the Music of the Americas.

I’ll tell you what, if I ran Target, I would have had my creative team on the carpet, demanding that they tell me just what the hell they were thinking when they put this thing together. And what their fallback plan was — if any. “World Music Festival” indeed. What they ended up with was a nice little — and I do mean little — mostly Anglo variety show. When there are only two Hispanic faces onstage (Trevino and his lead guitarist, Eddie Perez), try to convince me that this is “World Music” covering “Music of the Americas.” And Rodriguez, you know, does not have a history of total reliability for making gigs on time. Which I guess the Target crowd didn’t know about. When you’re charging the public for this stuff, though, you bear a certain responsibility for quality control. Good intentions are just that — you don’t see or hear good intentions on stage.

None of the artists who performed on Streets of Laredo can be faulted and indeed should be praised for giving it their all. And Trevino is to be lauded for giving this his best shot. He did all he could. He is a very talented, nimble-voiced, serious artist, and I can’t wait to hear more from him. He has a new Paul Worley-produced album coming. He played the title cut, “Whole Town Blue,” with Perez giving his electric 12-string a soulful workout on it. And Trevino performed “Separate Ways” and the bolero “Autumn Rose” from the forthcoming CD.

And it was great hearing Perez — formerly with the Mavericks — playing with him. Trevino has a very agile and thorough band working behind him, but when the Riders’ Joey Miskulin added his pumping accordion work to the mix, that’s the missing Tex-Mex sound link that I think Trevino needs from time to time.