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El Movimiento Rockero

Austin Latin rockers grow genre with compilations, showcases

Nancy Flores
nflores@statesman.com

Vitera band front man Haydn Vitera had seen it happen at Austin live music venues too many times: great Latin rock bands getting overlooked or their style of music misunderstood. At shows billed as "Latin music shows," he found audiences wanting to tear up the dance floor expecting salsa or cumbia, not wanting to rock out.

So, Austin-based rockers Vitera and Juan Díaz of the band Kalua rallied area Latin rockers to build more support of a genre often on the fringes of Austin's Latin music scene. Last year they released a popular compilation CD featuring five Austin Latin rock bands, leading to the creation of a monthly showcase dedicated to a local Latin-infused, rock-fueled movement called Movimiento Rockero.

With a growing, diverse fan base that's expanding outside Austin, Movimiento Rockero showcases hosted by Vitera have now outgrown their original home at Ruta Maya and have moved into the legendary Antone's, where on Wednesday night they'll release their second compilation CD.

"It's something that's been building, and it's falling into place," said Vitera, a vocalist who also rocks an electric violin. "It's very exciting to see the progress we've made."

Movimiento Rockero's first compilation CD, which was sponsored by the Austin Latino Music Association, featured local rockers Este Vato, La Guerrilla and Boca Abajo as well as Kalua and Vitera. It marked the first time that local Latino rockers marketed themselves together on an album.

That move piqued interest at the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, which took copies of the compilation on the road and distributed them at top national music festivals such as the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York.

The bureau has produced Latin music compilations of its own in the past, featuring the spectrum of local Latin music.

"Movimiento Rockero took this a step further," said Rose Reyes, director of music marketing for the bureau. "And they are doing it with a lot of class. I think it already has gotten eyes looking at the rock scene here, which is an important piece of our city's overall music story."

Reyes said the bureau hopes to promote Movimiento Rockero's second compilation, which has expanded to feature area bands as well as homegrown bands, by sending the album to music journalists across the country.

Vitera finds inspiration from the creation of the grunge movement in the 1990s. "They got a whole bunch of bands together from a certain region who weren't happy with what was going on on the radio and didn't have venues to book them," he said. Vitera says Movimiento Rockero is a step in that direction for a genre he describes as Latino-influenced modern rock.

"Not all of (the music) is in Spanish," Vitera said. "Not all of it has typical Latin groove or Latin percussion. This is just rock made by Latinos who are bilingual and who carry their culture with them, but definitely have been influenced by growing up here. To me that's the next big wave of stuff."

Movimiento Rockero audiences have evolved along with the project to include everyone from hard-core rockers who speak Spanish to fans who enjoy the music whether they understand the lyrics or not.

"It's the universal language of rock and people playing live instruments instead of plugging (in) a laptop and spacing out," he said. "It's that connection of someone playing a guitar solo in your face, and you're hearing every note and it's cutting your head off. That's what Rockero is all about."

With the movement spreading to include Latin rockers across Texas with cross-cultural appeal, Movimiento Rockero hopes to start booking showcases in other Texas cities. "It's a beautiful symbiotic relationship," Vitera said. "We open the doors to Austin for them, and they open their doors to us."

As Movimiento Rockero grows it's also begun fostering relationships with a new crop of Latin rock bands that are just starting out. And Vitera, 38, has found himself as a mentor of sorts, coaching younger bands.

"Even though (the more veteran bands) are still trying to kick open all the doors that we can individually, I love the fact that I'm in a position to help give those other artists that I see great talent in opportunities to play," Vitera said. "All a great band needs is the opportunity to play for a crowd."

Vitera, who was born in Mexico and raised in El Campo southwest of Houston, got his big break in music in 1997 when he began touring with country music artist Rick Treviño, who at the time was topping the country music charts. In 2003, Vitera began touring with Asleep at the Wheel for two years before connecting with his rocker side.

Reyes remembers when she first saw Vitera playing his fiddle alongside such acts as Ray Benson, Vince Gil and Dolly Parton. "I've really watched him grow as an artist and take leadership in the community," Reyes said. "He's thinking creatively to promote the scene and has become a sort of pioneer who shares the spotlight."

Reyes added that Movimiento Rockero embodies the strong spirit of collaboration not always found in other music cities.

"By working together, pooling resources instead of trying to compete and push everybody down, the whole thing rises," Vitera said. "And you individually get a boost, in fans, visibility and exposure."

Movimiento Rockero's success has founders planning big steps, which Vitera said include organizing Movimiento Rockero tours outside Texas and having homegrown bands open up for major Latino rockers from across the U.S. and Latin America during Movimiento Rockero showcases.

"When you see how much potential there is in something, it's exciting," Vitera said. "Sometimes I think, ‘Man, I wish I could just play my music and not worry about any of that.' Well I could do that, and then I'd just be playing for myself."

Contact Nancy Flores at 912-2559