“To me, it’s the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I remember being in the first workshop [at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Wash.] listening to Juan for the first time and he played this waltz called ‘Espanasa’ and tears came to my eyes,” Pilione says. “And I said, ‘Oh, boy. Here we go again.’ I realized that I was captured and I was going to have to learn this music.”
Under the name Los Gringos Calentanos, Paul Anastasio and Pilione will bring the music of Mexico to Louisiana, Thursday, 7 p.m. in the Chapelle Country Store, Le Village in Eunice, and Saturday, 7 p.m., at Cite des Arts in Lafayette.
Pilione, an established folk musician and Cajun fiddler, says learning the music would take “a far greater effort than I’ve ever had to have made before learning a folk music. But, I couldn’t help it. There was nothing I could do. I had no choice.”
When Anastasio first heard Reynoso in 1996 at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Wash., he also heard that the music was in danger of extinction. The very next year, Pilione says, Anastasio recorded all of the workshops and all the concerts of Reynoso, and devoted the next 10 years to studying, recording and transcribing this music, sometimes spending three months out of the year in Mexico.
Pilione first heard Reynoso at Fiddle Tunes in 2002 when she was hired to play with Cajun fiddler Rodney Fontenot, “an old fiddler from the Chantenier-Eunice area who played just like Dennis McGee,” says Pilione. “If fact, he learned from Dennis McGee when he was 14 years old. Dennis McGee was 30 and lived right across the road from him.”
Reynoso’s music grabbed her and so the next year, Pilione joined Anastasio on his next trip to Mexico “and went to the lessons in Juan’s livingroom,” she says. “The most beautiful music I’ve ever heard in my life, I heard in that room.”
Pilione, a fiddle player in her own right, will be playing guitar and Anastasio will be on fiddle, violin, actually.
“When I realized how difficult the violin – you really have to be a violinist, not a fiddler; I’m a fiddler – but after you’ve heard Juan Reynoso in the most beautiful, perfect way, I decided that it is best for me to concentrate on something that I’ve had a little bit of experience with,” says Pilione, who actually has a lot more experience with guitar playing. “I’ve been playing the guitar in different folk styles since I was 13, so I could look at the chords and I could kind of t to what the guitar was doing. So I decided to concentrate on the guitar part.”
Like all folk music, including Cajun and zydeco, Calentano is handed down to generation after generation and learned by ear. Also, Reynoso, like many Cajun and zydeco musicians, he did not read or write music. Reynoso died in 2007.
“But he had over 500 tunes in his head that Paul Anastasio transcribed,” Pilione says. “But there are other players of the tradition that can read music that were actually musically trained and there are compositions that were written – there were these wonderful composers in the 30s, 40s, 50s – and Juan Reynoso himself composed several pieces. He composed them, they were in his head, but they weren’t written down until Paul came along.
“It’s also dance music. They have very many different styles within the style,” she says. “Like Cajun music, we have two-steps, waltzes, maybe a one-step,” and other types, she says. Likewise, in the Mexican tradition of Tierra Caliente, “they have many, many styles within the style, styles of which are popular throughout Mexico, like boleros.
“But there are certain ones specific to Tierra Caliente that were written by composers from Caliente,” Pilione says, such as the Tango, “that’s largely Argentinean, but people from Tierra Caliente wrote their own tangos.”
Of course, there’s also a lot of crossover resulting from travel and visiting musicians. For instance Reynoso spent time in Mexico City where he was exposed to other types of regional music.
“So, that influenced him,” Pilione says. “Like, I guess, Cajuns listening to the Grand Ol’ Opry and getting the influence of Western Swing.”
Pilione spent time in Mexico herself and saw other similarities in the cultures in her travels.
“It’s very hot, a hot climate. Lots of horrible insects. Wonderful, spicy, fabulous food,” she says. “The people, once you get to know them, would give you the shirt off their back.”
Tickets for the Thursday night show at Chapelle Country Store are $15/$25; call 457-3573 or go here for more information. They are also available at the Savoy Music Center in Eunice.
Tickets at Cite are $8. Call 291-1122, or go here for more information.